At Synagogogue
by Jean Trounstine

    Standing in rows, our heads bowed,
    beckoning toward something we call God,
    I take in music, melodies
    that ache inside like painful memories.
    I whisper the silent prayer.
    I even speak the Hebrew I don’t understand,
    its ancient sound, a past I can claim.
    But at the part of the service
    where the rabbi asks us to say
    names aloud of those who need healing,
    and he says Jean Trounstine into the air,
    I cry softly into Bob’s shoulder,
    squeezed against him in the hard pew,
    embarassed that it’s come to this.

    After the service, we exit to the social hall
    for coffee and pastry, the Oneg Shabbat, .
    a time of gathering and warm renewal.
    A woman I barely know says she’s surprised
    to see me here, after all.
    I want to scream, What am I supposed to do?
    Hibernate under a rock?
    Now I can’t wait to go home,
    remembering how my mother couldn’t say the word, cancer.
    Mom it’s OK, I said, through tears.
    You have cancer. I don’t want you to die.
    She beamed when I told her that, and I kept telling her,
    through her struggle to get out of bed
    after the cancer had spread to her brain,
    before they had to strap her down,
    to the day before her coma when I painted her fingernails red.
    Once, she threw her wig across the room,
    refused to wear it.
    You can’t believe how awful this is, she said of chemotherapy,
    and closed her eyes to me at the foot of her bed,
    wishing the world would go away.

    After temple, in the car on the way home,
    it hits me. I might die.

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