“One Nation Under Me”
(on a highway billboard)
Whose? The Cooper Mini cutting me off asks my bumper
to “Coexist.” Stay in your own lane
my fist-horn exclaims. Once when I was cradled
my father pressed a Manischewitz-soaked cloth
to my tongue. Generations circled me, the Rabbi
slowed his hand and breath. I was sculpted to be defined
by what our ancestors ask of us. There is a wall
we love so much we kiss it. Is this why I inherit
barbed wire? Why my grandmother suffered her first stroke
shortly after my uncle’s shiksa wedding beneath a crucifix?
How easy it is to whistle across state lines
when the radio sings such indistinct songs.
At the truck stop cafe the TV is muted, though
dark teenagers throw stones through a cloud of teargas
and they remind you of thieves. My first sensation
was a scalpel. I’m driving to D.C. to learn
what makes my family history fathomless or
miraculous. Never forget this starkly-lit exhibit:
chest-high piles of black shoes, pocket watches,
gold teeth. God makes choices and I refuse
to be one of them. We ask past prophets
to write laws so we won’t have to later. Every man
and his son shall cover his head before
your eyes. Grandma raised me to avert my stare
when anyone darker slunk by, which must be why
I thought only some of us could ever be seen.
God makes choices and sometimes we are not cruel.
Still I pray for safe parking. All day at the Holocaust Museum
fortunately I learn the final solution to the Jewish question
is another question, only kinder. God makes choices and so
will you, I remind the infant my father carries. Generations
circle my living room. The oldest tree in the yard
leans its shadow against the curtained window.
Brent Goodman’s debut poetry collection The Brother Swimming Beneath Me (2009 Black Lawrence Press) was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Thom Gunn Award. His second book, Far From Sudden, is forthcoming in 2012. A recipient of two Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowships, his work has appeared in Poetry, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Puerto Del Sol, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Pank, Devil’s Lake, and elsewhere. Brent lives in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where he’s a professional copywriter, assistant editor for the online journal Anti-, and a certified Reiki Master teacher/practitioner.