This poem originally appeared in Leslea Newman’s first collection of poems, Just Looking For My Shoes. (Back Door Press, Englewood, Colorado). Copyright 1980 Leslea Newman.
I it was time to be born and it was black she closed her legs it was black they slit her open I couldn’t breathe it was black I started breathing it was black it was around my face it was long it was black it was around my face they tied it up in a ponytail it was black they put me next to her I closed my eyes it was black I heard her breathing they put me next to her I heard her breathing and I knew I was alive I closed my eyes it was black I knew it was black I knew I was alive I heard her breathing it was black I knew who she was she was breathing they slit her open it was black she closed her eyes it was black they put me next to her she was alive I was alive she was my mother they slit her open it was black it was time I was alive II We were sitting on the couch looking at pictures in an old family album. My father was holding my hand and twisting my turquoise ring around my pinky. We were laughing. My mother came in and asked my brother to dance. He said no. My father said, “Look, here’s a picture of you right after you were born.” “Yuk, I was ugly.” “You want to see something ugly?” my mother asked. She hiked up her blouse, pulled down her pants and pointed to the scar on her belly. “Florence what are you doing? Put that away,” my father said. Then my grandmother came in with apple blintzes and we all sat down to eat. III I changed my name from Leslie to Leslea because I kept getting put in the boys’ gym classes at school and when I was seventeen I even; got a draft notice. And my sister-in-law used to call me Les, as in more or less, which I absolutely hated. Besides, I wanted to be the only one in the world with my name. My father took me to court and signed an affidavit swearing that Leslie Newman and Leslea Newman were the same person. We had to pay twenty-five dollars. What? He’s a lawyer and an accountant. When I was seven I had a legal question to ask him. I paid him a nickel and he said that nickel was good for life. Um . . . I don’t remember when I started being funny. My father has a good sense of humor — I guess I got it from him. Like when my mother used to yell at me he’d stand behind her making funny faces. When he got mad at me he’d say, “I’m taking off my belt,” and I’d say, “Your pants are gonna fall down.” Then we’d laugh. Unless it was something serious like the time he caught me smoking dope with my little brother who was twelve at the time. Where was I? Oh yeah, being funny. I used to imitate my teachers, you know, cross my legs when they crossed their legs and make fun of how they talked. Or I’d leave thumbtacks on their chairs or get the whole class to stand up at 2:00 and say the pledge of allegiance. My mother? Well, we’ve always had problems getting along. She told me I came out of her womb fist first and my first word was NO. I guess things were all right until I hit puberty. Then she was always saying stuff like, “Do something with your hair,” or “Your skirt is too short.” Then there was this thing with my father. We’ve always been close and I think she was jealous of that, though we’ve never talked about it. My father’s always been very supportive of me as a writer. He always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to while my mother wanted me to be a teacher or a social worker or something. She’s come around now that I’ve started to publish but she still calls me up sometimes and says, “Why don’t you take a shorthand course — it couldn’t hurt.” Once I was driving home with my boyfriend and I was really mad at him for something — I think he ignored me the whole night. I started yelling at him and he stopped the car and said, “What happened to your voice?” I had sounded exactly like my mother. IV Why doesn’t anybody love me? I’m so beautiful I can have anything I want — money, jewels, drugs, young boys, kumquats, artichoke hearts, why doesn’t anybody love me? V I memorize the universe starting with her I’m a lioness in heat I am after her I’m eighteen years old I believe her I eat chicken with my fingers I’m thru with her I’m the itch in the center of her back the grass stains on her skirt I’m the faucet in her kitchen that drips all night I’m an eclipse of the moon she is watching me I polish the mirror she stares at me I’m a sleepy seed stuck in the corner of her eye my name has been set in her heart like a jewel I am a tea cup, empty still warm in her hands VI There is something inside me that says you are not little. You do not want the man, the house in the country, the dog, the kids, even though you think you do. There is something inside me that paces up and down my spine, feeds on my heart, and only when I’m writing a poem lies down quietly, to sleep.