At Holy Name of Jesus

on the dark-lacquered lunchroom floor
we sat crosslegged in our red, white, and navy jumpers
and khaki uniforms
watching the old
tube TV, transfixed,
as t-minus counted down to
main engine start
then liftoff.

After a minute
something awful happened,
though one of the boys
who liked to draw swastikas
in the margins of his notebook
whispered, too quietly
for the nuns to hear,

Cool.

Our eyes glued
to the screen
with millions
of other schoolchildren
on that January 28th
in 1986
waiting
waiting
waiting
for the pall to lift,
for the shuttle to reemerge triumphant,
for the teacher to walk again
among the living.

When nothing happened,
the nuns led us back
to silent classrooms
where no one spoke,
forsaken

with no one to save us.

Forte

The two hundred fifty dollars
from selling my keyboard
still sits on my desk
unspent.

I look up from my book
and the classical music
I play for some peace
in our tiny condo
and muse, sad and guilty
that I am giving up
as the day my father
sold the black baby grand.

But then Horowitz
begins to play Moonlight Sonata
tentatively,

tenderly,
and suddenly we are
heart to heart.

I listen
over and over
trying to know
this man I’ll never meet.

Vlady,
play me the piano

and I will write you poems.

Ronnie

hangs over the railing
at the first townhouse
next to my building
only I don’t know yet
his name is Ronnie.

He is 15, maybe,
tall, Chinese, with
smart, stylish glasses.

He skips hellos goes straight
to my dog’s name,
then sticks his hand out.

I’m Ronnie what’s your name?

I decide against
my citydweller’s caution
shake his hand
and tell him.

How do you spell that?

He spells it back in staccato,
tapping his leg at each letter.

His parents call him back in.

It’s ok,
he says,
you go on without me.

I stand there dumbly, smiling,
wanting to tell them
he isn’t bothering me,
staring at the crack in the door,
from which he struggles
to emerge,
pressing his long,
taut fingers against it,
frustrated,

telling me again,
It’s ok,
you go on without me,
as his parents
wrangle him inside

and the door closes
in front of him.

Bardo

My parents say
I stooped to sing
to dead crows on the curb

Nighttimes,
they drove me past
dead end signs
so I could flirt
with what lay beyond them

I piled around me
in my canopy bed
a pillow grave
so I could pretend at death.

Tonight
amid the pillows
I fold my arms across my chest
and hope to remember
whether death fancied me

and whether the crows
whispered back.

Da thing

Enunciate — The

The
thing I wanted to tell you
is dat

That

That
I used to sit
in the chair across
from my father

And dat

That

That
I couldn’t pronounce
th’s da way

The

The
way he wanted.

It isn’t dat

That

That
I have nothing to say.

It’s just dat

That

That
half da

The

The time,
I don’t think

you’re willing to wait.

I asked my God

for a black leather biker jacket
from the secondhand store

about twenty dollars, please,
I said

instead He did me one better
and answered
a long unspoken wish

I’d eyed one
in the J. Peterman catalog
for years
a duster,
cowboy coat,
made of oilcloth
split down the back
straps for each leg

my father frowned
at my tomboyishness
when I was a teenager
and refused to buy it

but my God
found me one, black,
at the secondhand store
for twenty-five dollars

my God,
who answers back,
“Ride ’em, cowgirl!”

Mendel’s Curse

Thumbing peas from their pods
I can’t help but think
of Punnett squares
and the phytochemicals
that would protect me
from a patrimonial predisposition
to cancer.

Sitting cross-legged
on the couch with a bowl
inherited from my husband’s grandmother
in my lap,
I prefer to think
of the pea-shellers
who’ve gone before

sifting cool green marbles
through their fingers

feeling peas.

Holocaust

The boys in their khaki uniforms
continued to draw swastikas
in the margins of their notebooks
even against our teachers’ dictates.

When my grandfather,
born a Jew,
showed me a picture
of G.I.’s pointing pistols
at each other
in front of a Nazi flag,
my third grade mind
could only draw
one conclusion.

Fascinated by stories in our books
of lampshades stretched
from human skin,
I raised my hand in catechism
at Holy Name of Jesus
and told Ms. Kibodeaux,

“My grandpa was a Nazi.”

“Your grandfather’s going to Hell,”
she said to me,
eager to sort the damned
from the saved,

burning us whole.

God’s Playground

My God
doesn’t like you.
He says
suicide bombs
are for sissies,
and even if He were
one of those virgins
you guys are
always talking about,
He wouldn’t screw you,
no sir.

You should get
a nicer God,
one who loves
Jews and Christians
and Muslims alike
even though
(I agree)
some of the Christians
don’t deserve it.

You know the ones –
they put bumper stickers
on their rusty cars
that say
“My boss is a Jewish carpenter.”
You’d think
Jesus would give them a raise,
that Shylock,
just to see
His bumper stickers
on better cars.

But anyway,
why not get a God
who doesn’t like to see
His kids blown up,

a God
who would talk you out of it.

Breakup

I’m sorry, God,
but things just aren’t
working out between us.

In the beginning
it was all light
and flowers
and stargazing
and hanging out together
on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

And it was good.
But you’ve changed.
Do this, don’t do that,
worship Me.

“You shall have
no other gods before me.”
Ok, I said, we can be exclusive.

And, sure, I’ve coveted my neighbor,
but I’ve been faithful to you.
Still, you’re always watching me,
asking if there’s anything
I’d like to confess.

So I’m breaking up with you.
I’d like to date other gods.

Let’s just be friends.