By Harold Jaffe
All rights reserved.
Raining, duck into the used bookstore.
BHT. Before High Tech.
Rows and rows of books.
I see her for a split second on one knee at the poetry section and know she is
I want to whisper tenderly to her: “I know.”
We are kin.
You’re also damned?
I’m damned to love the damned.
We were at different stacks.
I was in the art section, Goya, I remember.
She was in poetry.
We each turned a corner and abruptly faced one another.
She was goose-stepping.
Goose-stepping in a used bookstore?
She saw I was a Jew and goose-stepped to warn me to keep my distance.
Keep my tenderness away from her.
Instantly, I understood her response to my brief initial glance.
Her response to my response to her great pain.
You are only half-Jewish.
Half is enough.
She was schizophrenic?
Whatever you want to call it.
Illnesses have different designations to suit the DSM.
Do you know Chekhov’s Ward No. 6?
Heard of it. Never read it.
She was protecting her heart.
The goosestep flipped me.
I was awed by the rapidity of our exchange.
As though we were attached hip-to-hip, chest to chest.
Where was this? When?
Seattle, near the University of Washington.
Thirty years ago.
When humans read books.
Why did your intended tenderness threaten her.
Do you know Plath’s “Poppies in October”?
It’s in Ariel.
I don’t know it.
Had she let you talk, you would have said: “We are kin.”
What does that mean?
I know your great pain, I will share it.
And what does she do with a meaningless share?
As if for your own benefit.
What would you do?
I wouldn’t recognize her great pain, for starters.
I don’t see those things.
If I did I wouldn’t do anything.
Certain pain cannot be assuaged.
I wouldn’t put it that way.
It was long ago.
It’s haunted you all this time?
The memory was intact.
The haunting has only begun.
What did you say your name was?
Hyper-sensitive Method-acting brute who grappled and wept.
You carry that name, you should have feelings about what I’ve been trying to
I’m doing the best I can.
There are more things on this benighted earth than are accounted for in your