It wasn’t only envy but also a vague desire
to make amends, to glorify the baby Jesus
with my friend Charlie (who said the Jews had killed him)
that made me sneak into my parent’s bedroom
Christmas morning before anyone was awake
to phone Charlie about all the presents
I hadn’t received, the tree we didn’t have.
Quietly as Santa (whom we must have also killed)
I took the phone down from my father’s bedside table
and slipped under the bed into the cramped dark
of springs all intricately crossed and swollen
against me where my father slept. A long time
I lay there cradling the phone; I dialed
when either parent shifted or snored, afraid
that they somehow would answer at the other end;
or hear Charlie’s father yelling “Charlie make it quick”
and the forbidden prayer I whispered to him then
of every toy I had ever owned, or seen,
imagining that he imagined all of them right here
under a tree like his, and not the stark menorah,
our stunted version, with its nine thin candles
solemn as school, or the inkstand and underwear –
more chores than gifts – which I received for Chanukah.
No, it was Christmas here under my parent’s bed,
it was His manger, and His death was as far from me
as I was from my own house caroling a holy
inventory to my friend. Then he was gone.
The springs became cold law against me as I was hauled
out clinging to the receiver like a hooked fish
to where my father waited, stern as the candles,
fisher of Jews: you want to be a goy, he said,
be a goy, and sent me to my room for the whole day
where it was Chanukah. And I was more a Jew
the more I pictured to myself all of the presents
I had seen at Charlie’s house the day before,
a king’s treasure, from which the tree ascended
in a pyramid of flames and glittering angels.
On my bare walls, all day, I had to build it
higher and brighter, as though it were a burden
I could not put down, could never escape –
driven to build it all day by a heart
the God of my father, the Lord our God, kept hardening.
“Honorary Jew” by John Repp (b. 1953, USA)
The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs
into the machine & said I'll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife
who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment--house, my in-laws called it,
new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other--
in which she'd knelt to tell the no one who listened
no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song
stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch--
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea--
talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn't a song
& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can't be a goy. You—I say it
for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to
for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.