Today's poem is by Richard Chess
I lied. I didn't lie. Someone close, very close to me lied.
The lie was part heritage, part invention. She came from a line of liars. On her
mother's side. Thar's what her mother told her. Her mother never lied to me, so
she must have been telling the truth to her daughter.
She lied about the last 30 minutes of her life, the ride from the airport. Behind
that lie was another, the lie of the five hours before that.
She was hungry, so she ate while she lied. She laughed and she ate and she lied
her way through the meal and the lie flew with her, spicy and fresh as the taste of
ginger in her mouth, to Peru.
Does it matter who she lied to? Does it matter that she lied, at that meal, to her
grandmother, the only surviving member of the generation through whom the lie
passed down to her?
She didn't lie. I lied. She didn't ear with her grandmother that night. Her mother,
my wife, did. She ordered an Appletini. No, that was her mother. My wife's
mother ordered the Appletini.
My wife was tense as she constructed a lettuce wrap and ate it. She knew she had
to be careful. Careful about what she said in response to her mother's questions.
Her mother asked, where did you fly from. Her mother asked, where are you
staying while you are here. Her mother asked, is he working this summer. Her
mother asked, when is the baby due, where is the wedding going to be, why wasn't
I told sooner, why wasn't I the first to know.
She wasn't alone with her mother. All the years were with them at the table, and
the crispy honey shrimp. She didn't exactly lie to her mother, but she didn't answer
fully any of her mother's questions. She couldn't. She couldn't because of what
happened in Haddonfield, how her mother treated her when she was a girl, and
she couldn't because of what happened in Hollywood, when she sent one of her
own daughters to visit grandma, and then the other daughter, and then her son.
She couldn't because she wasn't there that night. She didn't crack open the
cookie, receive the fortune: "Adventure can be a real happiness". I lied.
Lying can be an adventure. Like examining patients in rural Uganda: a stop on a
residency tour. The comforts of homethe electrical outlet, the exterminator
beyond reach. To survive, you must adjust. You must make do.
And you do. The lie is the risk you take for family. L'dor v'dor: from generation
to generation, the lie binds mother to daughter, father to son. A spirited song,
with gusto you sing it.
The lie is intimate, and the lie is personal, a gift from your heart, a small
masterpiece of narrative art.
Here's the truth: it was me at that dinner. I was alone. I always eat alone.
There was someone else at the table, maybe more than one other guest: my
mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, my wife, my step-daughters and my son,
my mother, my father (the father who raised and loved and supported me as
I wobbled and wandered until I found a piece of property on which to set
my desk), my father (the father who encoded a string of genes for me then
disappeared into a myth of hardware and faith). Was Father Adam there, too?
The banished Lilith? The beloved, the scorned Eve? I never eat alone.
I was whatever lie I needed to be to make the neediest other person at the table
happy. The others took turns at being the neediest. I was the story I imagined
each one needed to hear to feel loved. They were probably the same for me.
I ordered. I ordered too much food because when I'm with family I'm afraid of
I wanted to look her in the eye, my mother-in-law, to see if I could see who she
is when all the stories about her have been stripped away. Stories I've been told
over the years; stories I've added a twist to or exaggerated or composed on my
own. But I didn't dare look her in the eye. I don't look anyone in the eye. I don't
want you to see who, beyond the stories, I am: a liar.
I lied. I wasn't there, I didn't have dinner at that restaurant that night.
But the Oolong Chilean Sea Bass, tea marinated and broiled in sweet ginger soy,
served over warm spinach, was delicious. Good boy that I am, I cleaned my plate.
She treated. She added the tip and signed the slip. I helped her into the car. She
was happy but for one regret, the unfinished Appletini that the server wouldn't let
her take, in a plastic cup, home. I helped her out of the car, walked her to her door,
kissed her goodnight, goodbye, see you again soon. I'm telling you the truth.
Copyright © 2017 Richard Chess All rights reserved
from University of Tampa Press
University of Tampa Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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