d e a r h e l e n
b y R o b e r t B o h m
“You’ve always had a special place in my heart, Bobby. I even kept
some of your youthful writings in a box,”
you told me on the phone yesterday morning, then informed me
Aunt Lori had died in a Yonkers nursing home.
Before that call, the last time you and I spoke was 19 years ago
when I showed up, unannounced.
Toward the end of that night, in a house not far
from an old cattle-slaughtering barn, I gazed out a glass door
at a row of firs, beyond which
an abandoned engine block sat in a snow-dusted field.
Behind me you ridiculed a visiting Hindu,
an atheist cabinet maker whose fingers smelled
of coriander, which, like pure emotion, made no sense to you.
Years earlier, pregnant, you told me, “I made love to Jimmy
on the float,” and I pictured afternoon water
lapping the platform’s lake-eroded sides
as, after he entered you, you gasped in recognition:
violently, a single sperm extracted itself from the pack
then pushed, like an idea that wouldn’t say no,
through your egg’s zona pellucida while shouting,
“Bitch, this pregnancy’s for you!”
At what point in that forced marriage did your drunk husband,
his conga heart the loudest instrument in a band you didn’t know about,
first rumba by himself in his hardware store as if it was a ballroom --
and, if you know the answer, does it matter anymore?
Twenty-five years, then divorced, and it never occurred to you to ask
what you should’ve asked:
“How did those flying frogs in Africa evolve?”
“Was Jesus’ cross made from the wood
of the cherry tree George Washington chopped down?”
Your skull, pounding worse than with a sinus headache,
is the door Luther nailed his theses to
in Wittenberg when the Protestantism you inherited still attracted, unlike
now, the raucous-spirited: German peasants
rowdily roaming back roads as they jabbed
their pitchforks into the bellies of moneylenders fat on sauerbraten.
Dripping with those murders’ gore, I once,
in an industrial field overlooking the Hudson,
convinced an Otis Elevator secretary to jerk me off
while our grandpa, the one-eyed custodian, dusted pews in St. John’s.
I am what I am: what the weedstalk left behind,
the bad seed which sprouts, like a past
you didn’t know you had, in your mind.
Whatever you have in that box isn’t me.
I am the Jew or Hindu who befuddles you.
You went your way, I went mine:
you got elected to the local board of education,
I became a creep,
the family’s lone ecstatic,
its moody black sheep.