Martha Deed

The Points on Your Star

I loved you when I was young and when you told me
to “remember this,” I almost always did. The moon's eclipse
at the bottom of Clinton Avenue. We sat on the seawall,
the moon shadows mirrored in the Hudson River.
It was a cliché, but new to me and lovely.
We played checkers on the piano stool that swiveled
so I could make my moves without stretching my six year-old arms.
You waited without visible impatience while I considered
how best to beat you. And you respected me, did not lose on purpose.
Badminton in the yard. We had to avoid the old cherry tree that fell over
of its own accord one peaceful night years after our games were memories.
When Mom suggested there might be money for only one of us to go to college
and it would be a brother because girls can marry men with jobs, I tattled
and you said I would be going to college no matter what. No woman should depend
upon a man's support. You had learned that lesson well, growing up as you did
with a father you would not talk about, a father who was there ‒ and then ‒ not.
You said, A girl should not count on a boy's loyalty but make her own way.
You didn't care that this was not a thing to say in the 1950s. You knew better.

Of course, this was all helpful and useful and good,
and so I accepted your other advice and beliefs without question:
Your family is your greatest ally. Our family sticks together.
Once you step outside this house, you are vulnerable to betrayal
and mischief. Do not trust anyone except a member of this family.

But your father was a secret. Your mother was always sad.
Your aunt threw up her hands while driving
when she saw a snake in the road. Nearly killed us all.

There were cousins I saw only once when I was too young
to remember their names. Two little girls who lived in Brooklyn,
all the cousin families in one building. I envied how easily they
could run down the hallways and into each other's houses without knocking.
Why did we never see those people again? Why did I have to wait
until after you died to begin looking? Why did I feel that finding them
would be disloyal to you? And your father also? Why did we find
a cache of his postcards to you and letters and photographs
tucked into an old wooden chest in the attic, but not until after
Mom had died as well?

I did know when your father died, then your mother, and her effects
came to our garage to be sorted and discarded. I remember Mom holding
up that box of your father's and you saying in a harsh voice I would not
like said to me, “Burn them.” Which she did not do. And how many
years has it taken me to realize that if a fire was so important,
you could have set it yourself?

When I left home, you were still mostly loving and kind.
I tried to forget your rage when I was maybe 7 or 8, had talked back
to Mom, who reported to you. You came home that day after I had
gone to bed. I was asleep when you awakened me with your rapid footsteps
on the stairs, and I went off the far side of the bed and lay in the dust underneath
as you came into the room and bellowed at me to come out. I stayed silent.
You tried to reach me, but you couldn't. And then you left.
And I remembered.

Maybe I was lucky. I was the oldest, and I left home first, stepping out
into a world I did not trust. Now I know the worst was yet to come,
and most of it I wouldn't learn until after one of us grabbed your ashes
and deposited them far out of reach for cemetery visits on the summit
of Cadillac Mountain,an act I failed to understand until the younger ones
confided that in your later years you were angry and mean, said mean things
about me, too, without the benefit of my presence, told others I had taken loans
and never repaid them, trashed my reputation, in fact. Mom intervened
and made everyone know This Did Not Happen, but we were also trained
not to believe her in any dispute with Dad . . .

The worst discovery of all was you were openly, crudely antisemitic. Which I
never heard or knew. And racist also. You, the father who instructed us
about the horrors of slavery and the Civil War the year we lived in Maryland
when I was 9 and 10 ‒ and told us never to speak about it.
What happened to you?

Were you even aware of how ironic this was? You, who were so careful
to instruct us about the tragedies the Jewish refugee children
in our school classes had endured? How important to be kind to them?

Did you know that your own grandfather was the illegitimate son
of a Dutch Jewish mother whose family emigrated to France, and so
you were quite Jewish yourself ‒ although you probably could not
have been officially Jewish unless in a reform congregation
since your Jewish connection was through blood and not also
through culture or religion? And did you know what took me decades
to discover,that while you were telling us about the evils of Hitler
and the crimes that had happened to the children in my second grade class...
your close cousins had been taken to concentration camps
in Poland and Germany, that few of them had escaped?

