Separated at Birth

Fall 1985

Inside the same steel pyramid, at five of nine,
you and I check ourselves
in spotless mirrored walls,
train our mothers’ cool eyes
on our own reflections.
The elevator
cages we’ve been riding
since birth
spit us politely onto matching
Persian carpets,
delivering us
to our first day of work.

Behind doors that shut
with well-bred clicks,
behind yawning
desks overlooking the Bay,
you and I are new coins
polished bright by ideals,
two wary hearts in pinstriped suits.
Two firstborns—one Jewish, one
twin daughters of Moses
growing up in Pharaoh’s palace.

Summer 1986

Like Allied spies in old movies,
we dare a raised eyebrow,
the ghost of a smile, a public
private wink.
We are four parts discretion,
one part subversion;
to find each other,
we must give ourselves away.
We exchange
well-loved books—I fall for Zora
and Teacake.
In your desk, my books huddle
with your boombox and your Bible.

Over yogurts and pretzels that pass
for lunch, you and I wince at jokes
about Oreos and JAPs,
at their well-meant advice to postpone
having kids.
We share the ugly compliments
they want us to want:
“The good kind of Jew,” and
“Doesn’t act too black.”
Working late, you bring tea
to my office,
Sometimes, you’ve been crying;
we pretend I can’t tell.
I audition for the part of your
prodigal sister, imagine you laughing,
calling me girl.
You and I are
cautious magnets,
inching toward each other;
color dozes
like a snake between us.

Winter 1987

You ask me where to buy
Lady Baltimore cake.
We laugh when matching visions
pop up like bunny ears:
Our mothers—our age—
hair freshly “done,”
legs shaved and gleaming
in crisp Bermuda shorts,
rustling to the kitchen
with those lipstick-pink boxes,
while you and I pretend
we don’t see a thing.

From inside, the bass-line
beats its fists on your door;
I ring 3 times
before someone lets me in.
20 pairs of eyes
flicker up at me; their gazes fall
and blink,
like rows of question marks.
In the back of the room—
one white face;
I am learning how to count
but not how to stop.

I cut myself
some cake, wolf it down standing,
finally realize
why other people smoke.

You glide from the kitchen,
make introductions,
speak my name, another name,
my name
like a kiss.

On the drive home to Berkeley,
fog staggers through the streets;
I slow, replay your voice,
find apology there.
The right fork, the right tone—
our mothers drilled us well.
Use this if you betray someone
but aren’t sure whom.

Fall 1988

Behind my knocks, your
you hang up when I come in,
like a measuring tape
snapping back into place.
Looking down from your wall,
as if surprised to see us,
is a man realizing
that the stubby white cop
has decided to sic his dog on the crowd.
Someone captured them
on the road to Birmingham;
you and I were busy then,
sounding out, “See Spot run.”

An eight o’clock concert:
I wait outside in the drizzle—
at nine, I sell your ticket,
to save you thirty bucks.
You show up at nine-thirty (I learn
the next day);
what went to bed a favor
woke up paternal.
I suggest. Make drugs legal,
cut crime in half;
you hear me stacking
young black bodies.
bloom and fade like chicken pox;
like the ten plagues in Egypt,
it is all foretold.

Spring 1989

At the Passover seder,
I chant Avadim hayinu;
Sunday mornings you sing
your own redemption songs.
I don’t want to be chosen
to be the sacrifice
the god of perfect black-ness
demands from his faithful.
I can’t go gently
like Isaac
or Jesus.
I curse you for not
fighting harder for me.

Spring 1990

My daughter’s birth breathes
very softly on our embers;
you appear on my doorstep, burdened
with gifts.
You hold her in your arms,
I hold you in my gaze;
for one clear moment
we share the same heart.

Fall 1991

On what’s becoming
our last night,
while our husbands pay the check,
and you and I stare
at the tea leaves in our cups,
I remember the woman in
Solomon’s story
whose child the wily king
threatened to split.
She said, “Let him live,
though it be apart from me,”
her unselfishness proving
they belonged together.

We walk in silence
to the empty parking lot;
the air smells like gasoline,
jasmine, dirt.
Then with one goodnight kiss,
I relinquish our twinship,
hoping thereby
to have it restored.

If not, I’ll freeze this picture
in my heart’s rear-view
mirror: Separate cars,
always bound
in opposite directions—
carrying us both
toward the same milk and honey,
the same
unborn place
that lies beyond counting.

Summer 1978

In the after-dinner cool,
your father helps you pack the car
for tomorrow’s drive
down to Washington, and Howard.
But a faraway sun
has melted your heart,
turned it to ink inside your fertile pen.
So while the two of you linger,
rearranging duffel bags,
you start shaping what you’ll write
about the women of Soweto,
in whose distant cries
you have found
your own voice.

For me, it’s five a.m.,
and morning crouches, panting,
ready to pounce
from behind the glowing hills.
I stoop in the dust
of the Upper Galilee
uproot small boulders, heave them
on a truck.
Years from now, while I’m sitting
in my dorm-room in Cambridge,
my small corner will be plowed
without a blade’s breaking.
But today, with slow steps,
I plant this field
in my head, store away
for leaner years
secret oceans of carrots.

Andrea Adam Brott’s work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The Quarterly, New York Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Dominion Review, Calyx, The Cape Rock, and Rain City Review, and was one of the winners of the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards for poems on the Jewish experience. She also practices civil rights law in Berkeley, California. This poem is dedicated to C. L. P.