Jeff Friedman ~ Five Prose Poems

Not Everything Was in My Father’s Will

My father left me a CD with noth­ing in it and a record of all his closed accounts. He left me a hole in which to deposit old birds, the bust of the uncle he hat­ed, old news­pa­per clip­pings of ads for cloth­ing lines he was sell­ing, the tran­sis­tor radio he pressed to his ear to hear the ball­games, tales of his ear­ly days toss­ing feed to the chick­ens and chas­ing after the cow that wan­dered off into the field, the words to songs he no longer remem­bered, but still tried to sing.  He left me a bridge to Paris the size of a chip­munk and a deed to a par­cel of land on Mars. He left me the lin­ger­ing scent of the Wildroot Hair Oil he combed through his thin wavy hair every morn­ing. He left me the shad­ows inside his clos­et, wait­ing for the venet­ian blinds to be opened at dawn. He left me three pairs of glossy black wingtips and the sound of their shuf­fling over the side­walks. He left me a leather jack­et that held the shape of his round bel­ly pressed against its but­tons. He left me an enve­lope of Kennedy half dol­lars, each a tal­is­man against curs­es and bad luck. He left me the coun­try of hope float­ing in his brown eyes, the bro­ken tree of his Hungarian ances­tors, his favorite cliché about the past, “That’s ancient history”—and his hunger for heavy stews.


Lost Memory

My sis­ter stole a mem­o­ry of mine from my house and took it home, hid­den in her coat. I couldn’t remem­ber the mem­o­ry, but there was an emp­ty space on the side­board under the win­dow. “Give me back the mem­o­ry,” I said, stand­ing out­side her door. “And I won’t report you to the author­i­ties.” She let me in. “Don’t be ridicu­lous,” she said. “Why would I steal a mem­o­ry of yours?” It didn’t take me long to find the mem­o­ry, a blue jar sit­ting on the glass stand between two chairs. When I picked it up, she looked puz­zled. “This is my place,” she said. “These are my things.” “Not true,” I replied and unscrewed the lid. Emptiness waft­ed out with its sting­ing scent. Now I remem­bered some­thing I had want­ed to for­get. I screwed the lid back on quick­ly and set it down. “That’s my mem­o­ry,” she said. “You shouldn’t have opened it.” “Then what do you remem­ber?” I asked. “Nothing—it’s gone because you let it out.” And as I stood there, angry at my sis­ter, the scent of the mem­o­ry evap­o­rat­ed, and all I could remem­ber was the jar, and now that belonged to her.



We seemed as per­ma­nent as ancient rocks or moun­tains. Bathing in streams, we delight­ed in sin and out­rage and paid trib­ute to the spir­its of trees and rocks. We didn’t want to be God or even to destroy him. But his face was a cloud rain­ing down on us. Imagine our sur­prise when Noah marched the ani­mals in pairs into the ark and locked the door, laugh­ing at us. Imagine our fear when the fires spread and the great flood came.  When we swam into the flames and rose toward him as a sweet smoke, when we fought the waves until our strength gave out, when we climbed the rocks only to be thrown back by the harsh winds—He promised us immor­tal­i­ty, but we were only a list of names carved into dust.



I gave up the hens and all their eggs. I gave up my hon­ey and all my hives. I emp­tied my bank. It was not enough, so I print­ed more mon­ey, but soon that was gone, and the print­er broke. I emp­tied my draw­ers, my sev­en­teen coin jars, my wal­lets. The invest­ments and insur­ance accounts were already gone. I pulled out my pock­ets, emp­ty­ing feath­ers, salt, and crumbs Next I gave up the smart TV, the com­put­er, and all my fur­ni­ture. I gath­ered up every­thing in a big box—not enough. I gave up my last hid­den dol­lars and the chil­dren of my last hid­den dol­lars. I even gave up the car­ton of milk in the refrig­er­a­tor and the ice in the freez­er. I gave up the last half box of cere­al in the cup­board, the last box of pas­ta. I took a pho­to of the house and all its emp­ty space. I took a pho­to of the dust stream­ing in the light and the last fil­a­ments of the webs in the cor­ners of each room. I walked out to the gar­den. The flow­ers had fall­en. The fruit had rot­ted. Only the debt grew.


The Singer Who Lost Her Voice

The singer lost her voice, and though her lips were per­fect­ly shaped around syl­la­bles, only breath came out. For sev­en days she remained silent, gar­gling salt water to soothe her throat mus­cles. When she attempt­ed to sing again, her voice wouldn’t sound; no mat­ter how much effort she exert­ed, she couldn’t coax or force it out, so she made an appoint­ment with a spe­cial­ist, who nod­ded know­ing­ly, winked at her, and told her not to wor­ry, that her voice would come back when she didn’t expect it. After a long peri­od of time, she didn’t expect to hear her own voice any­more, so she thought that as the doc­tor pre­dict­ed, it might return. Yet it didn’t. Then she went to a heal­er, who poured warm oil down her throat. The oil soothed her throat; there was more silence. She found a witch online, who said it was a curse. The witch cre­at­ed a spell to remove the curse that had stolen her voice. “I can see your voice in the air fly­ing toward you. Can you see it?” The singer shook her head. “Open your mouth and let it in.” Something might have flown in her mouth; she didn’t know. She closed her eyes and sang; her song was sound­less. The palm read­er traced the deep grooves of her palm and said, “You will sing again, but first you must live like a bird.” What did that mean? Build a nest and live in a tree? Eat only seeds and nuts? learn to fly? She moved her arms as though they were wings. She ate her food in small quick bites. She puffed out her chest, threw back her head to sing, but couldn’t even pro­duce a whis­per. Then she found a guru who had the answer. The guru prayed and chant­ed. He burned incense. “Go home,” he said. “Drink this tea every night and chant these words, and you will sing.” Night after night, she drank her tea and chant­ed the prayer silent­ly. Then one night, she stood in the mir­ror, a glint in her eyes. Her voice would return now—she was sure of it. She began to mouth one of her favorite songs. White but­ter­flies streamed out, land­ing on the glass. Then out came rays of gold dust par­ti­cles and hid­den fears. The mir­ror cloud­ed, then cleared. The song fell back into her throat like water swirling down a drain. She walked out of her home and looked up at the clear white moon. She stead­ied her­self, inhaled the dark­ness and from her lungs and chest she pushed a song out with all her might. Thousands of sparks flew into the air.


Jeff Friedman’s new book, The Marksman, was pub­lished by Carnegie Mellon University Press in November 2020. Friedman is the author of sev­en pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions of poet­ry, includ­ing Floating Tales (Plume Editions/Madhat Press, 2017) and Pretenders (Carnegie Mellon University Press (2014). Friedman’s poems, mini sto­ries and trans­la­tions have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, Fiction International, New World Writing, The New Republic and numer­ous oth­er lit­er­ary mag­a­zines. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his trans­la­tion of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was pub­lished by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014. Nati Zohar and Friedman’s book of trans­la­tions Two Gardens: Modern Hebrew Poems of the Bible, was pub­lished by Singing Bone Press in 2016. Friedman has received numer­ous awards and prizes includ­ing a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two indi­vid­ual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council.