Her foot is its own kind of tree — Four Poems by Robert Hirschfield

Oct 1, 2021

When Robert Hirschfield was 37 years old, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Over the years he became her caregiver and eventually began a poetry project to honor her memory. Now at 82 years of age, the poet and journalist, world traveler and resident of New York, presents four such poems from an entire series that bear witness—through poetic remembrance—to his mother’s struggle. The four poems—that are part of a series currently in its sixth year—are featured here with New York-based contemporary artist Judith Lodge’s work.

Foot

The foot she extends,
her right,
was it ever hers?
We watch it stumble in mid-air,
far from the carpet.
Even the sycamore tree
by the open window,
seeding her bed with owls,
is closer.
Her foot is its own kind of tree.

The Anti-Semitic Shoe

The shoe in the fridge
is her left shoe.
She sideswipes the celery
for a clearer view.
She smells her left shoe,
which she insists is my left shoe.
She shows me the anti-Semitic stitching.
She pushes me into the hole
she dug for apostates
over by the parsnips.

Hittites

She must have thought
she was Moses.
She smote the bread loaf
on the kitchen table
with a fat knife handle
and stared at it,
as if waiting for water
the way Moses waited for water,
because the people were thirsty
and crazy and kept mistaking
themselves and each other
for the wrong people,
even Hittites.
She knew for sure
beating on the dry bread
in Queens
that she was not a Hittite.
That was all she knew.
Maybe for that reason
into her emptiness
a fire-horn of water
penetrated far and deep.

Yellow Grass

We are in the yellow grass
two feet from her bed.
We’ve been walking all night.
She’s been to Poland many times.
Our cloister has many doors
all locked from within.
The key is turning
inside her mouth.
My shadow is always
a step behind her shadow.

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About the Contributor

I am an eighty-two year old poet and journalist. I live in New York, but have traveled widely and written about nonviolence activists in Northern Ireland, Israel/ Palestine, Nepal, India and other countries. I am committed to poetry as a borderless language, a kind of prayer of the subconscious that can speak to all. When I 37, and my mother was roughly the age I am now, she came down with Alzheimer's. I was her caregiver for several years before I found an assisted living situation for her, followed by a nursing home after she suffered a stroke.I never thought I'd have the courage to begin this six-year long cycle of poems about her. Now I don't know if I will ever stop writing them.