2 POEMS BY Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Short Circuit by Robert Rauschenberg (1955) via Art Chicago Institute

The Birth of Average

In the fifth grade I answered the trick questions
incorrectly, and since have been regularly
reminded that my brain has impediments.
These notices come like a deadline for paying
taxes or the schedule for lighting candles
and how the act changes the weather,
or so it seemed to me as a child, the flaws
in the glass container reflecting like rain
on a window, in a dark corner of my grandparents’
kitchen. As the years have accumulated,
I’ve amended these traditions: Breathing into
a bag whenever the doctor asks why I’m dizzy,
or having a balloon of cold water inserted
into my ear; CT scans, MRIs, game nights,
crossword puzzles, outcomes which repeatedly
announce I have an unremarkable mind:
that’s verbatim from the message on
the answer phone twenty-six years ago,
although it feels more recent, like the last
raising of the dead. You see them only if
you have some special attribute, like being
able to collect the grunions that throw
their golden souls into the air as if embers
in a dampened flame; I could never pick
them out of the froth and waves in Malibu,
or find the horseshoe crabs on the east coast,
their numbers now down to faith. Both tasks
were easier in the past, I’ve been told, just as
your grandparents will score ten fewer points
on an IQ exam than you would, which means
all our ancestors were idiots; or the rubric
has to be adjusted for every other generation. 
But I still can’t read the stories supposedly left
in the stars, or witness a penny climb a wall
before it flips back to front, like the sun in eclipse.
Ergo, my limitations—my averageness—have
labeled me forever as an authentic heretic.  

Last Words

After his stroke, my father liked to reassert 
his competence by reading out loud from
the billboards we drove past. When the first
Bowie billboard was raised on the Sunset Strip,
my sister and I were kids and we relished
how the iconic road became a Jacob’s Ladder
of everything he loathed: Our youth, rock ‘n’ roll,
comedy clubs where he said the sound was poor,
and he couldn’t hear the punch lines landing.
I explain this so you’ll appreciate how difficult
it was for him to lift his head and acknowledge
the content of advertisements for “Best Picture,”
or “HIV Testing,” or the shameful announcement
that Los Angeles hosted the highest rate for sexually
transmitted diseases in the nation. He loved the city
like he loved his ignorance. At assisted living, he
subscribed only to the newspaper from his beloved
college, because he could still master the words
of the sports section: Bruins, win, beat, lose, beaten
and championship; what he could get his mouth
around, a lexicon that tinkled like dishes, eating
utensils and glasses my mothersoaked overnight
in the sink; at least they couldn’t be thrown to the floor
in a fit of pique. Like the one language he managed
to stretch beyond his loss of hearing: ¿Que´ dice´
pendejo? as his Russian father taught him, smooth
and insoluble, without the risk of translation.

Jane Rosenberg LaForge writes poetry, fiction, and occasional essays in New York. She is the author of seven volumes of poetry–four chapbooks and three full-length collections–two novels, and a memoir. Her newest poetry collection is MEDUSA’S DAUGHTER from Animal Heart Press; her most recent novel is SISTERHOOD OF THE INFAMOUS from New Meridian Arts Press. Her 2018 novel, THE HAWKMAN: A FAIRY TALE OF THE GREAT WAR, was a finalist in two categories in the Eric Hoffer awards. She reads poetry for COUNTERCLOCK literary magazine and reviews books for AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW.

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