I collect these, family patriarchs’
bound books of their daring
escapes from Poland, Latvia.
Lithuania? That guy fat-shamed a whole village
of women before indulging some villainy
and onward to Seattle.
The moral of the story is courage, children.
Then the book ends.
I was taught not to ask about the past and
I was taught not to bet on the future.
We dwelt in hypothetical failings.
I’m swimming in clichés but I don’t know how
to swim. Last summer my love swam
past the waves and floated out to contentment.
He didn’t need saving
but I worried that I couldn’t save him.
This winter I spend whole days
despairing the impractical
from a heated space in America
under a thick knit blanket I bought online.
I am not brave, I am not slender
enough, I am not, obviously, heroic.
I keep a coin in my coat lining, slipped through a hole
in my pocket, crawling toward my shoulder
as I lift my arm to hold on to the pole
while the train huffs out of the station.
It’s possible that my ancestors
fled Europe with their assets sewn into their coats.
I imagine the linings ripped out in anger or stopgap.
Last week I put on a girdle.
My grandmother used to worry about how to contain my shape.
It’s hard not to think of my ancestors as we inch unevenly
on the tracks. Last week I ripped the girdle off my body.
The harsh caw of the rip, how the tear spread
across my belly in a bloom of flesh, was worth the money I paid
for the fabric. I bring my arm back down and exit the train.
I can feel the coin scurrying toward my wrist.
There’s only one way this ends.
We’d Like to Know a Little Bit About You for Our Files
I am terrible at upkeep.
I don’t shave any part of me.
I just read an article about Jewish men who prefer to nail shiksas
to stiffen their assimilation.
Is there anyone living
who has heard of a shegetz.
I want to be beautiful.
I am Semitic beautiful.
There’s no denying this face or how many would enter it.
Recently I watched two blond women
brush each other’s hair on a couch at a waterfront bar.
I think sometimes
of the red-headed actor who sat across from me
in a Hollywood coffeehouse
claiming Jewish women have pussy lips
that beg to be fucked.
I just read an article about Jewish men in Hollywood
who assault women they work with.
I’m always curious
when what men have to say is
Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Landscape with Sex and Violence and If I Should Say I Have Hope, and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation. Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and elsewhere. A 2017-2018 fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she also serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.