Jo-Ann Mort

Market Day
December 23, 2018 Mort Jo-Ann

Market Day

Python belt on my jeans.
You bought it for me maybe
thirty years ago at the market
in Oaxaca, bargaining until the price
was on the floor. It still fits me,
wrapped around my stomach like
a safety belt that holds memories
close to my skin,
a binding or a soft kiss
each time I pull up my jeans.

“Doll,” you called me, your
Serbian accent getting thicker with
each year that you lived in America.
Once, you met me at the airport
in Mexico City, handing me
a canister of Mace pepper spray
to keep in my bag while we travelled,
but instead of using it against a bandit
or rapist, the cap got loose in the back pocket
of my jeans while the yellow liquid seeped
down my leg like the stripe on a wild animal.

I can still feel the burn, decades later.
Our immediate need was to find me
a new pair of jeans, so we shopped near
the Zocalo where the stores were full
of denim, but only for tiny Mexican bodies,
not my tall and angled bones. The pants
we bought were too short and too wide,
but the belt kept them firm around me.

I returned once to Mexico without you.
In the market in Cuernavaca, a vendor
weighed strands of sterling to sell me,
looped around my neck and chest,
heavy and light silver and the hoops,
costing a peso or two, threaded
through my ears.

You are dead. Your ashes
scattered over the Adriatic.
I remember the cut flowers
in the glass jar in your bedroom
on Brac, left for us by your daughter
for our return from Dubrovnik.
The put- put of your motor boat
as it crawled around the island.
We docked for fresh caught
smelts and hard crust bread
soaked in Dalmatian wine.

On market day, we would walk
down the steps of your street
to the dock where the produce
displayed was tomatoes and green
onions. It was a simpler time,
even though Tito was barely dead
and a civil war was bubbling
from the mountains and the fields.
I was young then, or at least
in my twenties, and thought I
had all the time in the world.

Tonight, the music near my house is live
as I sit with friends you never met
eating roasted salmon and wine snuck
into the park in water bottles.
The belt is beneath my t-shirt.
I remember it only when my mind
wanders from the stage and not really in boredom—
but with a sort of reflex wanting the air
beside me to welcome you.

Jo-Ann Mort is a poet and writer who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though she is a frequent traveler, especially to Israel and its neighbors. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her poetry has appeared in Stand, Pequod, The Jewish Quarterly, Social Text and elsewhere. Her journalism and analysis have appeared in Haaretz, Foreign Policy, Dissent (where she is also a member of the editorial board), The Chicago Tribune, The Nation, The American Prospect, and other publications. She is co-author of a book about the kibbutzim in Israel published by Cornell U. Press. She tweets at @ChangeCommNYC.