“The Story, For Now” by Janlori Goldman

Janlori Goldman


No father. That’s what I told you.
        By second grade, friends said
                all kids have one, somewhere,

called you liar. The difference between biology
        and Dad? That’s the story that grew
                as you grew, like dated pencil marks

on the doorframe. Now I tell you—
        I met him on a work trip.
                In the morning, we circled Henry Moore’s

massive, marble women.
        In other cities we’d meet for Greek food,
                fool around. A divorce.

He said he was getting one. I said,
        you should know. I’m going to have this baby.
                I’m not asking you for anything.

I knew nothing of asking.
        All I knew, the gift was in me,
                even if he didn’t mean to give it.

He looked at the mound under my sweater—
        you can always make another. This one
                will ruin my life. The wife and I,

we’re trying to work things out.
        He needed me to keep a secret,
                and I could only see my way

to one very sure place of going it alone.
        I agreed to No Father,
                just xxxxxxxxx on your birth certificate.

When you’re very young I give you this story:
        a friend helped me. A woman
                needs sperm to make a baby

this is true the way a story with a missing piece
        can be true. By twelve, you ask
                what was your friend’s name?

I forgot, I say. You hear the lie,
        demand I put his picture and name
                in the piano bench, inside the purple book

with mirrors on the cover. Is he good at math?
        Do I have a brother?
Over soup, you say
                he should’ve wanted to know me,

should’ve told his wife—aren’t you angry?
        I thought I’d given you enough of a story,
                but under the clapboard a vine’s been growing,

a prying wedge. I tell you now, I am angry.
        For not knowing you’d long to fill in the blank
                with something other than a string of x’s.

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets

[download audio]


Janlori Goldman: “My daughter, Maya Rose, is now in her second year of college. It’s been a long, stupendous trip from there to here. For the past twenty years, I never thought of myself as a ‘single mom.’ But recently I made myself sit at the kitchen table until ‘The Story, For Now’ was written, hours sweating over the page, resisting the garden, the refrigerator. I made discoveries. I let my daughter read the poem. Does poetry save me? Yes.” (www.hugeshoes.org)

Rattle Logo