On Learning, Late in Life, that Your Mother Was a Jew
Methuselah something. Somethingsomething Ezekiel.
So that explains it, you say to yourself.
And for one split second, you confront
the mirror like a Gestapo operative—
narrow-eyed, looking for the telltale hint,
the giveaway (jawline, profile, eyebrow)—
something visible that could account
for this, the veritable key
to your life story and its denouement.
It seems the script that you were handed
long ago, with all its blue-eyed implications,
can now be seen as something less than candid—
a laundry list of whoppers and omissions.
It’s time for something else to float
back in from theology’s deep end: the strains,
perhaps, of A-don o-lam, drowning out
the peals of Jesus the Conqueror Reigns,
inundating the lily and the rose,
stifling the saints (whose dogged piety
never did come close, God knows,
to causing many ripples of anxiety)
and you’re waiting for the revelation
on its way this minute, probably—
the grand prelude to your divine conversion,
backlit with ritual and pageantry.
But nothing happens. Not a thing. No song,
no shofar, no compelling Shabbat call
to prayer— no signal that your heart belongs
to David rather than your old familiar, Paul.
Where does a faithless virgin go from here,
after being compromised by two
competing testimonies to thin air—
when both of them are absolutely true?
Explication of a True Story
For Lani, my college roommate
Now that you’ve told me
what my father did to you
in the boat on Lake Mendota
the summer we both turned twenty—
that there had been a moment when he
carefully released his grip
from the throttle of the Evinrude
and snaked his hand down inside
the top of your magenta bathing suit—
I understand the plot.
And when I think about your face,
your startled rage, your fierce blush,
I recall that your assaulter was a man
who went about his everyday affairs
a scion of respectability, genteel
down to his cordovans: the linen
handkerchief, the perfect press
in his Van Heusen shirt, the ching
of change in a front pocket—
These are the symbolic elements.
I did see him naked once,
when I was nine. He lay sprawled
across his bed, snoring like a diesel
in the slatted sunlight.
Between his legs lay coiled his
enormous apparatus—a gilded pile
of gunnery which even then I sensed
boded mighty ill for somebody, sometime.
This you would call foreshadowing.
And I’m sure that every thought
you have of me dissolves into that day
on the lake. You have it memorized
by now, and I am always at the heart of it:
the other one violated- the daughter, mortified.
And that would be the moral of the story.
The message. The denouement.
Another Thing I Ought to Be Doing
Many women fail to check their own breasts for suspicious
lumps on a regular monthly basis.
— The American Cancer Society
So now I should be taking special care
of them, is that it? Every month go pat
pat pat—when what they’ve done for me is flat
out zero? Nothing? Case in point: where
were they when I was fourteen, fifteen,
and topographically a putting green?
Not to mention nights when I disgraced
my gender, stuffing tissue paper down
my polo shirt or confirmation gown—
my philosophy on staying chaste
having less to do with things profound
than fear of giving off a crunchy sound.
And now you’re saying, Minister to them!
these very breasts that caused me great gymnasiums
of misery and high humiliation—
Institute a monthly regimen!
meaning I’m to walk my fingers gingerly
around these two molehills in front of me.
Sorry, but my hands have dropped straight down
like baby birds. They will not rise
to the occasion, won’t get organized,
refuse to land on enemy terrain.
They simply twitch and fidget in my lap
as if they sense a booby trap—
As if they hear the moron in my head
insisting that I’ll never be caught dead.