Mother Said, by Hal Sirowitz

cover of Mother Said
When I bought your book the other week, Mr. Sirowitz, it was in perfect condition except for the inscription on the end paper: “DELIA / {from jaime},” which I suppose means that Delia and Jaime broke up and she didn’t want to be reminded of him anymore, though it’s possible that he shot her like the guy in that song “Delia” by Johnny Cash, maybe because she didn’t appreciate the book, and he got rid of it as incriminating evidence. You never know.

“Jaime” doesn’t sound like a very Jewish name — though you never know about that either — but it kind of suggests that some goyim do enjoy your poems about family life. Or at least, Jaime did. And me too: I liked it well enough to read it twice, all 128 pages of it, even if the parents in the book were nothing like my parents, and some of the poems in your own voice seemed a little flat because, let’s face it, you’re not the complex thinker your mother was. But your publisher did an outstanding job shaking down people for blurbs — two of them even compare you favorably with Woody Allen and Philip Roth. I’m sure your mother would’ve been proud to read that.

Aside from the inscription, which is in black ink, it was a very good-condition hardcover — I liked the cover design, and I remembered liking the animations I found on YouTube of a couple poems from the book (even though they were in Norwegian with English subtitles) so I bought it. I put it on a chair with several dozen other books I’ve piled up to read this month.

Unfortunately, a mouse came along and ate a three-inch-long strip from the dust jacket, top center, right above the word “Mother.” I don’t know why it didn’t sample any of the other books on the chair. There must be something special about yours, although I know some readers will disagree.

The mouse was kind of a slovenly eater, leaving two bite-marks in the cover — obviously it never listened to its mother either. I would be more upset about this if I’d bought the book new, but fortunately I only paid 80% of $4.50 — the bookstore was having a sale. I might not have bought it otherwise, though if I hadn’t I would’ve missed the occasional gems of wisdom in it. I reproduce some of these below in case people don’t believe me, having only heard you on NPR’s All Things Considered or seen you on MTV’s Spoken Word Unplugged — fine programs to be sure, but always more concerned with the flashy or freakish than anything thoughtful, and afraid to devote more than a few minutes to any one topic. That’s fine if all you want to be is a slam poet, of course, performing for drunks in bars, but I’m not sure that’s why your parents invested so much in your upbringing and education. They’d have wanted you to be taken seriously, especially when the better part of your schtick consists in repackaging their own words to you.

So even though I realize you were probably not trying to be wise, I did notice a number of sayings that would not be out of place in any collection of proverbs. Forgive me if I omit line breaks when transcribing these. If people want the line breaks, they can get a hold of your book for themselves, which I encourage them to do if they can find it in a public library or used bookstore, and can keep it away from the vermin which seem so fond of it.

The more you visit the dead, the less you have to say. (mother)

I happen to be wrong tonight. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be right tomorrow. (father)

Each time I hear my dog bark, she might be asking for you. (girlfriend)

The morning only starts after you’ve made your bed. (mother)

The night plays tricks on you. It makes you think you’re smarter than you are. (father)

Save [God] for bigger things, like if one of us gets sick. (mother)

Even a bum has to work hard convincing people that he’s really poor. (mother)

Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean the airline will let you fly for free. (mother)

The most you can do is make sure that when [death] comes it doesn’t cost you an arm & a leg. (father)

She says she’s very fond of you, but people say that about puppies they’re about to give away. (mother)

Words are everywhere. They’re in your shoe & in the label of your underwear. (mother)

The way to avoid a crisis is to speak in general terms. (therapist)

You tell a stranger your life story. But when you visit me you shut up. (mother)

They claimed that they improved on the Bible by adding the New Testament. But you & I both know that when you try to improve on something by making it bigger, like adding more bread crumbs to the meatloaf, it’s never as good as if you just left it alone. (mother)

Great metaphor, Estelle Sirowitz! You see, Hal really did love you to immortalize your words like that.

(I’m reading a book a day for National Poetry Month. Click on the book cover to go to its page in Open Library.)

6 Comments


  1. i have this and i really enjoyed it. i also have “my therapist said,” which i think i stumbled upon first.

    Reply

    1. Oh, I didn’t know about that one. I noticed on Amazon that he also wrote a My Father Said and wondered if the sequel would be as good as the original, or if it would start getting old.

      Reply

  2. My Girlfriend Said (maybe I have the title wrong, I’ll go home and check later) is a chapbook. I liked the therapist one the least. You may be interested to know that composer Alla Borzova used some of Hal’s poems as libretto for a very fun set of musical pieces titled (appropriately) “Mother Said” which is a stitch to see in performance. She uses “Chinese Restaurant” and th eone about getting your finger stuck in a ketchup bottle, among others. I think she’s recorded this piece on her CD.

    Reply

    1. That is good to know. I see it’s on iTunes, too — looks like seven poems altogether. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply

  3. Well, you’ve sold me a copy, Dave. I hope Hal Sirowitz reads your review!

    Reply

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