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The ABC’s of Loss


I’m losing my accent, an animal forgetting

itself in parts; two-thirds arms, three-quarter legs, my body

a memory of three meals and lots of books

I sit in my hardest chair, playing in my inner deportation center

wrestling to see what I’ll have to abandon tonight, testing the

next story against the others, they say

all losses are imagined, but I’ve stepped out of my-

self so many times there’s a grudge in that doorway

a blockade of flies taking away

from the meat of

what we’ve meant


at fifteen, I give up the word gravity and float around for days

I disturb nothing in our rented house, I consider us a museum

in that we always have something to come back to

I’m only the more lonely of its curators, my father bangs me

against the walls like a cheap prostitute, I blacked out after the first time

I failed science

I woke four-fifths gone, one-fifth

wanting my glasses back


at sixteen, I am a piƱata for almost everything, the world shakes even

as the grandparents visit us in jersey, an ant colony under a blurry microscope

but they are getting the sense dad doesn’t leave the house

most days he lays in the backyard, a weird dinosaur

on a plastic lounge chair trying to change psychiatry

and the english language, other

days he takes it out on us, he obsesses over my education

until I don’t want to know anything which is good

because another word for this is humility


anyone who has begged too hard for too long is of a slightly different species

I built spaceships to breath in my bedroom, borrowed oxygen from the television

trying to wait out that silver storm, I left

large parts of my heart in the furniture

I signed cards to my dark side, open-ended, to whom it may concern

because I wasn’t sure who was there

we all get caught playing nobody

but some of us stay that way, I’m nobody because of

the silences I’ve accepted


random mortar took over, afternoons of cartoons floated in from the vents

a little less real every day, I lost the word sad in my piggy bank

but I could taste it, mom cooked rice to hide our sins

we ate meals tinged with a violence none of us could explain

I predicted victims like a weatherman, my mother and brother

switched chairs as I chose another bruise

in a blacker purple, this might be the difference

between you and me, I don’t see faces as anything

real or beautiful


at twelve, I write lyrics for my dog, he jumps out of our chevy

and a few days later the bird dies, I stuff my shirt with newspaper

and sleep in the breezeway

years later I’ll pee in jars because I’m too scared to see anyone

my mother lines up twenty white pills because dad fucked the asian baby-

sitter back in new york, she starts melting so

I call 911 and while I wait for the ambulance

turn into a very old man with no body: nobody

I understand the concept of a corpse


variations of sleep, we’ve woke as worse

my brother and I are entirely different pets, he, my father’s, stabs hamsters

and molested our cat missy, while I, my mother’s

want to be alone in an almost supernatural way

my guess is none of my teachers wanted to face the black hole

I play dead in, one birthday

J. drops acid and has a grand mal seizure

spends the next three years at the four winds mental institution

I visit twice, most of him is

missing but he doesn’t ask for anything

I can see how seriously he takes his escape

it’s in me too


my father was a moderately famous psychiatrist once upon a time

he understood the principles of what could break and what could heal a man

and so he became my judge and executioner

passing out white candy for my better performances

and crushing me when I stuttered, he molded me into a camel

and no the ocean in my hump is

in no danger of bursting, there’s an erotic side to every beating

so I know my father well enough to know he understands it will take

years for us to get human again


surrender took us to quiet places when dad started hitting harder

he found us there too, repeatedly, as the room became a submarine

I once put up a white flag

and hit his arm in the car hoping we’d crash and you and mom

could live some soft new life somewhere far from that suburbia

from the invisible graveyard

growing in our basement, I

wanted that life for you two

that badly


my brother, my mother, my father and me

we took vacations in each other, played our nightmare roles for academy awards

I was the star, my mother the audience, my brother

the supporting cast, my father, the director and producer, screamed action

and we all survived in place, playing dead loudly, pretending in and out of

ourselves like animals

years later I’m obsessed with dictionaries, with verbs and history

with killing seeds, with archetypes, with thresholds, with strength

and purity, with accents


my mother stood between some shots, side-stepped others

my brother had seven pairs of blue corduroys and seven blue T-shirts

because my father was in charge of school supplies

he joked it was his victim uniform, I dressed beautifully because

part of me was still a woman for dad, rumor has it last halloween

a kid was killed by the police

years later I openly shoplift for the rush of getting caught

the handcuffs, the cell, the call to my parents, I’m flirting with

being someone else’s prisoner

Peter Schwartz