Eve Rifkah

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is editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of  Poetry Oasis, Inc., a non-profit poetry association dedicated to  education, promoting local poets and publishing Diner. Poems have or  will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, 5 AM, Parthenon West, newversenews.com, poetrymagazine.com,  Chaffin Journal, Porcupine Press, The Worcester  Review, California Quarterly, ReDactions, Jabberwock Review, Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and translated into Braille. Her chapbook “At the Leprosarium” won the 2003 Revelever chapbook contest. A professor of English at Worcester State College, she received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College and ives with her husband, poet Michael Milligan.

 February  6, 1955

Dear Suzanne

I am back to visit you today My father brought me on the bus to Ashmont then the train and a trolley we come to escape my mother I know it is that way although my father is an artist and loves it here it is where mother won’t come but why doesn’t he hold my hand when we cross the busy street and walk around the bronze Indian inside we go up the grand stairway the air changes  here I look all around my eyes in flight up at the painted ceiling always stumble on the stairs my father grabs my arm

we quickly cross the tapestry room the chill air frosts my father’s mood
until we exit to the crescent corridor into Monet’s sun-warm haystacks
like clocks ticking time in shadow in light here we turn right by-passing the large Gauguin the one father doesn’t like as he avoids Egypt and Greece art pulled from tombs he shudders when confronted with scenes of Christ child with tiny head painted as a little man, he says or the adult pierced and bleeding

he comes for the Impressionists the Dutch, the Flemish he eats with his eyes always hungry at home, an easel once stood in an unheated room after the move, away from  coal-shoveled heat to oil boxes of pastels hide under the bed my father brings me here I learn worship as color and line as I learned the Shm’a  in shul on the high holidays

here father tells  stories Suzanne, he told me your name the only model with a name made you more than brush strokes and shadow He tells me about your son Maurice how he signed his name with  V. to show that he was yours and not Utrillo’s Suzanne,  in front of Degas’ L’ Absinthe, my father tells me that is you tells me in this painting you are old and sad I know how he wants women always beautiful fearful of  age I wonder if I will be beautiful enough what will happen to mewhen I am old Suzanne, I love  the Millet’s  I want to live in the country where it must be peaceful and there are a lot of places to hide and the paint thick landscapes of  van Gogh but it is you I love most

the little girl at your feet




October 17, 1956

Dear Suzanne,

I go with my father to shul wearing my pretty dress with a stiff 
petticoat that scratches my legs. We sit with Grandpa where we always 
sit in the first row of the balcony. The setting sun rouges the ceiling 
in long strokes.  It is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, when we 
are supposed to atone for our sins. I am eight years old and I am not 
sorry for my sin of hatefulness. I have broken one of God’s 
commandments, but who is this God that orders me to honor a mother so 

Who is this God who ordered the rain to fall forty days washing over 
all the land? I read about Noah in my bible comic book and cried for 
all the drowned creatures. Suzanne, in this temple, I am content to 
listen to the choir sing, floating on mournful sounds, forgetting the 
turbulence outside these strong walls. I listen to my father and 
grandfather sing the prayers. The cantor cries his heart to God asking 
for forgiveness in a language that is only sound to me as the blowing 
of the shofar, words made into music.

I who cannot find the heart to forgive my mother for the pain she 
causes me, what can I say of forgiveness? Sitting here playing with the 
fringe of my father’s tallis, fingering the corner tassels with the 
special knots. Each corner a compass point for the people swept around 
the world, swept away like dirt, like specks of dust in a universe of 
dust. I am a part of and apart from these people around me, their 
voices encompass me — the un-believer. Shma, Shma – I have no one to 
call to.




 February 26, 1983

Dear Suzanne,

Today my mother died. I dwindled her to death long before her heartless 
heart stopped. Swept her away. Broom straw rattles my memory flaring 
into nightmare suffocating under her weight – I scream. And scream 
again until only dust motes star the morning light.

When asked I made believe her death for years. Now on this day relief 
stings and blurs. Death cuts the bind of lies; I break loose free fall 
into sweet February clear air. New blood already rising, a spring 
awakening. I dance on a frozen grave. You are half an orphan, my father 
tells me. From birth, I reply.

I live now in a country house surrounded by a skirt of sleeping fields. 
Sheltered here I sew cloth windows searching a way out. My art hangs in 
galleries – one sold. Never more. Pencils wear to nubs – a hollow ache. 
I feed my son  summer peeled and blanched and frozen away.




November 6, 2005

Dear Suzanne,

At dinner, I look at the pastel portrait on the wall kitty-corner to 
the picture of the man going through trash, urban scene 1946. My father 
was in art school then before I was born long before this portrait of 
me not to my liking.  My raised hand ends in a loose crabbed fist. Hand 
attached to arm resting on knee. I am wearing a pale blue blouse and my 
favorite flounced skirt. Seated in a rocker so old it didn’t rock, the 
rockers worn flat; a bouncy ride. This portrait unfinished when my 
father could no longer take my complaints – not me, not me.

Did he ever see me? Said I looked like every dark skin beauty of India 
or Tahiti where he longed to go, longed to escape family as did 
Gauguin. Longed for dark beauties to keep him warm. What of me longing 
to be seen? Until grown when all I could say was not me of the portrait 
sketched in the old house. A house cold with lonely on the edge of 
fields and woods.

Year’s later after my father’s death, I found the picture in his 
portfolio the one that remained from art school days. Among the 
drawings of hefty nudes, all the women he slept with unsleeping, my 
portraits. The first age 12 wearing a red sweater, one braid in front, 
one behind, my face round and puffy as it is today but not then when I 
was a skinny child. And this one I paid near a weeks wages to have 
framed. I still don’t know why.
This last residue of the father that planted the seed of me.

But what do I know of sight? In my mirror reversed as our lives 
inversed, parent, child.

Confused as always,