Mudlark Poster No. 54 (2004)

Lost Children | Liz Dolan

Recollecting Ethel Rosenberg's Execution
Struck by Lightning | A House Divided

Liz Dolan is a wife, mother, grandmother, retired English teacher; she is most proud of the alternative school she ran in the Bronx. She has seven grandchildren who live on the next block. One, David, has Downs Syndrome; he was born when she was grieving the loss of three family members in four months, one, an infant born dead. Now she knows David came to help her heal.
          Liz has published poems, memoirs, and short stories in Dreamstreets, Rattle, Literary Mama, Canadian Woman Studies, Slow Trains, Small Spiral Notebook, The Pedestal, Ginbender, Jersey Works, Prism Quarterly, River King, Bardsong, Facets, Beach Life, The Delaware Anthology, Red River Review, Seven Seas, New Delta Review, and Nidus. She has received, in recent years, several grants from the Delaware Division of the Arts.

Recollecting Ethel Rosenberg's Execution for the Crime of Treason

Ethel’s rabbi riddled her, when young, on the Talmud.
“If a man is washed overboard with his wife and son,
and can save only one, whom should he save?”
“The wife, she is the tree, she will again bear fruit.”
Minutes before her execution, her rabbi begs her,
in a green print dress and prison slippers, hair cropped,
to confess. “Your husband is dead. Save yourself
for the sake of your children.”
“I have no names to give. I am innocent.”
She kisses her prison matron on the cheek.
While we in school giggle, scramble under our desks,
heads tucked, knees bent like blue and white turtles
retreating into our shells,
waiting for the bomb to drop.
Is she the spy who brings us to our knees,
hangs dog tags about our skinny necks?
Doesn’t she deserve the chair like Cagney,
whose squeals deafen me each night,
as he is dragged down Death Row in the Big House?
Then why do I pray this dowdy housewife,
drying the dishes in her floury apron in a kitchen
not far from my own, will repent,
will save herself from being fried,
will not orphan her young sons?
Maybe, already, I can smell something burning.

Struck by Lightning

In cruel April this eight pound Christmas baby
still lies on the sage green couch, oxygen
seeping into his lungs through a canula,
gasping as though he is breathing glass.
There are days I wonder
if he will still be lying on the couch fully grown
like Mrs. Mac Illmurray’s daughter whom I visited
as a child in their fourth floor walk-up.
She, lying on the couch, shrouded
by an army-surplus blanket, never spoke and stared
directly ahead at the nocturnal painting
of Christ Watching over the City of Jerusalem.
Nauseated by the smell of sweat and cod liver oil,
I relished digging my jagged nails into the jellied flesh
of her freckled upper arm, pinching her and telling her
she was faking because she didn’t want to divide fractions
or help her mother dry the dishes.
She never flinched. Did I learn
she had been struck by lightning or did I make it up?
Now all I can think is “Christmas is a time of miracles”
as I listen to the hiss-whir of the baby’s ventilator.
Already pneumonia has scarred his lungs
and now they babble about tracheotomies,
laser shavings, and Amoxcyllin.
A lightning strike might take him home.

A House Divided

A folded fiver drops on the grass
from between the leaves of Adrienne Rich’s
Dark Fields of the Republic borrowed
from the Adams Street library in Lewes,
the First Town in the First State.
In Dark Fields, the poet laments
the execution of Ethel Rosenberg in 1953
for selling atomic secrets to the Russians.
She, in her prim hat and blue serge suit,
her bespectacled husband, Julius, in his tight fedora;
they are guilty, of course, but mother and father to someone.
Lying in the grass Honest Abe looks up at me,
worn and wrinkled from the fray;
how many hands has he passed through;
what has he bought and sold?
As his birth mother, Nancy Hanks,
asked, “What became of my son Abe?”
I ask, too, “What became of Ethel’s children?
Did you know them?
Did they learn to read?
Did they get on?”

Copyright © Mudlark 2004
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