Home from school on a spring afternoon with a fever and strep

and before I was old enough to read about the torching of witches,

vigilantes and the lynching of slaves in the United States of America,

I sat in front of a fuzzy screen with rolling lines watching gray men

with oily comb-overs in gray suits in a gray building somewhere

in Washington D.C. accuse each other of being liars and Communists


Closing my eyes into total darkness I listened to the stentorian cadence

of Joseph McCarthy hammering in the same self-righteous tone I heard

in the voice of the mummified monsignor who stood stooped on Sundays

over the pulpit in a church of cold stone walls chastising me for a sin

he said mankind committed in my name long before I was born

At that moment my mother walked in the door from her daily coffee

with Harriet, the neighbor who wore a hair net, created her scarlet lips

with a stencil and clipped magazine articles about the coming of the end

of the world as we know it and flying saucers over New Mexico


She switched off the television, shut down the window and nodded

to Harriet guessing I looked pale from the sewer gas seeping into the room

from the grate down the street but I heard her whisper on their way

into the kitchen I was probably upset from too much talk about spies giving

secrets to the Russians on how to build a hydrogen bomb


I laid my head back on the pillow of the sofa and, suddenly chilled, covered

myself with a blanket knowing at the age of ten that the angry priest

in the golden chasuble and those men on the black and white screen snarling

at each other across a round table under a dangling microphone suffered

from a sickness far more grotesque than the burning in the pit of my throat