Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 14, Poem 14 - learning to read (after Frank X Walker)

learning to read

(after Frank X Walker)

Because my mother never shooed me

from the room when she was talking

about politics, and never thought

I should leave even when the sweet

gossip about a friend was on tap.

Because my mother let me join

in when adults spoke and never

spoke to me in a babyish

condescending tone – Because

my mother drank good whiskey

and played cards and let me sit

there and laugh when she threw

the King down hard on the table

and talked shit to the men, I knew

that when she said, Roger,

this is for big people, that the grown

ups, were talking about fucking.

Because my mother’s perfect

diction (which allowed most things

audible, even in sotto voce) slid

then into a buttery whispered song;

because my mother’s voice got smoky,

low, and conspiratorial, I giggled

alone to myself, even when I couldn’t

make out what was being said.

And because I got then to spend

hours in the study alone

with books that were also for big people;

and read at length

about exactly what my mother

spoke in her smoke and whiskey

voice, I never tried to peek my head

out early, and back into the conversation.

I was learning the silky goodness

of the forbidden word; how a woman’s

barely visible slip spoke a rustled

language against a thigh, at what angle

the cocked cigarette meant a blade

was hidden, and at what angle, a wish.

My mother taught me through the genius

of banishment and access all at once,

that language was a joy to share

to withhold, a power to wield –

whether the language was her deep

resonant call for me to come in

from the streets at twilight, a measured

question about my studies, or alone

amongst books, the gradual knowing

that a woman’s legs, in the crossing

spoke gunshot, refusal, heat.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email


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