Penelope Weiss

The Big Woman and the Big Man

The big woman left on her late-life journey
last September in an East Village rainstorm.

Her husband, the big man,
had left on his late-life journey three months earlier,
on a sunny day in June.

They had no plans to meet, but each one remembered
their trip through the Dakotas decades ago
and thought, what if we could find that place
where we saw a bison cross the road?

Somehow they did it, they met right where the bison
crossed the road. It was cold that afternoon.
The dome of the sky was gray with coming snow.

They smiled at each other and hugged.
The big man and the big woman, they knew how to hug.

They had a pizza and a beer in Rapid City and slept sixteen hours
in a cheap motel. Then they drove back home.

The Grasshopper Études

You may remember my uncle Dov, who wrote The Grasshopper Études,
the Fusilli Sonata and the Rube Goldberg Variations.
Those melodies went out on the airwaves in the 1950s.

Dov played piano and accordian. He made rolls for player pianos
and went to people’s houses to tune their baby grands.

I sat with him many times at the piano in his apartment
on Third Avenue, above the Sign of the Dove. He taught me to play four-hand
and told me stories about the grasshoppers who wrote The Grasshopper Etudes.

I believed him, of course,
like I believed my mother when she said she had been born
a queen but became a commoner when she married my father.

She even had a dress to prove it, green silk,
with Queen Esther written all over it in fancy yellow script.
I didn’t learn the real story of Queen Esther until much later.


Ubu, he was my friend. He was a father. He was a king.
And who am I, such as I am, I was in the (g)olden days.

I was indefensible, indestructible, insane.
Like an invisible wind I blew upon him to make him bigger,

almost saurian. But he was bigger than me. More wild.
More happy, even, than I have ever been.

I eat mushrooms and nuts I find in the woods.
I know which mushrooms are good to eat.

I know which fathers are good, which kings are good.
Not too many, but some. I write their names on trees.

In the Name of Divination (The Mouse Judge)

The mouse judge sits on his bench.
He looks at the crowd. He adjusts his crinkly white wig and scratches his head.
A young man is in the dock, chained like a slave.

It’s the end of summer. Moths fly through the moist air.
The mouse judge listens to their mutterings.
The moths talk about divination, how it’s a holy thing.

The judge smiles. In the name of divination, he once was ridiculed,
shut up in a cage, bent to the holy will of others.

“All rise,” shouts the bailiff, but the judge is already seated.
The judge remembers the cage where the worshipers had put him.

Even now their prayers chill his bones.
He remembers how he said things he never meant to say,
bowed to unworthy people, danced in the dust.

When they sang their sacred songs, he escaped.
He looks at the prisoner. The prisoner flinches. The trial begins.

The Magician’s House

I watch the man on the platform. He puts down his suitcase.
It’s his house transformed into miniature.

Now he must transform himself into miniature to enter his house.
No windows, not even a door, just straps, a zipper and brass clips.
What will he do?

He stands the suitcase on end, a tall building, not a cottage.
He walks around it several times, hands behind his back,
his porkpie hat just so on his head. A magician’s thinking cap.

I stand behind a pillar. He sees me and stops walking.
He comes toward me, but I don’t move.

He walks back to his suitcase and stares at it.
Then he’s gone. I missed it, his transformation.
He’s inside his house, but I don’t know how he got there.

I walk up the steps to the mezzanine and out into the street.
A long line of yellow taxis, but I don’t take one.

I walk to the corner and wait for the light. Green changes to amber.
Amber changes back to green as I step off the curb.

Penelope Weiss was born in 1942. She grew up in New York City and now lives in Shrewsbury, Vermont with her husband, John Davis. Storiana, her collection of stories, was published by Casa de Snapdragon Press and is available on Amazon.
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