It’s been my good fortune to spend a week studying poetry with the incredible Marge Piercy and an exceptional group of poets from across the United States and Canada. If one were to try and locate this transformative experience on the spectrum of life events, it would be situated between divine revelation, a gourmet cooking show, and literary boot camp.
Alas, there was an unfortunate event (only one, not a series of them as per Lemony Snicket) that happened. Which meant that instead of writing a progressive reflection about Father’s Day, a painful matter rose to the surface and took the form of a poem…
THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER SO I CHANGED TABLES
Wellfleet, June 16, 2018
White man of a certain age, old enough to be my father
You casually tell a Jewish joke over sunlit Saturday breakfast
With your retired WASPY friends
You tell it
Loud enough for me to hear
With my back to you
How did “The Wicked Oyster” become your private dining room?
You really thought it was funny and I debated,
To change my seat – or not?
To leave – or not?
To confront you – or not?
Your casual mention of rape
of a Jewish woman
during leisurely Saturday breakfast
Induced ancient terror.
At first, I thought I could tough it out
Order and eat my breakfast in the same room
With you, “Citizen”, who on this Bloomsday, has escaped the pages of “Ulysses.”
Entitled White Man,
As you told the joke,
I turned around and stared
But your back was to me.
I wanted to rise, to shatter your meal.
Dead aunts, uncles, and cousins counseled me:
You did not see my daggered eye
But a woman across from you did.
I gave her my stare of centuries
An indictment of her calm breakfast
For not telling you to
Shut the fuck up
For not telling you to
Halt and apologize
Or at least lower your voice…
To let her see and know my disgust
I removed black sunglasses and gave her my Shylock glare
Even though I have been taught to respect my elders.
My friend the poet saw
I could not order breakfast.
I said: “Let’s just pay for coffee” and plunked my money down
Much more than two coffees worth,
Let the staff know that I am not a cheap Jewess.
My righteous friend, she speaks
to the waitress, she explains
to the hostess, and
The other dining room that at first, was not opened,
Suddenly is available to us.
There is a lovely table beside a window.
There were innocent people in the restaurant.
I thought about the quality of
Their weekend breakfast and
Wondered if my pain and offense
Might be seen as self-indulgent and selfish
I did not make a scene.
I wish I could change the world
This Saturday morning, with the help
of a Righteous Gentile,
I changed my table.
Savored smoked salmon and poached eggs.
An American Anti-Semite
Cannot be allowed to ruin
An all-American breakfast.