By Dana May
A landlord’s attorney –
“a family man” who hands out utility knives with his law office contact information on them,
who has been on this case for years—
told me about ________’s death
in the hallway of the fourth floor of Queens civil court one May day.
I have a habit of inquiring about her.
“A real sad situation,” he said—
he introduced his client next to him, _________’s landlord.
When I turned to him, he looked away,
and said nothing.
_________ lived alone in the apartment of her might-as-well-have-been-her-husband
(this was the legal argument we had to make in order to keep her apartment before the passage of HSTPA mid-litigation, which didn’t make it worth the landlord’s while to bring the case to trial and shifted the matter towards settlement talks).
She left voicemails that always got cut off at the three-minute mark.
She wanted me to stay on the phone with her to talk politics, art, and her life,
but I always had to go, during work hours,
and didn’t pick up when she called me at night.
I sat on one of the marble benches on that fourth floor
and searched for _________’s obituary.
“There was a smell,” the landlord’s attorney told me,
“she had been in her apartment for several days at least.”
I texted the attorney who took over her case after I left
_______________________________I guess we can take comfort in that
_______________________________she was able to stay in the apartment
Without paying rent since like 2018
Her assertive nature taught me something
A few things I will admit:
· I listened to very few of her voicemails, including the one where she noodged me about putting a cover page on the discovery I had an intern send out. This infuriated _________. She complained to my boss, who didn’t punish me, but told her that her way was, indeed, best practice. Resigned to this level of accountability, she became softer on me, but I kept my distance.
· I once told a different intern that _________ reminded me of the women in my family and she, on to greater and better things than me by now, I’m sure, remarked,
“that’s why you feel comfortable yelling at her.”
This shamed me.
I never raise my voice with clients now.
· She was one of the last clients I told that I was leaving. She begged me to take her case with me, for my phone number, the name of my new agency. I refused her.
My grandmother had a way of making my mother cry throughout my life,
and I’m sure for the 32 years prior to my birth.
But her and I had an age of innocence,
me, her first grandchild,
playing cards and eating her pasties and pasta.
Until one visit, when I told my mother a criticism she had made about her,
and my grandmother berated me for repeating her words to others while I was trapped in the car with her at a carwash.
“No respect!” became a catchphrase of hers.
I don’t claim to know much about family,
except sometimes you yell and scream at each other,
and this too, in forgiveness,
I wish to turn our attention back to that discovery.
To prove succession,
one often submits I.D.’s and mail and bills
and other kinds of run of the mill evidence
connecting them to the place and requisite time.
_________, for reasons that filled many conversations at my desk,
did not have such physical demonstrations of her time at the apartment.
What _________ had was years of
little white squares of receipts
from the local stores and ATM’s.
“It creates a pattern of behavior,”
she would repeat, and I accepted.
It took forever to get these receipts,
because she insisted on redacting the details of her purchases.
“That isn’t necessary,” I would say,
“I can do the redacting for you,” I would say,
“I don’t trust them,” she would say,
“I will do it, don’t you rush me,” she would say.
And eventually, I got them. You could see what she bought,
when you held the paper up to the light.
Raspberries, socks, katarzynki,
all blacked out with a sharpie.
One last thing to admit:
· _________ insisted on sending me a mug after I was long off the case. I insisted that she didn’t have to do this. She went ahead and sent two mugs to my friend, who still worked at the office, and me. “Long Live the Queen,” they read. My friend chastised me for never sending _________ a thank you note.
My mother would sit me down,
after every Christmas and Easter and birthday card,
ensuring that I wrote my grandmother
a thank you note.
“Your handwriting is terrible.”
It still is.
My grandmother still sent me birthday cards
well into her 90’s,
And my mother would ask if
I had called to thank her.
I am sorry, _________.
I remember quite a bit about _________, although
very few of her stories (so focused was I at the time on “getting to the point”).
_________ said to me once that she had visions of her would-be husband
and started to cry,
when I called to discuss discovery.
It can easily be any of us,
if we live long enough,
who can grow
difficult, unruly, lonely, hungry for a friend,
or at least an audience.
Any one of us can die without ceremony,
to be found.
We tell our stories, hoping someone will remember them.
 My editors, by which I mean my friends, both lawyers and laypeople, have advised me to give a poetic explanation of HSTPA or just drop it. But is this not part of a contemporary literary tradition to abstain from explaining every term to the reader? If I were to allude to an obscure ancient Greek poem, would it meet the same protest? No, one would only need to Google to understand the reference. So why must we shudder at the sight of a living statute, much less one of the more progressive housing reforms in recent American history? Therefore, my honorable reader, the law stays!
 Perhaps my grandfather, who ate pasties in the mines in Bessemer, MI, or my grandmother, who prided herself in making them, would be humored to know that a part of their culture would turn up in the same poem that includes redactions, modulating stanza structures, and legalese, all written by a descendant. Or maybe they would also agree that I should just explain a term like “pasty” in the body of the poem instead of in another pretentious footnote. In the stillness of writing, I hear my grandmother shouting, “whadda mean ya don’t know what a pasty is?!”
Photography by Derek Weng