Lynn Melnick

I was promised a girl


held her glossy image, shatterable,


ice skating on a Soviet pond.


I’d never seen snow


but for the cut out paper flakes


hung in school hallways.


I only knew rain


as intermittent confusion.


Los Angeles in the ‘80s.


We set fire to hairspray


for fun we wrote half-truths


in our padlocked journals,


we collected the phone numbers


of grown men we collected


the gratification of grown men


to trade for money,


we were adolescent!


There was never enough


money and there were never


any quiet moments on a pond


there was never any pond only


swimming pools into whose


water I was not invited.


I couldn’t withstand the excess,


spent any money on bus fare


and lipstick and then,


then V showed up


on a plane from the Soviet Union


and was a boy, they told me


there was a mistake,


this beautiful 15 year old boy


with his family


all arranged to stay with us.






When I was 10


there was a presidential primary


and I ate lunch at a table


by the stacks


and told the librarian


I would vote for Alan Cranston


mostly because he reminded me


of a doctor I saw


before we came to California,


an old white man,


gentle, gentile. My childhood


was littered


with white men, mostly Jewish,


the way the state park


was littered with chaparral


and cigarette butts,


so my childhood


was not spent wondering


if Jews are white,


there are white people


and there are Jews


but white Jews are white,


I would have said


if anyone had asked me


and anyway


my Jewish men


were rarely gentle.


His whole career,


Alan Cranston


advocated for the abolition


of nuclear weapons. The next year


Sting wrote a song


about mutual assured destruction


and so we all wondered


if Russians loved their children


too but at that point


I’d begun to wonder


about Americans


and gentleness


and who loved me


and I stopped


going to the library


and by the time I watched Sting


perform his song


on our black-and-white television


I’d started trading


tit feels for vodka


and stopped worrying


about Russians for a bit


and I don’t think I thought


about Alan Cranston




until he died.


I wanted it all


to just stop but instead


I got tipsy


and learned capitalism,




what a white female body


is worth


in liquid ounces.






When V and his family

found their own apartment 


his mother didn’t


want to unpack


the Judaica so we stuck it


under her bed.


We found some


of his mother’s turquoise jewelry


and V wore it


at school, luminous


in the hair band ‘80s when


men could wear jewelry


and be pretty


but let’s remind ourselves


that these pretty men


found my friends and me


up and down


Sunset and statutory


raped us in ways we felt


so good about until we didn’t.


I skipped school


and V fingered me


on his mom’s bed


like he wanted to comprehend


every part


and I was


not expecting to get off


anyway and later


we hid in the closet


when his mom came home


after looking for work


and we watched her


through the crack


of the door change


into something fancier,


watched her heft


her breasts


into her bra,


place her shoulder pads


in her blouse,


fix her makeup.




and something


more than horny,


we watched 


for womanhood.






In breaking news,


a Jewish candidate


is almost preferred to a shiksa


but the other white man


wins anyway


and of course.


In broken news, Jewish men


keep lecturing me about it


but give me points for sitting here.


If you were me


would you dramatically cover your ears?


I should be noticed


for some reason.


I listen to the table talk Russia,


talk white men, talk Jews


of history destroyed by blood


libel laws wherein it’s said


we drink Christian blood.


I mean, I do that,


if you get what I’m saying.




I haven’t turned a trick


for years. Let me be


clear, let me be more clear


than I was the last time


I wrote about this:


my Mexican friend K


was busted for walking


a street corner


she and I walked together


but only she


was flung in a jail cell


with less care than how


earlier we’d flung cans


over a fence to kill time


and then I was gently instructed


by a white officer to fly out


the side of the station


before being charged


with anything.


What was handed to me


but my whiteness


and my mouth, but that is why


I’m here, that is why


you see me at all, I seem


to need to remind everyone.


A man around this round table


in this library


sits wide-legged in his chair


and talks at me for 30 minutes


about Nazis


and oh wow, really?


Nazis, you say?


Never heard of it.


Never not until you told me.







“We Are the World”


won the Grammy for everything


in 1986 as we all knew it would


and it did


and Sting won nothing but did


perform “Russians” both patriotic


and subversive, which was a thing


in the 80s and anyway


almost all the nominees


in the top categories


were white men


and I didn’t question it but


I’m sure


somebody somewhere did


in some archived page


in the coldest room


in the library written well


before I showed up.


My mistake has always been


in thinking I’m the center.


