“Seating Arrangement” by Judith Terzi


Seating Arrangement

This is no story for hysterical laughter. No
Jewish joke of a story where a mother throws

herself onto the hood of a two-tone Chevy
Bel Air when her son leaves Baltimore. Her

sack lunch on the front seat: a couple of turkey
sandwiches, apples and sponge cake for the first

leg of his drive to L.A. No, this is not that kind
of story, rather one that has no shtick. The ten

people in this story are not sipping Riesling,
dipping honeydew chunks into chocolate mousse

in a green dish in the middle of a Lazy Susan
in the middle of the San Fernando Valley —

Tarzana, to be exact. The ten people are not
sitting by a pool, candles dripping icicles onto

a glass table while a possum (probably a rat)
rustles up hillside ivy. These ten people are also

at a table — a long restaurant table. No Jewish
mother (mine) in this story calls husband #3

a "transvestite" because of his dyed hair,
Renaissance-Faire flared pants, boots, unbuttoned

shirt. In this story it is not Thanksgiving. There is
no turkey "not roasted the way we like it," there is

no Mapuche goy. It is a college graduation lunch
that begins when a stepdaughter plops down next

to me, drops her head onto my shoulder. My arm
wrapping around her angularity. Her mother

faces us. Dread thuds across the table. Lemongrass
weaving its pungency between plates of ginger

chicken, ten bodies, one cap and gown, heaps
of steaming Pad Thai. I wear layers of armor

for this story. Layers of mental fatigue, even after
twenty years of walking gingerly. Roasted peanuts,

coriander, red chili caress the flesh of green papaya.
How does a soul not soften, yield, like potatoes

melting barriers inside the yellow curry? Chicken
and carrots unhinge, bond. Nine others eat

ginger chicken while bitterness envelops a woman
inside a restaurant along a redwood coast. Coast

of ponderosa pine. How can they say I'm stealing
a daughter's loyalty? What's to laugh in this

retelling? Our Jewish mothers have escaped
to paradise. And another twenty years have ended.

And still — not even a Friend request on Facebook.

Judith Terzi

Judith Terzi's poems appear or are forthcoming in journals and anthologies, including Caesura, Columbia Journal, Good Works Review (FutureCycle Press), Raintown Review, Unsplendid, Wide Awake: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, and You Are Here: A Journal of Creative Geography. Her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Web and Net and included in Keynotes, A Study Guide for the Artist-in-Residence Program for State Theater New Jersey. Casbah and If You Spot Your Brother Floating By are recent chapbooks from Kattywompus Press.

Photo Credit: Alexa Nuzzo