Excerpt from “Gossiping Uncorsetted Jewesses: Some Interviews and Other Exquisite Business” by Abby Minor

In their abstract figures, the mammoth shining kingdom of Family and the abject bloody queendom of Abortion reign over the American landscape like movie stars. The mood is orchestral, his hand on the small of her back, a painted skyline, feathers, shadows peeled from brick. Shadows licked and stuck to chenille.

Does Abortion do everything Family does only backwards, in heels?

My grandmother loved Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Esther Williams, aqua alto, sequins and chlorine, American Spirits, the Atlantic Ocean, telemarketers, barrettes. Pension money spent on Yves Rocher; cigarette holes the size of pencil erasers burnt into her sheets. Her TV antennae tipped with foil, and every nine minutes the next Newark jet passing over, the next hundred-girl kick-line scissoring across the screen.

Didn’t we all know that Ruthie had had an abortion, that she had less to do with the kingdom than the queen? I don’t remember how we knew that, but we knew that, says my mother, I just remember knowing. Knowing as a spirit knows, a known tobacco puff, in that five-room bungalow torn down—wires, windows, walls, all—after her death. Her daughters and her daughters’ daughters, laughing and knowing. Knowing busted sidewalks and azaleas, pinning them in our hair. Pinning her polyester scarves around each other to make gowns. Obsessed with the picture, but going on the sound. Four brown & white girls running her shmattehs up our bodies like flagpoles, what were we but the nation’s dance routine? Ruthie called us the Queen, the Dream, the Brilliant, and the Rose. My sister just got the Hebrew character for rose tattooed on her wrist. The tattooist asked her to double-check, so often do people get unfamiliar alphabets permanently wrong. It’s true none of us know Hebrew from Adam, although I do know that dam means blood. I do remember that we called her—I mean the grown-ups called her—Madam. That was her name. Her name was mother-blood.

Several times, I took a tape recorder to her house and didn’t mention it. Its red blink tucked between the ashtray and the crosswords. Between the ashes & the going-over jets. Between the door and the veil, with my want, what did I want, her voice, the river of it. Grandma, if you & Ben never went to synagogue and never took mommy and Aunt Claire to synagogue and never said the prayers, what has it meant to you to be Jewish? Loudly, on her death cot: It just feels good, to be Jewish. And then, As I said, whatever stage you are in your life, recognize the garbage and get rid of it.

Doesn’t everyone know that my mother has, and that I have? And my aunt has, too. And my sister’s birth mother, and everyone between the door and the veil. Between the ashes and the crosswords; the words crossing, the words crossed. The voiceriver goes on: It’s funny you mention love songs because I loved love songs, crying my eyes out on the double-decker bus, amateur night on Wednesdays at the Apollo, at the Savoy. Such voices sneaking out of the void. Ruthie in her lovetalk cloud in her cotton smock, sitting in her chair. On the screen: fire-fountains shot from an Olympic-sized pool and Williams diving, falling, a silver needle smiling into the glass. Sometimes even in love, Ruthie shouting, Oh, enough with your dippy face! and clicking it off.

A quarter of a century later, my sister saying, Family—family. We were the family where the grandma and the moms made the kids go fart near other people on the beach so they’d leave. Beneath Venus star of morning, star of evening, facing the glittering Atlantic filled with its tonnage and debris: Go fart near them so they’ll leave.



Smoketongue hangs out on the stoops

I drew a figure and colored it gold

This is not a personplace or thing

By tape-recorder gleam recording she

As I said, get rid of the garbage out of your life

I’m going to show you what real voices, real music sounds like

Sound of a lighter scratched once, twice

This is a voiceriver my exquisites, my magnificents

On the 5th Avenue double-decker upstairs

Can you sing in water

It smashes the atoms of the afternoon

This is whitefish & oil smoke, river to river

A fish in the tub on Saturdays

And the point is, the whole world flocks to the damn place

Bridges like necklaces across the city’s throats

“Adornment itself is speech”

Sound of a lighter, pigeons & linoleum the color of tea

I’ve got a beautiful tree across the street from me

I wish I was that fucking tree

A particular shade of blue eyeshadow & my creed

Love songs, heartbreak songs, any kind of singing

I think I danced in every ballroom in New York




Read the rest of “Gossiping Uncorsetted Jewesses: Some Interviews and Other Exquisite Business” in the ninth print issue of aptavailable now.




Abby Minor is a poet, activist/pacifist, gardener, essayist, organizer, and community writing teacher in central Pennsylvania. The recipient of fellowships, residencies, and awards from Bitch Media, Split this Rock, The Rensing Center, The Penland School of Crafts, and the Ora Lerman Charitable Trust, she is the author of two chapbooks, including Real Words for Inside (2018, Gap Riot Press).



(Front page image via)

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