By Paul Hostovsky
Sometimes the poem resonates
and the people nod and sigh. They say
mmm. They hear you and they feel
less alone. And you feel less alone
because you’ve shared something
that belonged to everyone. But then
there are other times–and you never know
which one it will be–when the poem
doesn’t resonate. The lines about the pleasure
you derive from sniffing your own earwax
do not strike a chord. And all you hear
is silence. Crickets. You never felt
so alone. And what can you do but
scratch your head, scratch the lines,
scratch your ear and sniff your finger
for the residue you could have sworn
was redolent of something much deeper.
I suspect that I suck.
I have suspected it all this time.
I literally sucked my thumb until I was thirteen and a half,
shamefully, furtively, inexorably,
while pretending to my parents
that I didn’t anymore.
(My mother knew, though. She knew.)
My bar mitzvah was a fraud, my father
kissing me on the cheek, saying,
“Now you are a man in the eyes
of God and our people.” Our people
included my cousin Naomi from Brooklyn
with the long black hair and frank
mischief in her eyes. You will want to know
it was the right thumb, never the left.
I tried the left, of course, but it never
satisfied the way the right one did
probably for reasons anatomical.
My parents are dead now and although
I no longer literally suck, I suspect
that I suck figuratively–I suspect I’m a sucky writer.
I suspect I have sucked all this time
while pretending to myself I was great,
which I chalk up to the iterative evolution of the thumb.