my friend said, grinning, embarrassed,
bringing the word up from childhood,
when I said, “No one at our meetings is Jewish.”
Shicker: a drunk, the drunk, is a good translation,
but the sh of shame and shush,
the parody of a drunk’s slurred speech
makes shicker meaner. And the ker is like growling
And then my husband remembered Uncle Willie
who died of cirrhosis,
that when anyone in the family mentioned Willie,
they whispered, shicker.
Besides, Jews don’t drink.
Besides, my son’s never drunk in that way.
If it weren’t for the stink of gin on his pores in the morning,
if his eyes weren’t veined with scarlet for no reason,
I wouldn’t have a clue he was “using.”
I’m rubbing my nose in it, saying it,
putting it into my poems
when what I want to do
is wrap a towel around his nakedness,
stand in front of him, shield him.
The word explodes like spit,
unredeemable, outside the circle,
someone not to invest a penny of your time in.
I want to hide my son in the tucks of my heart,
take him food there secretly,
plant kisses on his cheek. Shicker.
Is there no mercy in the truth?

Sondra Zeidenstein is a poet, editor and publisher of Chicory Blue Press, a small literary press focusing on writing by women past 60. The latest title of the press is The Crimson Edge: Older Women Writing, an anthology of writing by seven women whose average age is 73. A selection of her recent poems is included in Passionate Lives, edited by Elizabeth Claman, (Queen of Swords Press, 1997).