We all had lice back then
in our unwashed jacket pockets,
crawling along the stained seams
of our handsewn shirts and basted
buttonholes as we lectured
on combinatorics at the University of Lviv
before it was shut down by Nazis.
The Nazis hired Dr. Weigle.
Dr. Weigle hired us who used to sit
quiet, pencils scratching in the Polish coffee shops
(now closed or filled with Nazis)
to sit in his lab, caged lice on our legs.
If you didn't scratch, you wouldn't die,
that day. Mathematicians, we would
sink deep into the fourth dimension,
the one without hunger or fear, our daughters
still in pirouette. We would do what
we have always done since
Euclid, Pythagoras, Archimedes—
find a lever big enough,
prepare to move the world.
My plan was want nothing, expect
nothing, be grateful.
Friends slip away, a
I am grateful for sugar
that threads the oatmeal.
I don’t try
to sleep through the night.
Sometimes second cousins
move in. No one
should ever expect their life back.
I wish I could be a good woman.
I wish I could be sleek Houdini,
who can somehow slacken
the chains, escape.
I am grateful for dawn.
There must be a sleight-of-hand I haven't
learned yet. I can't give birth again.
Offer here my secret
I work with men.
In a truck with loose shocks
I drive outta town to shop,
so they can't charge
my boobs and hips
with trying to lure their dicks
while I stalk 'em through aisles
of Apple Jacks and Honey Smacks.
Yeah, my babies eat sugar.
I nametag their bars,
so they won't squabble over snacks.
There are so many better things to fight for.
I admit I never loved him,
but we lived stuck in that yellow sub, Eden.
After a while, he no longer tasted of blossoms,
ferocious first fruit.
He was London. I was Liverpool.
I'm not just a girl at the gun range;
I'm good with a gun.
Better than. Put your hand
on my leg, I laugh fire.
Yes, there is dust,
a chickadee in the remnants
of a thorn tree,
empty webs, broken webs I broke,
the howl of a monkey
without a friend, the howl
through wolf whistles and cat calls.
Yes, there will be
blood on my dress. I will be charged
with that task too.
Deborah Bacharach is the author of Shake & Tremor (Grayson Books, 2021) and After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her poems, essays and book reviews have been published in journals nationally and internationally, including Midwest Quarterly, Poetry Ireland Review, Vallum, Cimarron Review, New Letters, and Poet Lore. She has received three Pushcart nominations and a Pushcart honorable mention. Educated at Swarthmore College and the University of Minnesota, Debby lives in Seattle with her family. She is a college writing instructor, editor, and tutor and teaches poetry workshops for children. Find out more about her at DeborahBacharach.com.