I thought I was pregnant,


which happened


about once a month


but this time


I really wondered


and I stood outside Thrifty’s


while V bought me a pregnancy test


and I was 12


and not pregnant


and the woman at Thrifty’s


thought V was a girl


and he was happy


but when I asked him


if he wanted me


to think he was a girl


he said shut up


and when I told him no


one wants to be treated like a girl


he said screw you


as if he’d been waiting months


to say that. I let him


fondle my breasts


in an empty stairwell


after I’d peed on the plastic test stick


and we watched the spill


of yellow downwards.


I’m not kidding when I tell you


“We Are the World” blasted


from at least two cars


circling the levels.






Blue eye shadow was big mid-decade


with me and also V’s mom.


Time was,


you could put a dollar price tag


on a six dollar cosmetic


and the cashier wouldn’t notice.


I tried all the colors.


Everything was an option.


Oh how I wanted things in the 80s!


Beaten down denim.


Sleeves of rubber bracelets.


The used blue eye shadow


slipped into my pocket


while V’s mom looked


through the paper for work.


I believed capitalism


could save my life. My peacock eyes


I thought could deliver assimilation.






In 1939, Hitler’s publisher sued


Alan Cranston for publishing


an English translation


of Mein Kampf without erasing


the antisemitism.


You should know.


I grew up being told everyone hated us


but I saw no evidence of that


in Los Angeles,


only us hating ourselves.


We all believed the stereotypes.


V and I sat


outside a Purim carnival


smoking thin cigarettes


riffing on the danger


we'd put ourselves in.


I wanted everyone to stop


howling about how


much I'd survived


and I still want this.


I let V start to stub out


the dig-end on my forearm.


I don't know who I am,


he said.


V threw a bean bag at a target


and accepted a goldfish.


I'm telling you this


because V named the fish Hitler,


though he told his mother


he’d named it Spot.


Even he’d become that comfortable.






In daily news,


I am full of vengeance


because I was born


with the Old Testament


in my veins. The curator


for Jewish texts couldn’t look me


dead on because maybe


I talked about my pussy


too many times


in my presentation


at the flagship library


where I am being paid


to write about Jews.


I said why don’t we stop


pretending modern Judaism


gives a nod to women


when on the wall of the last shul


I stepped into


that called itself feminist


a sign carved into the stone read


“Have We Not All One Father?”


and unless you take a chisel to it


I am done.


In 1988, I told V I was nothing


if not Jewish


and I knew I meant it


and I know I mean it now.






V began to scorn me,


my form, my city. A wall


came down


and Americans felt so superior,


dangerous. Caustic


rays shone and shone


onto Fairfax Avenue


where I stood in my dayglo


bikini top


asking for money.


I was happy in my old life, V said.


We sat outside


CBS studios and smoked a joint


I’d seduced a stranger


into handing over


and V and I walked


to the shul


on Olympic for a basement


reception for Soviet Jews


where the women wore boots


studded in rhinestones


that outshone what had once


been fancy place settings


and everyone


was really very proud


of themselves


and Jews and America


and I felt stoned


and cocky and breathlessly


I marveled,


We are living through history!


and V said,


I never want to see you again.








in the end,


the flora of Los Angeles


will make you gasp


every few steps


because it’s outlandish


and sharp


and you always forget


how beautiful


the way you forget


the intensity of pain


because it’s all unbearable,


like the sun


of Southern California


which burned and still burns


our white skin quick


as white Jews are white


but with an asterisk because Nazis


march against us


and Russians plot a takeover


while politicians look away.


Alan Cranston was publicly




in 1991 for something


to do with money.


Have I touched enough


on money here?


It’s all that any of this was ever about,




it’s always about power


my colleagues will correct me,


as ever,


to sum up. 






When I ran into V


the last time on a street corner


in 1990, surrounded


by the glorious excess


we scarred ourselves


trying to burn down


we kind of laughed


about all of it and he said


just two ladies of the night!


because V was always proud


to use an idiom.


The air smelled of eucalyptus


and spice


from a Mexican market


with its doors thrown open


into the pleasure of the plashing air


in whatever season that was


and V touched my arm gently


and told me about how at night


back home in winter


it was so gravely hushed


that your every


insufficient exhalation


could actually matter


the world around you.


Found In Volume 50, No. 01
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Lynn Melnick
About the Author

Lynn Melnick is the author of Refusenik (forthcoming in 2022), Landscape with Sex and Violence (2017), and  If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), all with YesYes Books. I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive, a book about Dolly Parton that is also a memoir, is forthcoming from the University of Texas Press in 2022.