By Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor
THE CANTOR IN DRAG ON YOM KIPPUR
Grandfather, you and your hunched back
and angry reminders to return
Of Mice and Men to the shelf.
No one knows I stole the blue velvet pouch
when you died. The white shawl lay inside, stained
spit yellow like aged teeth. I never expected
to wear it, a waste to have kept your fabric so long
in the same drawer as panties and brassieres.
What would you think of me as Cantor?
Kissing four corners, pounding my chest
with a flapper's fringe, a finger latched to hem,
pointing toward God’s book where the commandment is written
to atone, to mourn
a china cabinet filled with kiddish cups, one
for each son. I took one of those too,
and the vessel still sits broken on my kitchen counter
to remind me what a broken world I am, borrowing
books and cups and taking
what should not belong to me. As a girl
I sat at your table and wished for the hum of words
to stop, and the little water cup
to wash away your hands. You propped feet
on a torn footstool stuffed with discarded
women’s stockings. Here I am
in wrinkled blue and white polyester.
The rough hemline settles at the back of my neck
like a hand resting there, as I sing.
WORKSHOP ADVICE: TAKE THE GURU OUT
He's too hocus pocus for an American
poem. Orange cloth, brown flesh, another
continent enters the room when he's there,
part naked, crystal eyes, white
hair, encircled by women
who eat brewers yeast for breakfast. No, the guru
has to go. Too East, the peaceful guru,
a re-potted banana plant in American
soil. Choose a financial planner, a woman-
rabbi—anything but his bald patience smothering
the line. He hovers like a flock of white
birds over lovers on the coast, their
picnic lunch of fried chicken lying there
hopelessly exposed. Just the sound of it, "guru"
sounds too fru-fru, archaic, a white
lie for what you really want in American
art: Chinese take-out glare, sidewalk smothered
in butts, chewed gum. Hairy women
hang his picture by the birthing bed, women
who pray in private or chant their
musty breath in airport entourage; mothers
with babies in arms begging the dead guru
to bless them, inject India in American
souls. A replica swami hangs on white
walls in the ashram next to black and white
portraits: Mother Teresa, the only woman;
Martin Luther King, the only American.
His hippie dippie image belongs there,
not in your poem. Kudzu and gurus,
aurora borealis scarves and grandmothers—
big no-no's. Americans make ourselves other
holy figures: they're invisible or male and white.
Woman, here's our advice: lose the guru.