Robyn Schiff
Parent-Child Fencing Class


Because I was too mean to make him a brother,

my son has had to learn to hate alone.

I told my friend I’d only ever wanted

one child for reasons to do with the shape

of an arrow. But in truth I’m so disgusted

by what I know of brothers,


having given birth to a son of Adam, I

said “enough.” One son is not a brother;

he’s just a person. I thought this could mean he

would be free to indulge small pleasures like

rubbing patterns in carpet

under a piano and whistling without


being followed, but it appears

you can only turn cursive R’s with your finger

in the window alone in the backseat

for so long before you need to stab

someone in the hand with a real pencil.

If you have no brother, that hand is yours. I’m talking


here about the spirit, not

the body. When I said “hand,” I meant

your own soul will betray you. I meant by “real pencil,”

earth’s the right place for revenge

because there’s nothing in heaven

like gravity or spit. And here I am suiting up to duel


my brotherless child

because it’s time to drive

the rage out of him

into the tip of a sword he will try as pointlessly

as war or poetry to touch my heart with. Given a brother

this struggle would be settled by wrestling near the sharp edge of


something expensive. By withholding

a brother from him I have wrongly made

this only a person believe

the artifice of our house is the real love of him

by the world and now it’s my duty to drag him

backstage where any brother already


would have pushed his face against the grill

of a churning fan and forced him 

to tell the blades his name

to hear its syllables severed by the throbbing wind

which itself will be unplugged and rolled away

at the end of the disappointing short run of a new play


that will never be mounted again.

I just strapped on a plastic chest plate that already has

an impression of a pair of breasts in it. My sister

was once a salesgirl

at Victoria’s Secret. There she was issued

a pink tape measure and tilted


the three-way mirror

to bring shoppers to understand

quantum optics and Borges, adjusting the panels such

that self-reflection could be monetized

according to the proprietary

algorithm that is the Secret itself sending


American girls back out into the mall

swinging their pink bags as if no one wants

to shoot them. Next comes the one-armed coat,

the plastron, enclosure that shares its name, from chainmail,

with the under-shell of a turtle

into which I have seen oracular,


indecipherable curses as if into

the final desk desperately stabbed

in response to such dull questions

like How many sheaves of wheat

will my brother-in-law’s upper field yield?,

even the pyromancer must have grown to resent the court he served,


and like the fire, unfulfilled,

anxious to get onto something of more substance

and drama, which is how boys get tricked out for war in epics,

not by passion, but boredom. You’ve seen them

standing around with nothing to do

so burning for action they’ll throw


anything at anyone, can

at squirrel, snake at

girl, their restlessness can be harnessed, suited up, and marched away.                   Beautiful,

beautiful chainmail, like a coat of suicidal bubbles,

unsheathed by freelance squires headfirst off the war-dead

along the bottom 


margin of the Bayeux Tapestry

exposing each just a twisting line drawn

in faded thread naked under the hooves of his own horse. Doesn’t that                    chainmail,

sold to someone else, and someone else

again, ring the dread

of receiving one in a chain of so


many letters it is your fate to copy by hand ten times

in the fevered scriptorium of late girlhood for further ongoing

distribution everlasting to ten more girls

all of whom will receive good luck

if they just proceed themselves

to copy it—


if they just proceed to fold and envelope,

stamp and will themselves to drop it

in the blue mailbox, but the difficulty

of making an initial list of ten true friends

on whom the luck of the rest could depend

is the first step of many toward an emptiness


that frees us. Parent-child

fencing class meets in a converted warehouse. Shares with

stage and statecraft its

elemental vernacular.

Obsessed like all of us

with distance divided by speed compelled to death by need and desire,

the L.A. Times reports this


morning It took eleven hours to hand-embroider

the cotton poplin plastron

also called a dickey

the President of France wore

to the American President’s first state dinner.

A false front. Chainmail re:

oblivion, symbolism akin


to the reconfiguration

of the ribs of the spring lamb

they ate together into


an interlocking saber arch position

called by chefs

a guard of honor. A grand dismantlement

and reassembly of the ribcage around the hollow 

where the heart was into a diorama of predation

named for how the ribs resemble


now a double rack of upraised ceremonial swords

into a long archway I once

saw a bride and bridegroom walk out the chapel through, into their

marriage. It excited me

to see the bride

enter a tunnel

of punishment and wonder like a


romantic grownup paddywhack

machine. We were tailgating at West Point with

family friends. Not guests of the groom

or bride, but of the public grass.

When the last pair of the groom’s brothers-

in-arms crossed swords to block her path and

another of the guard of honor


swatted her ass before they freed her, according to an old

military tradition I did not


but internalized

immediately, humiliation

did its job on me by proxy, and I was

a woman. The air was


so dense with wasps my mother placed a

decoy plate of our store-bought chicken nearby

under a tree. I held a dishonorable

family secret. No one knows how long

I kept it. No one could shake it out of me.

Now I have been fitted for something


like a straitjacket

and stepped into


it. What a different confidence


I am trussed in.


Someone from behind


up comes to zip me


lifting my hair, so intimately. I can 

bend my foil into

a steel rainbow. Such

promise the world


has! But now we must salute

the apparent enemy and lower our masks. Am

I satisfied? I’m not. Therefore I advance

up the strip indifferently mythic

outfitted like a gentleman to teach

my child the atrocity of etiquette.


Found In Volume 49, No. 01
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Robyn Schiff
About the Author

Robyn Schiff is the author of the poetry collections A Woman of Property (2016), Revolver (2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, and Worth (2002). Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (2007) and Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2006).