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SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

[Two Poems + Commentary]

by Penny Perry

In Their Corners

Olympic Boxing Stadium, twelve miles away
from our tract house, might as well have been Pluto.
Working the corner, Dad in his best sports shirt
and slacks looked handsome on our black-and-white TV.
Gentleman Phil held his glove to a bloody gash.
Dad batted the glove away, pressed a towel to the wound,
then slapped the steak that was to be our dinner
over the boxer’s starfish eye.

At ringside, men smoked cigars, women wore push up bras
from Frederick’s of Hollywood.
My mother slumped on our flowered couch.
We felt dowdy in our flannel robes. Her smile looked battered.
She picked up her Proust and began to read.

Hours later, Dad came into the kitchen grinning, I grinned back.
“Great knockout punch in the tenth,” I said.
My mother frowned into cold tea.
She had loved him once, just because he had red hair
and strutted like Cagney.
She had believed in his fabulous inventions:
the automatic egg sheller, the lawnmower-
leaf-sweeper combo.

I loved him too. He had told plump, bulky me I could dance.
The Woolworth’s lamp shone on the two of them. Like boxers
in separate corners, they sat at opposite ends of the table.

I escaped down the hall, found the shoes Dad bought for me.
My feet wide in black patents, I tucked my braids
in a Cagney cap.
Back in the kitchen, my taps clicked like heartbeats
on my mother’s linoleum. Off key, I sang,
“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
My parents staring, I did a James
Cagney and danced up the wall.

My father slid his arm around my mother.
She froze then leaned her head toward his shoulder.
With a toss of my head, I jigged into the den,
past the sleeping TV and dropped a record,
I’m in the Mood for Love, on the phonograph.

In the kitchen, they moved together slowly,
like couples on Arthur Murray, holding on.

—From Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, Garden Oak Press (2012)

McCarthy on the Radio

for my grandfather
He sipped ice coffee at the kitchen table
listening to the radio.
I didn’t know what a McCarthy was.
He thought there was an army of them.
It made his face turn purple.
It scared me that he was scared.
My grandfather swam in the Pacific with sharks.
My grandfather knew the answer to everything.

He came here to escape the Cossacks. 
He and the other Jewish boys hid
from soldiers and learned math in a chicken coop.

He said he could taste each new word.
Blonde, blue-eyed, impeccable English,
he packed his prayer shawl and yarmulke,
changed his last name,
dressed  in “Episcopalian clothes”:
white shirt, tie, black shoes.
At the grocery store, he’d tilt his head
and listen for the tell-tale lilt.
Outing Jews was his passion.
“Listen to that one. Be-ink,” he’d say.
“They take the lovely English word being 
and make it sound as if it were a weapon.”

On Saturdays, he’d listen to The Eternal Light
on the radio. Head bowed, his lashes would get wet.
Sometimes on those Sabbath mornings
we’d walk down to Ocean Park.
His blue eyes would stare longingly
at the welcoming synagogue door.
He’d spin in those polished shoes
and point us toward home.

—From Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, Garden Oak Press (2012)

On the Poems in Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage:
Commentary by Penny Perry

I had double vision as a child and sometimes thought I lived in two separate worlds: the Irish Catholic and the Jewish. I believed it was my job to explain one group of people, one point of view, to another. As an adult I had eye surgery and my vision was corrected. But the feeling that there is more than one way to view the world has never left me. I grew up in Santa Monica, California. My family felt like unwanted guests in the postcard-pretty, mostly Protestant town. The poems in Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage are family portraits and may be my way of still trying to explain one person to another. My family mostly kept to themselves, but the world came to them through radio and TV. My grandfather, a victim of the pogroms, loved America but in Senator McCarthy’s rhetoric he could hear the crunch of the Cossack’s boots. Hyper-vigilant, my grandfather sipped his glass of tea and listened each day to the senator’s witch hunt. My mother, a transplanted New Yorker turned California housewife, felt betrayed when my father took on a second job training and managing boxers. He believed the fight game was a way for poor white and minority boys to succeed. My mother and I watched my father’s fighters on TV.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Penny Perry

has been widely published as a poet, most recently in Lilith and the San Diego Poetry Annual. Her fiction has appeared in Redbook and California Quarterly. She was the first woman admitted to The American Film Institute screenwriting program, and a film based on her script, A Berkeley Christmas, aired on PBS.

A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee in both fiction and poetry, she was born and raised in Santa Monica, the setting for her first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage (Garden Oak Press, 2012), available at Amazon via CreateSpace.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury