Haftarah

I, twelve,
flirt with a boy on the synagogue stage
during our adulthood rites.
Becoming
bar and bat mitzvahs, respectively.
Eyelashes batting coquettishly at this peri-pubescent mensch, glossed lips pursed, my dad laughs,
while my mom glares.
The rabbi and the cantor don’t know what to do
so they glare and silently reprimand, too.

I think his name is Max.
He is short and has to stand on a milk carton placed underneath the bimah, to appear the same height as me,
in my oversexed heels.

So we’re standing at the bimah, five years worth of Hebrew study looking us square in our faces, but I’m staring out
into the crowd because there’s this boy in my class, Sam, who told my best friend, Chelsea,
that I’d be the most amazing girlfriend and that he would date me if I lost 20
pounds.

I search the crowd for this smooth cheeked Sephardic boy with a mop of ink on his olive head, suck my belly in,
push my tits out, and sing ancient prayer words in my high pretty voice.

Looking down at the greasy Torah
                I am reminded of my suicidal great-aunt in Azov,
                dead from men, and that’s a true story.
                Before Death came for Elsie, and her sisters too, they chanted what I do
now—
                Pre-teens hovering through ritual, in some imagined shtetl along the Black Sea.
I think about the fact that incest runs in families, just like chronic heartburn and brisket recipes.
And then I think about their escape:
                Elsie, Gertrude and Ruth, boat-bound to the diasporic holy land, where the pattern never broke;
                it just assimilated.

I search and search and when I find Sam,
he plays Snake on his phone, barely noticing that the synagogue around him is rising in chorus.

Bile shoots from my stomach, a conflagration
of insecurity scalds my esophagus,
an absolute fucking firestorm of green acidity.
I try to bat my eyes at Max

                                      (Please God, use your might to extinguish this hot-faced inferno)

but this time he consciously averts my gaze with a right swivel of his pimpled neck, bar mitzvah boy
shoes gasping on the edge of that damn milk crate.

Tracing the pad of my index finger on his thigh
under the bimah, he trips over some
b’reisheet or c’hai.

                                                                                I am powerful

I am becoming, my dad is laughing,

                                                                                Sam still isn’t looking


Odessa is a queer, non-binary Jew, born and raised in New York City. Using writing as a vessel, Odessa hopes to facilitate journeys of healing for self and others through their work. Odessa is currently working on their first book of essays and poetry, set to come out in summer 2021.
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