Meditation during the Sufferings and Deaths of Others


I did not deserve to be beaten,
and I did not deserve ballet lessons–
except insofar as everyone deserves ballet lessons.
Me mum thought I was well worth beating.
She would not have thought that I deserved to starve.
I deserved the milk in her breasts–I had put it there.
When I was a baby, she withheld food to clock-train me.
She did not notice she was privileged
always to have enough food to feed her children.
And there were books in the house, I did not deserve them
except insofar as everyone deserves them.
I did not notice it was luck that I had them,
that for every book I had, someone else did not have one.
But it was not just luck that my mother beat me.
I was the second daughter of the second daughter of the second daughter,
the one on whom the mothers in that line
exercized their so-far sonlessness.
I did not have a second daughter,
or she was the tiny thing lost to that long-ago flu.
I did not inherit the taste for beating children
or the belief it was the only way to make them behave.
But how did I know that every soul was equal? They kept saying so
And you could see it, around some people’s body,
the space around it, the light in the space,
a kind of envelope, or surface tension,
as if they were whole. Those were the popular kids, the kind ones.
I did not deserve their friendship,
but sometimes I got it–because I made them laugh.
I think I was born funny–born seeing funny.
There was what they said, and what they meant, and what they did.
There was a disjunct–and it hit my funny bone,
and then like a xylophone player I hit their funny bone
and we flushed and heated and gave out the sweet percussion of our squeaky barking.
I had the luck to earn their laughter.
But so much lies outside deserving.
I do not deserve this house.
But I do not deserve someone
breaking in at night and killing me.
I chose ballet lessons because I loved dancing, and the feeling, like begging to be liked–a kind of sneaky labor.
Going to Miss Pring’s garage was like walking into a church hymn and being its turning.
What does deserve even mean? It means dessert
when you have eaten every bite on your plate.
The concept of dessert presupposes a ruler––
second daughter of a second, or not.
And when you become your own ruler?
When you rise though the dead leaves, the pieces of torn web, the trails of slugs, when you become a guttersnipe and lift your head and look around,
you can see the chaos
you can choose to work toward some small justice.
I look at my life, Chaim, and I see us,
that taste we had for each other, and the peace
of telling each other the truth.
And we earned the peace
in the hard crib of the hospice bed, I would
climb up into it and cram myself next to you, we would murmur and sleep.
I like how we looked, cotyledon
fit into itself in the steel cradle like a 
capsule sent out into space, to start over.