Poems by Paul Hostovsky
My mother’s new house
was the third house on the left,
the one with the big rock in the front yard–
you couldn’t miss it. This was
on the third rock from the sun, the one
with billions of people on it–you couldn’t
leave it, not even if you died
three months after retiring and moving to Boston
to be closer to your grandchildren. It was
a nondescript rock, a boulder really,
that the builder probably decided on a lark
to leave there: a sort of lawn ornament,
a sort of landmark. Sandstone or limestone
or maybe shale. She’ll have a hard time
selling it with that rock in front, said my wife.
She won’t sell it, I said. She’s not leaving.
She died three months later, suddenly, unexpectedly,
a bacterial infection that overwhelmed her overnight.
We never found out how she got it. There are
more bacteria living on your skin
than people living on the third rock from the sun.
My son liked to climb it when we visited.
He was only 4. His sister was 2. They don’t
remember the rock and they don’t remember
my mother. The buyer said he didn’t like the rock
but it wasn’t a deal-breaker. The two of us
stood in the front yard negotiating. I told him
it was a great landmark–you couldn’t miss it.
I told him my kids liked to climb it. I told him
my mother lived here only three months–she hadn’t even
hung her pictures yet. Suddenly, unexpectedly,
I started to choke up. He put his hand on my shoulder
to console me, this stranger, this buyer, a tender
gesture that only made it worse, and I began to sob
uncontrollably. I hid my face in my hands
and turned away from him, and faced the rock.
Boy with Father with Foreign Accent
My father’s name is Egon,
pronounced egg on.
He grew up in Czechoslovakia
so he pronounces a lot of his words
wrong. I help him with that and in turn
he helps me spell Czechoslovakia.
I’m the only kid in my class who can.
I’m writing it now on the placemat
at the International House of Pancakes.
We’re international, me and Egon,
sitting across from each other in our booth
like nations at the table. A language
is a dialect with an army, so I drill him
in the names of all the syrups
and he drills me in C-z-e-c-h-o-s-l-o-v-a-k-i-a
while we wait for my pancakes and his eggs.
“Egg on your face,” I say to him,
and he reaches for a napkin.
“It’s just an expression,” I explain,
and he asks me what it means. I say
I’m not sure, but whenever I hear it
it makes me think of him. “You have Egon
on your face,” he says. And I patiently
correct him. But he says again, “You have
Egon on your face—you have my nose
and mouth and chin. Egon on your face—
and you can’t wipe him off.”
Paul Hostovsky‘s poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and the Best American Poetry blog. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. Website: paulhostovsky.com