Winter 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 4


Poetry    Fiction    Translations    Reviews   

Gail Fishman Gerwin



My Mother's Son

My mother’s son
doesn’t exist except
in my head

My mother’s son,
no—my mother’s sons,
three of them in the
seven years between
my sister and me

All dead, miscarried,
one—she said—at
five months,
fully formed
little boy,
falling falling
from her warmth,
falling out through
her hidden road,
falling right into the toilet

She screamed
for my father,


just as I screamed
for my husband,
lamenting the son
I’d carried

My mother’s sons,
ghostly reminders
of what is not,
of what I lost



Prince Valiant, 1961

That January, when JFK took the helm, my man pulled the blue Valiant to the
curb on Lombard Street, where he’d introduced me to the bitter beauty of beer,

the Valiant that took us to Charlottesville the summer before to see where
he’d be in law school, where I could visit him among curved Jeffersonian walls,

the Valiant he’d stopped under a bridge in a violent Virginia thunderstorm,
rain so heavy it seemed to propel the car in reverse. Water curtains hid us as we

kissed, tongue meeting tongue, desperate in the knowledge that my parents didn’t
like him, his face was too long, his green eyes too guileful, his lower lip too fat,

his speech too halting and what is this game, Lacrosse, is that what a Jewish boy
should do?
He called from law school three days out, said I don’t want to be a lawyer,

I’m coming back to find a job in Baltimore, a pronouncement that topped my parents’
ammunition cache, now I’d tied myself up with a dropout wearing a long face,

eyes green like a cat’s, a dropout who stammered. The Valiant took us to a rabbi,
premarital counseling long before it was in vogue, it carried us to my cousin Marty

who played trumpet for the Baltimore symphony, to our friends already married and
sweating with the burden of babies, our support group long before support groups were

in vogue. You love love love each other, they all said, your parents will come to accept
that, the parents who’d stood sobbing in the driveway as I left Paterson in the Valiant

to work in Maryland, paying room and board to a teacher and her depressed husband
to be near this long-faced job hunter with a cartoon car. We’re finished, he told me,

Baltimore’s downtown streetlights reflecting his tears as he parked next to a telephone
booth on that frigid night, my bones cold, my heart in shreds. The Valiant dropped me

at Marty’s, where Uncle Morris and Aunt Rose were visiting, where they left with me
for New Jersey in the middle of the night, back to my parents who told me there were

lots more fish in the sea, fish with round faces who stayed in schools.




At Camp ChiWanDa in Port Ewen, New York,
just across the Hudson River bridge from Kingston,
campers would gather around the flagpole and sing
Bow bow down to ChiWanDa   Bow bow down to ChiWanDa.
Even then I thought this silly, camp as idol, worshipped
by teens in shorts. At Camp ChiWanDa in Port Ewen,
New York, my cellmate Sandra (log cabins, two to a room)
dried up her zits with blobs of Colgate toothpaste,
squeezing tube after tube until she reflected ghostly beams
from the night officer’s flashlight bed check. At ChiWanDa,
gawky Ronald, a bully with bitter B.O. that seared my nostrils,
stalked me at rec hall dances. My sister, seven years older,
was a counselor, her boyfriend Sammy a bridge ride away
in a sprawling red brick estate, encircled by a matching wall
with post lights at the corners. My parents sent me to ChiWanDa
so my sister could be close to Sammy with slick black hair,
Sammy, who drove a ’52 emerald green Oldsmobile convertible.
That way they could visit both of us on their trips up Route 17
to the Concord, fifties Catskill mecca for summer getaways. Hungry
for my sister, who thought only of  Sammy that summer, lonely
for my former camp in the western hills of New Jersey, I treated
myself to the loss of me, eating less and less, shedding more and more,
until my shorts hung from bony hips, my legs spindled, and my
hawkfaced counselor Ruth, thwarted in her efforts to nourish me,
slapped my hollowed face as I climbed the cabin stairs after lunch—two
carrot sticks, a cracker, water. When Sammy asked my sister for a love
break, she left Camp ChiWanDa in pain, abandoning me to my mission



© Gail Fishman Gerwin


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