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Untoward

a Tel Aviv crown sonnet that’s missing a bike seat
 
 
 

1.
The audacious-yellow chrysanthemums
were terrible drunks—they shouted, shaking,
and kicking in their basket down Ibn
Gavirol, till everyone was nodding
in sympathy from their shops and cafes,
or laughing outright. My daughter and I
escorted the bike like flickering, bright shadows,
the ones that make visible the daze
 
of November in a calendar. I
cannot explain my untoward behavior.
I’m into fragmentation as an aesthetic. I
love to be interrupted every thirty four
seconds by the chirping of offspring
and the bowl-haircut of the—good thing
 
2
I am. I just took twenty minutes to
do an internet search and discover
the atricapullus that darts into
the balcony every other day is after
 
the hamster, not his food. One of the races
of the Eurasian Jay, a useless
species designation—Garrulus
glandarius
—the junk-drawer of species.
 
To find it I searched for “jay” and “crow,”
since I wasn’t sure which one it was,
and apparently, Linnaeus didn’t know,
either—he called it Corvus glandarius.
 
There are 33 subspecies, one of which
is the atricapullus, of which
 
3.
there are 4 groups—“Middle East, Crimean
and Turkey”—does the online encyclopedia
not recognize Israel or Palestine?
My new phone puts flirty texts in quarantine—
is it an orthodox phone?—I thought the object
of my desire was flirting back, but now suspect
he’s simply clumsy; hence the brushing
of fingers and palms when passing
red peppers and tomatoes and all
objects that cause a palm to cup and curl.
And since that dinner with the wine he’s been most
polite, as a nude shade of lip-gloss.
Dear Brandel, Today the pomegranate
season in Binyamina ended,
 
4.
and at the gate to the pomegranate farm
was a bin of enormous burnished globes
so ripe they were splitting, and spitting warm
juice at the bees. They cannot be sold
in this condition, damaged as they are,
so we asked the workers, who nodded and told
us to take what we wanted. We filled our arms,
we had a car. They were exquisite, so
 
tart that it took very little wine to ease
my friend’s husband’s complete incompetence
with the babies (though he took paternity
leave, and she worked full time in the city).
It’s not my problem, let it go. Maybe
it’s worth it to her to have a baby,
 
5.
then two babies, and a house with a garden.
Love, (this makes me feel like a total bitch)
Marcela.
                    Kingdom: animalia; Phylum:
chordata (that’s the bird—nothing rhymes with bitch)
class: aves; order: Passeriformes
family: corvidae; genus: garrulous
species: C. glandarius; binomial name:
garrulous glandarius. Subspecies
 
there are 33 in eight groups. And there
are many categories of fathers:
the natural, the good provider,
the henpecked, the it’s normal for
men to bond only when the child is older,

the broken bottle to the woman’s bare neck form
 
6.
of diplomacy, which simply disguises
a certain male sensitivity and fear
of asking, “can we talk?” To a mother who prizes
the well being of her child this will be clear.
She’s aware at all times that pressure
exerted anywhere on her person
is an indication that the father’s
needs are not being met. This is not
 
rocket science. It’s better to be smart
than right
. Joanna lives on the Philistine
side of the ancient Ella Valley that parts
the two kingdoms (on the Israel side of the green line).
Yesterday we climbed to the fortifications
from which David descended (indicated
 
7.
by the lack of non-kosher animal
bones among the charred debris,
but it’s just a good guess) into the tribal
battle with Goliath between
the two encampments (the ruins of both still
remain visible from the battle plain).
We picked almonds from the trees, and olives.
Such wonderful labor–the green rain
 
of the olives in the trees, or maybe
green notes. Between the fingers they were silk.
Raz promised to wash and sort and pickle
them. Happy to believe you can preserve a day.
In the parks from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
the Arabs and the Druze are doing the same.
 
8.
Mama, I had the strangest day: First I
kept thinking that the tree in the schoolyard
was a witch tree. Then I thought I saw
a jaguar in it. The next thing I knew, I
was playing soccer
. We’re done reading Narnia.
I don’t know who the intended audience
for The Wind in the Willows is. The charmed
bachelor creatures haven’t worked in their lives;
 
they live alone and do not procreate,
no children except for poor field mice,
who receive charity. Herbivores, they eat meat.
No women except to provide a disguise
(disguised as a washerwoman Toad defeats
the barge woman who, in exchange for laundry service
 
9.
offers him a ride. It is below
his dignity to know how to wash clothes).
 
That was the couplet. We’ve eaten dessert
first, and how we have to do the work
to compensate our pleasure. Like giving birth
after a love fest. Our landlady urged
 
us to stay as she came to collect
the rent. She gave us chocolate,
asked if we were happy
and if she could raise it symbolically
 
for her peace of mind at least.
And so caught off guard we said yes.
And she paid for the new toilet
though I hadn’t asked for a receipt
 
10.
so the handyman wouldn’t have to pay VAT.
We were so shocked that the next school day
my daughter saw a bear and a snake
in the tree, then got upset that
all the time I was looking, her classmates
wanted also to see. It was the first time I thought
maybe something is really wrong. But
when I looked, there really was a snake.
 
Sharron saw it, too, and then we walked in
golden light—there is no other way
to say it, though it’s clichéd. Is it forbidden
to walk in honeyed light because it’s a cliché?
Even the birds’ white breasts turned gold overhead
like the straw in the hands of the maid
 
11.
in the Rumpelstiltskin story. Yes
they flew along the river to the sea,
they flew through sunset and were stained
for days—we saw them later in the week
while replacing the bicycle seat
someone had stolen from our building—
signaling the end of the two-year chain
of enchantment that had kept us from harm.
Soon we saw that every bike on Weizman
was similarly lacking a seat;
my child began to look around and grin
through her tears until it was unseemly

how the bike frame’s nudity enjoyed
my girl’s gaze and schadenfreude.
 
 
 

Marcela Sulak is the author of two poetry collections, Decency and Immigrant, both with Black Lawrence Press. She's translated four collections of poetry from the Hebrew, Czech and French, and is co-editor of Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Literary Hybrid Genres forthcoming in 2015 from Rose Metal Press. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.