The Girl Eating Oysters Stewart Florsheim

Parting Words

Before I go off to college
my father gives me the only advice he ever will:
Don’t get venereal disease.
We are standing near the front door
of the old apartment, my cartons packed—
books, journals, clothing, records,
the old stereo that folded neatly into a box.
My father had never spoken to me about sex before,
he had never spoken to me much at all,
my mother always managing to prevent that:
You can’t talk to him, what does he know anyway?
Farmers. His father had a cattle ranch in Hünfeld.

She would always emphasize the umlauted “u”
to make sure we heard the reference to “chicken.”
But that comment always drew me closer to him,
a farm life to a boy growing up in New York City—
my father getting up just before sunrise
to milk the cows or go to cattle auctions with his dad.
My father and I are standing face-to-face now,
18 years of being in the same apartment,
my mother and sister fighting day and night,
the screaming, slamming doors, slaps across the face:
Don’t get venereal disease.

When I was a boy, I heard noises on the other side
of the same front door where we are standing now
so I opened the tiny metal blinds that covered the peephole.
A strange teenage girl was outside wielding a knife
and when she saw my eye, she lunged for it.


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