The Gematria of Five Sisters

The rabbi hadn’t known my mother-in-law.
Associated with Beth Israel Memorial Chapel,
he buried Jews all the time, his job.

So when he began the service
noting Ruth had been born February twenty-second, 1920,
her daughters immediately corrected him:
February second: Groundhog Day, James Joyce’s birthday.

“But the e-mail said the twenty-second,”
he protested, the big gray beard
a kabuki mask hiding his intention.
Did he hope to persuade them
their mother really had been born on that date?
Shifting the blame, claiming innocence?

All at once I figured he must have written
a neat little sermon
based on a gematria riff on the number 22 —
“all things” in Hebrew numerology,
the number of letters in the alphabet —
unless his verbal jujitsu had to do
with the Jewish calendar —
he did allude to the month of Adar, after all —
which was also wrong.

Ruth’s daughters insisted on the facts,
and to his credit, the rabbi elided seamlessly
to a reflection on the gift of children,
living survivors who preserve
the memories of their parents.
Five daughters, count ‘em.

Charles Rammelkamp lives in Baltimore, Maryland. His latest book, Fusen Bakudan (“Balloon Bombs” in Japanese), was published in 2012 by Time Being Books. Charles edits an online literary journal called The Potomac His fiction is featured in issue #70 of The Pedestal.