Four Poems
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Four Poems

No, I don't believe in line breaks.

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Four Poems
Katherine Orfinger

The bitch wriggles out of her collar when she feels she does not deserve to be owned. When the man brought me home from the puppy farm, I was just a little thing, made slight by misguided willpower. Black boots knock a young dog around, but oh, was she grateful for that silk and leather collar.

The bitch was treated fairly on the island. The prize pet–all the sirens and nymphs wanted to pet me behind the ears. But grow I did, and I became a mean dog. I bit the fishermen, barked at them, and tried to run them off. One of them carried a knife, and he carved his initials into my haunches. And oh, I was grateful.

On the island, a siren picked the young, mean bitch to be her favorite. She gave me not a collar, but a chain with a silver clasp. The siren explained that it was a tie, not a shackle. I learned what love was, and I rested at the foot of her bed. She fed me handsomely, and the bitch became a dog became a girl became a woman became an abuser became broken became heartbroken became closer to a whole piece of something bigger.

The bitch wriggles out of her collar when she feels she does not deserve to be owned.


I watched our love turn your teeth yellow. I kissed your smoky mouth anyway, and my tongue momentarily stopped searching for messages in a bottle. I sat in the rooms and distanced myself from you, loving a God that you deny, loving Him more than I ever loved you–yes “loved” with a D because if love grows, then love dies, but I was too dope sick to go to the funeral. The clinical term is “substance abuse,” and after all the times the angels spit on my naked, nubile body, I swore I’d never hit anyone, but there were times I saw fear in your eyes, and I want to apologize for becoming a man in your bedroom, when I promised you sugar free kisses and instant coffee that wasn’t too weak. I always tried to put in a little extra for you. I wrote Sappho a Dear John letter, and I wept in our sisters’ arms, but I don’t remember a single tear, just a strand of faux pearls around my skinny wrist, and a man’s hand over my childish mouth. I never loved the way we did. You were my first real teacher, but I’m a truant at heart. I blew off your class for pills and bandages. A rib cage like guitar strings, but I never let you coax music out of me. For that I am sorry. I hope for you. I promise I will never pray for you, and I will no longer play with you–no more games where I make the rules. You deserve to win, and I hope someday, your blessed body crosses that finish line.


When I became bat mitzvah, the rabbi called me Ora. I was "the most disgusting light, all dressed in beauty that'll rot." And the rotten body glowed over the airwaves, attracting maggots and flies, all the creatures God never intended to make. I wish there was a siddur in my hand instead of someone's flesh, a lighter, or a loveless razor blade. Jenny called it, "The Empty, the Empty, the Empty," and as I emptied the contents of my stomach into a toilet in the bathroom of a drag bar, someone I once loved came to find me, and I begged her to pray with me, but we spoke vastly different languages. If love can grow, then love can die. If wrists can bleed, they can heal almost as good as new. Still, I have stress fractures on my eyelids that blur my vision when I sleep. The one I dream of is not an angel--just a father unhappy in his golden shackles. The blame poured down on me like dollar bills on a woman's body. I begged him to put a price on me, and he laughed in my face and called me worthless. Just once more creature God never intended to make.


I grew up in a noisy house, but it was a loving song of noise. Yiddish and Hebrew thrown around like olives in exotic dishes. Pretty dresses on little girls, and kippahs covering bald spots. The Torah. Behind the glorious ark in all her resplendent wonder with mysteries and wisdom to carry me through the ages. And carry me she did, through losses–Goodbye, Miss Lucille; Goodbye Mrs. Malka–and loving gains–Welcome to our family, David; Welcome to the world, Baby Ben. And all the steps in between. Rolled up in the Torah scrolls are generations of Hanukkahs and Purims, a thousand weddings and a thousand births. I grew up in a noisy house, and when I come to visit, my family sings with me.


These poems originally appeared on Rad Recovery.

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