Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
It began with horseradish in her mashed potatoes,
her father slipping it in before dinner.
(It began much earlier I suppose.
But this is my mother we’re talking about, younger and thinner and unaware that fathers can be cruel.)
She dove in without sniffing, and since that day something within her
grew guarded and deep. They met in high school–
my father and she, I mean. She let him kiss her breasts only through her shirt, so he imagined each one a jewel.
Think of the let down when he saw them undressed,
not cut as he’d expected them to be,
not flawless as the ones he had caressed
under her blouse. He learned to live with them, though; he learned how not to ask for very much,
to ignore her responsibly.
Her body arched, in dark, under his touch.
They fumbled dutifully until it hurt.
My brother soon was born, a crutch
to hold my mother up. But he wouldn’t wear a skirt.
She cried until her shoes were damp,
and my father taught him how to play in dirt.
Let’s try again, she begged–words pressing like a stamp on my brother’s soft head–and I, too,
was pushed into this world like a rudderless tramp.
I’ll never know for sure if this is true.