I don’t remember much of you,
except for the important things:
how you asked me about that girl
in class, the one everyone laughed at,
her smile was like yours, so big
and bold, everyone wanted to crush it.
You felt for her, couldn’t understand
why a pretty and smart girl like that
was tortured and needed to leave school--
I squirmed, couldn’t explain it to you: the way
her hairy legs stood out under her shorts,
how she didn’t lower her screeching voice,
how she was so completely herself
and wouldn’t disguise it
but I didn’t think you’d understand,
not until we read Lord of the Flies
and oh god, how I hated them all, hated the grotesque
slobbery of Piggy and Roger’s cruelty.
And when I saw the fly buzzing
and my hand snapped down on it,
how I seemed to enter your mouth
and you said we kill things all the time
don’t we? and I thought of that girl,
crushed under bullies.
Didn’t you just kill that bug?
and I laughed because it’s not
the same thing, I said, and
I hated you then, or loved you.
And you took my hand and the paper
towel and the bug beneath
it and you said, isn’t it?
Now I think of you when I’m too tired
for mercy, or for coaxing insects
out open doors, when I push down
as quickly as I can and try not to look,
try not to hear the begging.
Barbara Joy Beatus-Vegh is a poet and visual artist. A grand-daughter of Holocaust survivors, she writes poetry dealing with themes of ancestral trauma and new motherhood.