You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?
The Ukrainians hate the Romanians while the Poles hate the Germans
but especially the Italians who hate the blacks who haven't even
moved into the neighborhood yet, while Grandma hates mostly
the Russians who are Cossacks who piss on everyone's tomatoes
and wag their tongues at everyone's wives. She even hates her Lithuanian
blue eyes and turnip Russian nose and fat Polish tongue; sometimes
she forgets what she hates most and ends up hating everything about herself.
This is Rochester, N.Y., in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons
move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated. Grandma believes
they came here so we all could suffer, that soon we'll all dress
like undertakers and march around whispering to the dead.
No one in this family ever suspects they're unhappy;
in fact, the less happy we are, the less we suspect it.
Uncle walks around with a straightedge razor tied round
his neck on a red string, screaming and pounding on things.
When he's angry, and he's always angry, he drops to a crouch
and screams until the veins in his neck bulge like steam pipes.
Mother locks herself, Grandma, and me in the toilet until he's flat.
We spend a lot of time in the toilet never suspecting anything.
Didn't everyone on Cuba Place have an uncle who hides
in a tiny room off the kitchen yelling at a police radio and writing
letters to dead presidents while reading girlie books all night?
Didn't everyone live in a house where everyone feels cheated,
ignored, and unredeemed?
Grandma climbs a chair to yell at God for killing
her only husband whose only crime was forgetting
where he put things. Finally, God misplaced him. Everyone
in this house is a razor, a police radio, a bulging vein.
It's too late for any of us, Grandma says to the ceiling.
She believes we are chosen to be disgraced and perplexed.
She squints at anyone who treats her like a customer, including
the toilet mirror, and twists her mouth into a deadly scheme.
Late at night I run at the mirror until I disappear. The day is over
before it begins, Grandma says, jerking the shade down over
its once rosy eye. She keeps her husband's teeth in a matchbox,
in perfumed paraffin; his silk skullcap (with its orthodox stains)
in the icebox, behind Uncle's Jell-O aquarium of floating lowlifes.
I know what Mrs. Einhorn said Mrs. Edels told Mr. Kook about us:
God save us from having one shirt, one eye, one child. I know
in order to survive. Grandma throws her shawl of exuberant birds
over her bony shoulders and ladles up yet another chicken thigh
out of the steaming broth of the infinite night sky.
Grandma peeps from behind her shades at everyone peeping at her.
The Italians are having people over in broad daylight, while the Slovaks
are grilling goats alive (this means a ten-year stink!), and the Ukrainians
are mingling on their porches, plotting our downfall. "Keep out of my yard,"
she cries in her sleep. Everyone sneaks around, has a hiding place.
Uncle's police radio calls all cars to a virgin abducted on Main Street,
while Mother binges on Almond Joys and Father sleepwalks through
the wilderness of the living room, Odysseus disguised as a Zionist,
or a pickled beet-"With my hands in my pockets and my pockets in my pants
watch the little girlies do the hootchie koochie dance!" he sings every morning.
Nights, I sneak into the toilet, where Uncle jumps out of the tub, yelling "Boo!"
I hide behind my eyes where even I can't find me.
Copyright © 2004 by Philip Schultz
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