When I did not know a lesson, I was beaten; when I answered right, they pinched my cheek--it hurt either way. --from In the Post-Chaise by Isaac Loeb Perez, translated by Helena Frank
This is not the Durham shelter for disabled men.
You do not test my alcohol content nor lock me up for the night.
You conduct no random drug tests just to protect me
from my fellow poor folks or to protect the poor folks from me.
My gratitude surprises me.
Between the men’s shelter across from the city library in one of the
most dangerous parts of town
and this grand wooded Elkins Park, where danger comes fiom outraged environmental neighbors who see infractions in my trash sorting policies,
where my life exists in a World War I home stocked with gewgaws
and silver whatnots you once paid a Jehovah’s Witness to clean…
I do not need to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea,
Yet, grateful though I am,
I haven’t changed.
I’m not different.
You are you
and my gratitude is an item-not determinative, but an item none the less.
I do not know how things should be.
I know it would be easier on the children
if my former wife and I had gotten along
if we had lived together caring for each other
parenting our daughters
making a life together.
Regret does not come easily to me.
But this week and the week to come,
last week and the week before,
I go through my papers from the past 20 years-haphazardly, but all too comprehensively
documenting a life of love slowly and meticulously bad
where being away is clearly better than being on the spot:
My then wife and I parenting out misery for our children to drink in
like Strontium 90 in the milk.
There is a bond of affection between us
wide as a river
whose depths and tidal flows we’ve yet to understand.
It is no mystery why you break your elbow
and dislocate your arm.
No mystery why I dislocate my shoulder
before replacing an inadequate cane
with a battery-powered wheel chair.
Words matter, but they do not go far enough
Certainly when it comes to describing the next journey
the one away from the past the
journey that can only happen
when I throw away the files of my past
and you throw away the detritus of yours.