Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Deprivation or Trying on the Other’ and other poems

By: Judith Ferster

Deprivation or Trying on the Other

We don’t have it easy being white. The apes
that ape you in cartoons are white
but grew fur coats to compensate.
Our only prize is vitamin D.
The price is wrinkles and skin cancer.
When you see us play with pigment,
pity, please. We’re aping you,
making up
for missing melanin.

Director’s Discretionary Time

Dr. Robert Williams
outraged his colleagues
when he pointed Hubble
at nothing for its first
hundred hours,
an empty patch
of sky: “colossal waste,”
“federal crime,” “public relations
nightmare.” “Another Hubble failure
before it produces results.”

                                   Results:  stars and galaxies

no one knew. Now we know, there is no
empty sky, just gleams of light from the past
winking out of the deep field.

First and Last

In the baby book my mother kept,
my first sentence:
“Birdie fly away all gone.”

So many concepts required to launch it:
independent creatures move and can disappear;
birds don’t stay.
Early lesson in loss.

I also know my mother’s last sentence: “I don’t know why
no one will give me anything to read.”
At that point she couldn’t have meant it
but lined up all those negatives
flawlessly. Her own mother
was one of the first
Montessori teachers
and taught her to read early.

In her last few days, my mother
thought she saw hers,
as if ready to die reading.

Syntax had not flown away,
not gone
until she was gone.

Old Trees

Locations of ancient trees
are hidden to stave off tourists
who love them to death,
trample soil around roots,
grab twigs, bark, branches. On the way
to parents in Alabama, Bob and I visited
a five hundred-year-old live oak
that couldn’t be hidden.
After a land dispute,
a sore loser girdled it with a chainsaw
to prevent its centering a park.
Rescuers built an ICU around it, collected money
for sprinklers, grafting saplings
above and below the cut
to recreate the tree’s circulation. We gave
money. Ultimately
it didn’t work, the saplings couldn’t bridge
the divide. Later, our marriage failed, too. Grafts
couldn’t rescue flow in that case, either.
The ghostly tree is still visited
by mourners. The memory of the marriage,
by fewer.

The Ages of Woman

Except for the pain of a snapped tibia at three
(I heard it crack) and the itch
of the full-length cast,
I don’t remember thinking about my body

until menses, when pamphlets
predicting blood and breasts
came true. The complex
contraption of belts, pads, and pins
was not for me so mother,
perched bed edge,
gave a live demonstration
of tampon use, white cylinder
getting swallowed.
From then on,
the plastic tube of twin tampons
was a constant companion
in my purse, just in case.

When initiated
Swim Cadets hovered outside
bathroom stalls coaching tampon
virgins, I was smug,
armed with no-nonsense booklet-free
maternal mentoring.

My newly-married parents had bought
curved couches,
not so that Bill and I could not stretch straight
and were stuck at sitting, kissing, cuddling, clutching
until the voice from above called, “It’s time
for Bill to go home.” Surely their choice
was not prophylaxis for their high school daughter,
intended, not envisioned. But
décor made Bill and me more
decorous. He went home;
I attacked a carton of ice cream.

Before I left for college, Grandma said,
don’t come back pregnant when
there’s something on every corner
to stop it. Savvy Gramma, mother of two,
first generation of immigrant family
to have only two. Gramma sharing.

That was fine until camp counseling
in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where,
I sought a doctor for the next tech.
Waiting room ringed
with Norman Rockwell portraits,
a GP taking temperatures,
giving shots, fitting glasses,
opened to the exam room
where the artist’s model waited.
My first diaphragm doc
was on magazine covers.

At 23, I joined my consciousness-raising
group holding stapled newsprint Our Bodies Ourselves, mirrors,
flashlights, and clear plastic specula.
There were joyous cries all over the room:
“I see my cervix,” “I see my cervix.”

I thought nothing of rinsing a blood-filled
diaphragm and loved having a lover
who hardened when washing my stained
underwear with cold water and Ivory Soap
in his wife’s sink.

They were just some of the adventurers in those days
going beyond monogamy—how could there be
too much love in the world? How did we escape
the STDs of the ‘70s, some banishable,
some lifetime badges, hiding
in the ganglia

or the deadly badge
of the ‘80s? Some luck loosed us
to our curious quests.

One night in Maine, desire drove me
out on frozen roads
to a lover’s house
seeking the dark spark,
nether fireworks,
I spun out
on a hill but front wheel drive and radials
pulled me up the next one. Dad had urged the make
and model, so
a different
danger dodged.

At 38, I finally tried monogamy
after we both admitted being scared.
Nice to have a cock at my beck
and call. After he left
the sight of his hands
in a meeting could still turn me on
from across the room.

After meno-stop, my doctor said
“Don’t dry up and blow away,”
handing me an order
for another smooth cylinder, this one
delivering a magic estrogen elixir,
formula for staying silky inside.

Now, gratitude that the heyday
in the blood is not tame. The playwright
knew better than his prince
about older women.

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