Grateful for later discovery, I ask you again. What did you mean
by family loyalty? Or perhaps more to the point, What did you mean by family?

The first kayak was red and sleek

I couldn't get out of it by myself.
The Woodcock hides deep in the woods.
(Dreams of children can come at any time.)

Randy, he dances ‒ swirls high in the air.
The second kayak was red and handy.
(Finding the essence of the matter is a challenge for a dull mind.)

The lady he wishes to impress looks away.
I wore urban black for two years afterwards.
(Often, child's play appeals more to adults than children.)

The family's star does not have to be a man or boy.
The oldest child is often the star of the show.
(I doubt the innocence of a child.)

Does the star have five points or six points?
Black was my favorite color.
(Is black a color or is it almost like white ‒ absence of color.)

Essence tastes mean.
Essence is the core.
The first kayak was red and sleek.

Poem constructed from a prompt by Eileen Myles:
Write a letter to someone who makes you feel deeply uncomfortable, in which you say the most awkward things that you’ve not had the courage to say. Then put 5-6 pieces of paper on the table and write down the name of one pathetic thing/word on each one. Then turn over them over and write 3 sentences/lines each. Then bring them all pellmell together into an assemblage of pain, awkwardness, discomfort, embarrassment.

I used a random number generator for the poem.

Vincent Cellucci

rear-ended by a song in zona solari 

akin to a skeleton
chain of keys & trinkets
left in public’s plain sight 
for us that so often lose
an interlude we wish would repeat
and suspend the required mood
a host lucky enough to have already 
kicked me to the streets 
so I’m walking through milan
a city robed in the finest designs 
I behold a disrobed vision at the fountain
a modern lympha squats to piss   
awakening a small perversion
the ancients knew as madness
its drizzling slightly but not enough
for a song to reprise willingly 
I leave the card of the rental apartment 
on the bench after writing: one free wish
I time the cars charging
count the spoils overflowing 
from the neighboring trash bin
returns the favor of neglecting
four boys kick their footballs 
two girls wrestle over a phone teasing
to send something to devastate the other 
her baby sister I suppose by the stronza
shrieked    I can’t even begin to switch off 
the uncertainty it takes to continue 
this freefall or the certainty it takes 
to build a balcony up brick by brick 
our birthmarks burn like wildfires  
the forgiveness we seek 
in every face
our mistakes same old song 
we immerse ourselves in
masking our fingerprints
with pruney bone
it’s autumn in italy 
and everywhere else 
in the northern hemisphere
I’m here after witnessing the summer
beg for its death
before the plague goes on spring tour
another agnostic in the manger 
amazed by the expense of myth 

Mark Young

from 100 Titles from Tom Beckett

#31: The Logic of Senselessness

It was just a kayaking trip, but
some recent media coverage
suggests that the subjugation of
women is based on the same logic
as the subordination of nature. "Taut-
ologies & contradictions lack sense,"
wrote Wittgenstein. Seems like there's
always a 'logical' reasoning behind

the belief that things are the way
they are, even though that may
make no sense. "Say nothing except
what can be said," wrote someone
else. "Should I make an electronic copy
of that for use in my e-book archive?"

#93: We Feel Approximate

Linda said that she'd pick me up at sixish.
I felt the need to incorporate my personal
experiences into the conversation, how I'd
reduced my food intake, but now felt I was

missing out on something. I'm having a psy-
chotic episode. I feel strange & cut off from
the world. One in fifty of us is a victim, left
feeling like a robot. It's an uncomfortable sen-

sation: but forecasts suggest that 47% of U.S.
jobs could be automated within the next two dec-
ades. Maybe there'll then be a job for me. I know

I wouldn't need much training to approximate
a robot. Walk, talk, enter stage left. But would
I then be able to approximate a human being?