For Laura Kaplan Levin, 1946-1980
By Bonnie Lyons
When you open the door and turn on the light
all of us, friends and far-flung family
scream "Surprise! Happy birthday!"
and we eat and crack corny jokes
about your being over the hill at fifty.
You've recently decided to go gray
and there are tiny wrinkles at the corners of your
The usual parts are beginning to sag
but mostly you look radiant.
That's how it should be
that's how I will it to be,
but no. On your fiftieth birthday
you have been gone sixteen years.
Your children approach your age.
Dead at thirty-three like Jesus;
a meaningless coincidence for a nice Jewish girl.
You'd hardly recognize me now, Laura.
All the wrinkles and gray saggy parts
I gave you - like the chicken pox -
they're all mine, of course.
I wanted to take the bullet for you
to be a wall, a moat, around you.
I never dreamed the enemy would grow inside you,
that someday I'd be old enough to be your mother,
that you could slip through my fingers like water.
Forever young, forever dead.
Absent presence, present absence.