it’s a cliche that everyone has a crazy uncle
and maybe it’s true; it was for us.
my crazy uncle was the uncle we knew best
and who we adored more than all the others.
he held sleepovers for me and my siblings
in the apartment (whose rent my parents paid)
and watched walker: texas ranger too late into the night
and agreed that yes chuck norris was hot
some things have changed.
i will not call them unforgivable. i shall not call them sins; they weren’t.
there were fuck-ups that hurt my family but not me.
the apartment he abandoned without warning
(our family he abandoned without warning)
the time he tried to kill himself, which–
for whom is that forgiveness owed; to whom is that an offense?
mine is a small complaint but it is one that
i have not laid to rest.
(i was not there when his body was laid to rest either.
i visited his grave the year after
with my sister and my mother and her sisters;
my father and uncles an uneasy half-circle around us.)
perhaps this poem is the time.
: it’s okay that you promised you would dance with me at my bat-mitzvah
it was a precious promise
and i think–i think if you had known it was so precious–
i think if i had known how precious it was, and reminded you–
you would have danced with me.
but both of us circulated through the party
like smiles and plates of appetizers
in the swirling crowd of middle school friends
and the two sides of our out-of-town family who had never come together to meet,
with my mother and father happily, insistently, politically out of wedlock
it’s okay that you promised me a dance
and that i thought i would feel like a princess
(more because of the spotlight of your attention
than the way you would have made me whirl across the floor).
it’s okay, younger-me, that you did not ask,
it’s okay, younger-me, that you nursed your hurt and pride
instead of your bravery.
it’s okay, the uncle i had who maybe is like everyone’s crazy uncle:
the kind who do their best and take what pills they can and
live their lives with those they love until it hurts too much;
it’s okay that you danced with so many people but not me.
our out-of-town family came for the bat mitzvah.
you were already there.
your leaving hurt worse than theirs did
(and yes: many times in many ways).
if i could make my hurt into a precious thing
i would make it a snow globe.
i would shake it until the two figures dancing
were surrounded by glitter (which we spent so long cleaning up)
and twirling slowly in a prescribed circle (the dance didn’t have to be good)
i can take the promise and keep that;
i can take the memory i wish i had, and hold it;
i can say: he wanted to dance with me at my bat mitzvah,
he loved me; he thought i was special, too.