Jendi Reiter is vice president of Winning Writers, editor of The Best Free Literary Contests, and oversees the Winning Writers literary contests. She is the author of the poetry collections Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2015) and A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), and the award-winning poetry chapbooks Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010).

 

Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Iowa Review, The New Criterion, Mudfish, Passages North, American Fiction, The Adirondack Review, Cutthroat, The Broome Review, FULCRUM, Juked, The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Alligator Juniper, MARGIE: The American Journal of Poetry, Phoebe, Best American Poetry 1990 and many other publications.

 

     Don't Get Your Penis Stuck in the Bubble Wand

(a day of conversations with, or possibly at, my 3-year-old)

Jendi Reiter

 

 

Are we being cats?

You have a choice.

You can, or I can.

Don't bite your dirty socks.

The trucks stop in the hallway.

Don't pull on the hole in your mattress.

Don't fall over the edge.

 

Are we monkeys now?

Don't frighten the ants.

Their home is outdoors.

Rocks don't live in the house.

That's not a choice.

 

Do you want naked dinner?

Let's be trucks.

Don't go.

Tell me if you have to go.

You can touch your penis or you can eat tomatoes.

Because that's not clean.

That was a choice, but it isn't anymore.

 

Am I a baby? Who's the baby?

Let me go ahead of you on the stairs.

Ten more minutes.

Five more minutes.

Don't put food in your pockets.

Not in the same pocket as gravel.

Remind me the cookie's in your pocket.

Okay?

 

One more minute.

That was a good loud sound.

 

Pouring water on the floor hurts people.

Let's be mops. Let's lie down.

I don't want to fall.

Don't pee in the cup you drink from.

Now it's my choice.

Okay?

You can shut the light.

I'll hold onto you.

One song.

The ___ on the bus goes ___ and ___,

___, ___, ___.

 

Lower East Side Playground, 1974, 2014

Jendi Reiter

 

The home I got away from has become beautiful

with a gate around it. I trade entry for gossip

with a tortoise-faced man in a brown fedora

who used to compare me to his successful daughter

when we rode the same elevator.

 

I was born here, in a bedroom above the garbage depot,

when this back playground was open to the street of grandmothers

Yiddish and Spanish, in housedresses and pantyhose,

and I offered myself to their lonely laps.

Puerto Rican fathers showed off their baby girls' earrings

and their heaving, black-tongued dogs.

Between two sheet-metal corners of the jungle gym

I made my tiny throne, a story

I couldn't share with my temporary friends.

 

Beauty in Manhattan is a far-off flier

of a newspaper riding the thermals

and anything communal is nailed to concrete.

 

I married a calm man with a gold necktie

who remembers me surviving here

behind a fortress of hair and books,

who remembers me in the mouth of my mother.

For eleven years we have grown our garden elsehwere.

Everyone flipped their apartments and the building planted

ornamental cabbage behind a fence of wrought-iron birds.

A gourmet donut shop edged out the kosher butcher

who casually hacked yellow-skinned chickens in quarters

over a sawdust floor.

 

The old turtle neighbor asks after my mother.

She's not, she's never been, but I tell him she's fine.

My two-year-old son climbs on bars I don't recognize.

The metal is tender, the ground rubber padded,

the riding toys leave less to imagine

of horse and hippo. He smiles bright as a medal.

He is the scrambled eggs on my admiral hat.

He is happy as a rubber ball.

 

Across the cloud-marbled sky the June treetops sweep

like Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet curtain-skirts.

My mother's lies are a stopped phone.

I've mislaid her bracelet of bruises.

A soda can bangs in the gutter and the bus that never comes

more than once an hour sinks to a stop

with a contented fart. Was this place never terrible?

We can no longer afford to live

in its smallest rooms.

Forty years on the wind, tomorrow

becomes another day.

 

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