My father is singing
in the photo on the refrigerator.
It’s an impromptu portrait,
the last time the family was together
and, as is almost always the case,
no one knew it at the time,
but you know it now
so you feel like God
when you look at it
on your way to a midnight snack.
There are dishes waiting to be cleared
from the table in front of them
empty glasses, glittering forks.
My father’s hand rests on the shoulder
of the sister who took him in at 14.
She is not singing,
she is almost smiling
gazing off to the left.
My father’s younger brother
and an older sister
are singing with him.
Their arms are linked
at the elbows,
mouths in perfect O’s.
My mother and my aunt are smiling
standing by their husbands
as though they’d just decided
at that very moment
their lives had been good.
Rudy is dead now,
Lois (the one smiling) is dead,
Uncle Chickie is dead,
two of the sisters
dissolving into laughter; dead
and the one still singing; dead.
My father is dead too.
There is this terrible line between
is and was
and it moves so swiftly
you can barely see it
and maybe that’s why
we love photos like this
why we plaster them on our refrigerators
and invent ingenious things with magnets
to hold them there.
They are emblems of what could not be spoken
and what should not be forgotten
they are talismans of the sacred
wadded in the pocket of an old coat.
standing shoulder to shoulder
side by side
hands tentatively resting on each other
like small blessings,
singing a German song
from the immigrant childhood
that marked each of them
in different ways
and there is a sense of reconciliation
you come to see in time
that thing which comes after hope
the moment someone sings the first bar
and the rest join in.
as in the heart that cherishes them
they do not stop singing
until the song is finally done.