You were born to a mother
In and out of the hospital
And by “hospital” I mean psychiatric facility
And by “psychiatric facility” I mean off-white walls
The slick of piss on the floor
Moans behind cracked doors.
She hits you like a stranger
Eyes blank of recognition
Bites you, kicks you
Curses you and your father
As you drag her
Out of the house
You never had a mother
You had a sick older sister
An open wound that never heals.
You thrive at school
College interview, Harvard U
In a room full of mahogany and leather
He asks, eyes on your application, , “what does JYL stand for?”
“Jewish Youth League, sir.”
“Ah…I see, you’re a Jewess.”
So you go to you U Conn and get your BS.
You and Angela Davis
Teach for Herbert Marcuse in Ohio
The three of you, together, travel to California
Two weeks after your marriage
Your husband is carted off to Vietnam
To return in six months time
In a bag, drapped by a flag.
His body is never found
There is no bag
Only a flag
Which you burn
Forging your tears into steel
To do battle on the 6 o’clock news–
Widows against the war
“hey, hey, LBJ
How many kids did you kill today?”
You marry a strange, handsome man
Wired, with cruel eyes and a burning tongue
Who can make you laugh
He makes you laugh so hard you shoot cheap red wine right out your nose
He makes you laugh so hard you have to put the sword down.
When he shows up at your apartment
For your first date
In a 3-piece suit and tie–
San Diego, 1967–
Your roommates think he’s a narc.
He became, he remains, your co-conspirator.
You’re ABD when the head of your department
An old, white man with wolf blue eyes
Corners you in his office
And tell you he will never let you pass
“The world doesn’t need another female professor.”
So you fly to England with your husband
And birth a child
Who you never wanted
But they expect it
And, I guess, you are tired of fighting
Only you don’t get tired of fighting
Not for long
And you come back to the U.S.
And march down the beach
To the power plant
You, me, and Dad
Surrounded by a ragtag bunch of New Left survivors
Against a town full of lace-curtain Irish
And Italian, outer-borough refugees
Who traded in their Chevy’s for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac
And their faith
For low taxes and good schools
Courtesy of the Long Island Lighting Company.
And we don’t stop there
Marching against the proxy war in El Salvador
And the early-eighties arms race suicide sprint
DÃ©tente is dead, greed is good, the dream is over
I ride on your shoulders.
And you never quit
Typing away at your dissertation
Day after day sunlight falls to shadow along your poster:
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
A decade later you march down the aisle–
Dad didn’t show
He had, “better things to do”–
Cap and gown you step
Eyes on fire.
You had to soldier for everything you got.
You dole out these stories, rarely, like praise
Over cooling plates
“Just the two of us tonight, kiddo.”
You still send his mother flowers every year
You know, I never knew his name
You know, I grew up half starved, how much these dinners meant.
Mom, your love does not come cheap.