By Michael Copperman
We did not speak of the tragedy, but we came together as we often don’t manage in busy weeks. My Japanese mother shows her love by overproviding, making the meals her mother made in her youth, cold salad of long rice in shoyu and rice vinegar and sesame oil stacked with slivered cucumber and piles of fresh-pulled crab meat and spirals of egg, a five-quart steamer of fresh rice, great platters of sashimi on beds of lettuce and daikon, always so much bounty, more than we need or can hold, all of it laid out at the dining room table for my father and brother and sister-in-law and their three boys and myself alone at the far end of the table. The five and seven year-old are wild with the feast and their own anarchy, and the three-month-old is active and requires more than a binky and cradle, makes tiny burbling sounds, asking, wanting, demanding. Three generations seated at a single table for food enough for many more and we attend to our plates, for as Jake Adam York, gone this very morning at forty by sudden stroke, once wrote of his family in Alabama, meals are memorials that teach us how to move. We ate while the rain tapped at the windowpanes and fell in the heavy night beyond, and the boys banged forks to table and stuffed their cheeks full of rice and nori and all the while an adult tended the baby and hummed, or danced, or sang, my father’s “Oh Shenandoah…” in a cracked and off-key warble that made me five again, being put to bed, asking for just one more song, anything to keep my father there and not be turned back to ticking of the wall clock in the turning dark; and too there was my mother’s melodic humming, songs from “Sound of Music,” and “The King and I,” whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head up high, and last and longest there was my brother’s strange dance, how he shuffles and spins with both arms about the child like the running backs who earlier in the day held so meaningless a burden with such force of concentration, and my brother set his cheek to the boy’s tiny forehead as he turned and turned in this tenderest and most awkward ballet, all of it meaning only: my son, my darling child, you are safe for now. And because I have no-one to hold who demands such devotion from me, and because there is nothing sufficient to say about the loss of children with so much before them, instead I think of Jake and how he lived (not how he died), Jake who said in the same poem of food and family that history moves in us as we raise our voices and then our glasses to pour a little out for those who poured out everything for us, and I see that it is better to bear witness to joy than to face sorrow with empty arms.