Illustrations by Max Mose
My parents are quite literally gods.
Abnormally beautiful and self-
absorbed. And like all beautiful,
self-absorbed men and women who make
the mistake of marrying one other, they have
their faults. Plural, possessive.
(I must take my time. Go slow.)
although they married
each other, they always thought they could
do better. You know. Someone
taller, perhaps, with straighter
teeth and better opportunities.
the only opinion that ever really
mattered to them
is how they would fare in a rival’s estimation.
the one that explains
this laying bare
of family business is this. The only reason
my mother had children was because
proof, some life-size tangible
to remind her how
sublime she once was.
everything I’ve said,
am saying, will say,
harsh but true. Harsh.
but so true.
Sometimes, like now, the best place to start
is the beginning, but where is that?
How does one get there?
The woman who gave birth
I suppose some might hazard the word
Mother, had a difficult time. The pain must have been
enough to make her delusional, for she swears
I came from her thigh. This is nothing usual
in the way of history
below the Mason-Dixon. The façade
is always more important than what’s underneath.
Consider this. Not one, but two,
parents who’ve made a point
of not remembering
their children’s birthdays. No months, no days.
they can’t even keep straight
who was born, much less who was born
when and in what order.
Another testament to
the power of the vain to shroud
says he gave birth to my sister
Athena—and that I helped. All this
from the top of his head. No, not that one.
The unimaginative one
on the top of his neck. And not to be outdone,
the woman biologically responsible for my being
insists on believing she bore me to spite
my father, that I was
immaculately conceived. Of course,
she uses the term parthenogenetically.
(I wonder if that’s anything like in vitro.)
So, blood is spewing forth like lava
and what limps forth but a squat,
boy with two clubbed feet.
Needless to say that the woman
who claims to be my mother
isn’t pleased. Immediately
she thinks my father will point
an iron finger at her side
of the gene pool. She forgets the gothic
bent of what it means to be Southern,
(Our family tree has no branches.),
and promptly tosses me over
the balcony, the proverbial
baby with the bath water.
Everyone has a crazy relative or two.
But this nut cleans herself up,
powders her nose, and goes out
for the evening to play bid whist and tell gossipy
anecdotes about cheating husbands and ugly babies with those adders
she calls friends.
Round these parts,
people say that if your daddy
don’t claim you can “get in line,”
but if your mama don’t want you,
“You’re messed up for life.” I suspect
that that’s true,
because much too much
later I thought about
paying money to consult
but my parents said that sort of foolishness
was for mortals. All I know is
the greatest falls always happen
just beyond your mother’s sight
and, no matter how sincere
the remorse, the regret
—later, if it comes—
is quite useless,
once the damage is done.
I fell past self-loathing,
into the depths of self-
Two kindly women were good enough
to take me in. I was in a bad way.
Papa, a rolling stone. Mama, masquerading
as an upstanding woman in the community.
Rock and a hard place if ever there was one.
Not to mention enough bastard
brothers and sisters to keep
a probate lawyer in work for life.
Don’t think I don’t have
an appreciation for small miracles.
What else can you call it
when a woman with three fair-cheeked
daughters—a bounty of splendor,
mirth and cheer
—takes in a no-name boy who falls
whence the gods only know.
By anybody’s open-ended clock,
nine years is a longish time
to clothe and feed
the most obliging of visitors,
to say nothing of a gimp
who sets up
in the middle
of your living room.
I can’t imagine what
she told her husband
or where she got it all.
Hammer, anvil, tongs.
Whatever I might need,
Eurynome and her friend
I made them gifts. They suffered
my first shabby attempts with smiles.
Combs with crooked teeth,
brooches that wouldn’t close,
corsets that bruised. They accepted
all I gave. The harmony
of Eurynome’s daughters,
such voices waxing and waning
alongside the hydro twang of my Art
somehow made the scintillating
fires less intense,
made my past
irrelevant. I fell
in love with them all. How could one
And her daughter Aglaia became
the wife of my youth.
But what did we know
of husbandry? Some things are better left
unlearned. My work was my mistress.
Her sisters were her life. When we parted,
friends. No hard feelings,
no bitter words.
One day, very very very early,
before Eurynome’s morning bath,
before I could drag myself upright,
my brother Dodo shows up drunk,
Ma and Pa want me
the rising beauties.
I cringe. He’s pawing
Oh, let me die of shame!
Needless to say, this is not the way
I imagined the heralding of my homecoming.
No pomp, no circumstance.
No teary apologies
flowing into cups of mead.
Just a dipsomaniacal brother
talking loud, disrespecting
the hearth of the woman
who gave me her daughter’s hand,
and bore me no ill will
for my failure.
closed her mind
to whatever else might come.
She spoke simply,
“We are merely your family;
they are your blood.
We will always be here, a womb
to which you can return.
I can make no such promises.”
My mother pretends to fawn,
my father boasts.
the likes of which the world has never seen. Both
promise that I’ll make
everything for everyone
“No problem at all…”
without ever having consulted
me. They never paused to consider
that I’m a grown man,
that I might have plans of my own,
that I may have no wish to make
trinkets and baubles for the bourgeoisie—
tridents and thunderbolts,
golden armor and golden beds,
scepters, thrones, chariots, homes,
spears, bows, sickles,
I didn’t even ask
No one ever said,
“Can I pay you for your time?”
No one ever said,
“What supplies do you require?”
No one ever said,
“Can I keep you
company while you work?”
Their only concern was
“When will it be ready?
And how come it takes
so damn long?”
So here I am killing
myself and they’re acting
as if I’m the faithful retainer
returned to the Big House,
the new nigger in Olympus,
the only one with a job.
I will not be the keeper of secrets.
Everyone calls me Baby Hugh
or Hef. My dad’s the playboy,
not me. The irony isn’t wasted.
People always wonder aloud
about a beautiful man
with an ugly woman.
Lucky for me, the reverse
isn’t true. Aphrodite
became wife number two. Women
have this ability to overlook
appearance when Love
is involved. I’m sure some thought
poor dear while others envisioned
elaborate scenes of rape.
Coercion and mind control,
chains and engorged instruments.
But there was
nothing quite so barbarous.
Only my unwitting
adoration of a woman
—Confound her soul!—
who on the surface
appeared to be my better.
And there were whole weeks
when the vicissitudes of our life
She would attend my shoulders,
salve my burns. I would untangle,
brush, and braid
her hair. I learned
never to speak
of the knots,
what my hand could not undo,
for then she would
lock her door to me.
Each time, I would cry
like a howling wind
caressing a closed window,
trying to remember
a better use for pain.
There was no invisible net,
save for Aphrodite’s guilty conscience.
The sun shone on two bodies
warring toward bliss.
Neither of which was mine.
There was no fettered throne,
My mother never wrestled against
the trappings of second-hand glory,
yet my successes were poison to her soul.
Such stories began as all myths do,
someone spinning sugar and hot air
to make implausible lies sound sweet.
I never demanded apologies.
I simply wanted
for either Aphrodite or Hera to speak
the reality of what was.
But what I need, I logically know
Neither can give.
Do I understand Hera better now?
I want to say I do.
The embarrassment, the casting aside.
I know both these sentiments
intimately. Because an artisan plans
such elaborate dreams
as fools dare not even hope.
He delights beneath the labor
of what cannot be control.
(An uneasy peace conceals
many a ravaged heart.)
Sometimes our creations
put to shame our wildest imaginings.
Sometimes, our children are beasts,
quite horribly not what we intend.
All rights reserved to R. Flowers Rivera.