"I'm having an identity crisis,
I finally know who I am."
--John Engman, "Temporary Help"
It used to be easy.
I was my parents' child,
no great blessing for sure, but a nail
to hang my hat on in any case. Then I
morphed into my wife's husband,
my children’s' father.
Then the hurricanes came and
I was upended, roots torn out.
When the waters subsided
there was no mold
but still a corrupted smell.
I could not track it down.
I live with it now.
It's not my cat.
It's not my body.
It's some part of me
I cannot name or touch.
Would you like to say My Soul?
Go ahead. You might be right.
My soul, it's said, belongs
to God. If so, he’s welcome to it.
I'm using it only as a wrap
to keep us both warm on cold nights
or as a gauze so I must meet my world
naked and scared to death.
- Kenneth Wolman
FIFTEEN MEASURES OF SONYA’S VOICE
Sonya sings to Buddy the dog in the kitchen,
then walks the Esplanade at Sheepshead Bay
while her husband loses their money and his mind.
She tells me how she discovered her voice,
how once she was offered the reward of her vocation
by the Westminster Chorale.
Children may question why the sky is blue,
but not the world of choices.
In standing room, Sonya hears Slezak in Lohengrin.
The tenor has been chain-smoking since afternoon,
and smells of his drunken fornication
with an alto in the chorus.
But when he enters in his swan-drawn boat,
his armor shines.
Sonya becomes Leda, Slezak is her swan.
There are truths,
and then there are truths that surpass truth.
This is mythology.
Reality does not matter.
In the Brooklyn Academy on Fulton Street
Caruso in L’Elisir d’Amore sings
and spits blood into concealed handkerchiefs.
Sonya in standing room floats across the theater
in a bubble of pulmonary blood,
is lifted into the music, the elixir of love.
When Caruso sails for Naples to die in the sunlight,
Sonya works double shifts running a sewing machine.
One shift pays her share to the family,
one shift pays her voice teacher.
Sonya learns Saint-Sæn’s “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix.”
She tells me she used it to show off her voice,
and I can never listen to Samson et Dalila
without thinking of my aunt.
Even Jackie Wilson’s version, invoking Night,
begins to sound like Sonya.
Sonya falls in love.
When the Chorale beckons with its reward for sacrifice and duty,
she refuses, because the vigorous furrier
with diamond rings and brilliantined hair has come for her.
He floats in his own vision, of this lithe woman
singing to their children in the nursery of a house
he will never build for them.
And her father says “This is a substantial man.”
Sonya learns to sing in her chains,
clank them together like a child playing
in a nursery,
make something that sounds like music.
At night she comes home from the opera,
sits in the Sea Beach express and cries.
Her husband wanders the house,
their daughter tries to understand a loving ghost,
and so discovers God afloat
in her mother’s red bubble.
Her husband sinks money into Mafioso crooners
whose careers float face-down like unlucky loan sharks.
Their daughter grows to marry a rabbi from Long Island,
covers her head, comes to visit on Sundays
bringing bagels, her children, and condescencion.
Sitting across from me, sipping her tea,
her tale told, Sonya sings sotto voce
“Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix”
and her heart opens to the sound she remembered,
self-seduced by the memory
of the parallel universe of dreams.
- Kenneth Wolman
(Ed: No bio as yet. I'll ask.)