by Richard Jeffrey Newman
The girl who turned her back on you
when you were twelve
to be a girl who gave herself to fashion
returns to offer you her hips.
She peels from perfect porcelain skin
the same shade of pink she wore
the last time you saw her in shul
and you fuck as if you’re dueling,
sinking into each other
over and over again
the well-honed blades
of dismissed compassion.
Tell your children lies if you must!
she whispers through clenched teeth,
first beneath you, then with her face
inches above yours, her nails
pushing each syllable
into your chest.
These trysts with ghosts
are yours to keep,
A pregnant white woman
wheels her daughter
through the heavy double doors,
parks the stroller in the front row,
and waddles up onto the bimah.
The child, mouth half-open,
tongue a tiny spear between her lips,
pushes hard to taste the world
against the restraints
holding her in place.
She stops, looks straight at you,
calls your name, her voice
the voice your father used
when he bought you back from God
for five silver dollars. Is this
your mother’s true desire?
The question yanks your dreaming-self awake.
When you close your eyes again,
the room is the same,
but the girl, still restrained,
is crying. Her mother,
leaning down to comfort her,
doesn’t see that you’ve returned.
In blue jeans worn thin at the knees
and a pristine but untucked
white tee shirt, the fashion model
beckons from the door through which
when you were friends
you’d escape the rabbi’s sermons
to play in the all-purpose room downstairs.
Standing equidistant from each of them,
your clothes a pile of ash at your feet,
you’re naked and somehow unburnt.
Nonetheless, you raise your pistol.
You should have understood
the task that brought you here
would be other than the obvious.
As a poet and essayist, Richard Jeffrey Newman’s work explores the impact of feminism on his life as a man, especially as a survivor of childhood sexual violence. As a co-translator of classical Persian poetry, he writes about the impact of that canon on our contemporary lives. His own books of poetry are, most recently, Words for What Those Men Have Done, (Guernica Editions 2017) and For My Son, A Kind of Prayer (Ghostbird Press in 2016). His translations include The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Junction Press 2011) and Selections from Saadi’s Gulistan. Newman is on the Board of Directors of Newtown Literary, a Queens, NY-based literary non-profit and curates the First Tuesdays reading series in Jackson Heights, NY. He is Professor of English at Nassau Community College in Garden City, NY, where he also serves as secretary of his faculty union. His website is www.richardjnewman.com.