- Schoolyard Games
I've never had any game. I convinced myself too soon that this must be love. True love.I didn't know—still don't—that the withholding is key. Or that I was in the running.At state fairs across America, a crowd clutchespaper plates of hot dogs and split sausages spiced with pepper and onion,as an announcer points to a prize pig named Betsy, a chickenthree times the size of an ordinary chicken,a goat that speaks when it's spoken to. The crowd applauds.
In middle school, I was shocked to learn the boyshad a game of dropping a pencil at my desk to look up my skirt and catch a glimpseof my underwear. I had begged my parentsto take me out of the all-girls yeshivawhere the rabbis refused to teach us to read Englishor German or Yiddish because holy matrimony is the language of godbut no one protested that we weren't allowed to touch the Torah, much less read it.When we began menstruating we'd sit in the back of the gym with clear instructions: pray.
I was shocked not by the boys' intrusionbut that my underwear was in anyone's daydream beside my own.I was absorbed. With my thoughts. I was busy thinking.Every day was a revelation, fresh evidence that I too was The Light Eternalafter which Enlightenment philosopherspeered into the cradle of the universe and found an ordinary human being.A baby girl in her mother's arms! No one was expecting that, I guess. And yet here I am.
There I was. Lost in reverie, I didn't notice my classmateswrithing at my feet or the open-bed truck carrying offcharming farm animals named Betsy,Barbara, Sveta. I preferred to walk to and from school alone.Soft with dreams, I'd forget my foreboding.That perhaps was my greatest strength and my secret power:The forgetting. The one-size-fits-all blank indifference to rabbis and twelve-year-old boys.And the daydreams as vivid as two or three sunsrising at once over the horizon to drown everyone out. [End Page 142]
In medieval Russia, the Tsar forced petty thievesto stare at the sun until they went blind. But I didn't flinch.I stared into the bright void until,piece by piece, a civilization emerged. Ms. Silver said to me in English class,"I couldn't have said it better myself"and for the first time, from the bright void,I saw someone peering back at me. In my creation myth,the first people on earth are two women, a teacher and her student. [End Page 143]
Elvira Basevich is a poet and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her first poetry book, How to Love the World, was published with Pank Press in 2020 and was shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award. Her first monograph Du Bois: The Lost and the Found was also published in 2020. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in On the Seawall, Pank, Palette Poetry, Hayden's Ferry Review, TriQuarterly, The Gettysburg Review, & Blackbird.