The Crooked Inheritance
My mother swore ripely, inventively
a flashing storm of American and Yiddish
thundering onto my head and shoulders.
My father swore briefly, like an ax
descending on the nape of a sinner.
But all the relatives on my father’s
side, gosh, they said, goldarnit.
What happened to those purveyors
of soft putty cussing, go to heck,
they would mutter, you son of a gun.
They had limbs instead of legs.
Privates encompassed everything
from bow to stern. They did
number one and number two
and eventually, perhaps, it.
It has always amazed me there are
words too potent to say to those
whose ears are tender as baby
lettuces—often those who label
us into narrow jars with salt and
vinegar, saying, People like them,
meaning me and mine. Never say
the K or N word, just quietly shut
and bolt the door. Just politely
insert your foot in the Other’s face.