Poem of the Week | November 18, 2009

This week we present Michelle Chan Brown’s previously unpublished poem “Blind Date With My Father, 1976.” Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tampa Review, The Concher, KNOCK, textsound, Broken Bridge Review, Yemassee and others. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Michael Gutterman prize, and she is currently the director of the Writers’ Studio at Pomfret School. Find her online atwww.michellechanbrown.com.

My father and I both studied Russian in college, and although we both went overseas in our twenties, his tales of living in Moscow during the Cold War always intrigued me. The poem’s premise comes from an ill-remembered dream. As I began to flesh out the dream’s substance upon waking, I tried, through the imagery and the poem’s narrative movement, to simulate the titillating sense of paranoia and disorientation-of being perpetually watched.

Blind Date With My Father, 1976

If you squint or lose a contact, he could almost be Pushkin
with a spray-tan. Right off, he orders sherry, confesses
that he spends too much time with cooking shows,
smooth jazz on public radio. The Cold War is on.
Everyone’s mad for beets & boycotting bluejeans.
In the restaurant’s bathroom, I rub off my lipstick,
strive for Eastern Bloc chic, but my father can’t stop
scribbling on napkins, that crucial last chapter on the lives
of minor noblemen. That’s fascinating, I whisper, all that incest
and quashing of rebellion. His mouth’s too full of mussels
to reply. I dip my pinkie in the lemon butter, poke our initials
in the salmon paté. All of this is being captured on camera,
but my skirt has a mind of its own. He tries to play-fight
with the copper candelabra, tells me he’s looking
for something, you know, long-term. The wineglasses
are listening. The breadbasket’s gone to sleep. I’ve polished
my good boots for this, with cognac spittle and tears,
dusted my décolletage with the ash of cigarillo, but I can’t
eat a thing when the sommelier circles like the avenging
vulture of nightcaps & the horoscopes pair me with Nikita
Khrushchev or the ugly member of the BeeGees, & my father
is dousing his sickle-print tie in the horseradish vodka
as the matchboxes cackle & it’s surely not his first time
at this but nonetheless he doesn’t offer to pick up the check.