My adoptive mother is all teeth
and hair.
                     Buck teeth, red frizzy hair. Her name is Winnie.

I met my birth mother

in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut.
She told me she’d be wearing a baseball cap
and a legbrace. Her name:
Maxine. Winnie insisted

                                she come along.

                  (“Moral support,” she said.)

On the way there, she asked me
Maxine’s name three times.

Maxine drove up in a Yellow Cab.
“Just got off my shift,” she said,
                                “I love my job. You never know

who’s going to end up in your back seat.
Yesterday it was Tom Hanks.
Two months ago Tom Selleck.
                                Who knows who’s next?”

                                My growling stomach broke the silence.

The first thing Winnie said to Maxine:
                                “We look so much alike.” It was true.

They could have passed
for sisters.


Winnie hid it somewhere.
I was convinced.

My umbilical cord was nowhere
                                to be found. First place

I checked: her oak dresser
drawers. A half-empty plastic bag
of hashish, a fake gold locket with no

picture inside, yellowing letters from a man
who spelled love luv
and dotted his i’s
              with hearts,
                                my baby teeth glued on cardboard.
I ran down the steep stairs.

She didn’t hear me. She was vacuuming
the attic. I whipped
kitchen cabinet after kitchen cabinet
                                        wide open, shoved my hand
                                        down the garbage disposal, stuck
                                        my head in the oven.

Underneath the plaid couch covered in plastic:
no luck. When I looked up, my mother stood
on the landing.
                    She waved a white
                                        cashmere scarf, lassoing

                    my leg, and then pulled me close to her body.

I stood on her naked feet.

After I tied a knot around our bodies,
we danced a slow dance. The scarf

fell to the floor. This dream
haunted me for eight consecutive nights in college.

                                               So on the ninth, I took
                                               a sleeping pill,

because someone told me you don’t dream
under its influence. And then I took another

                                                     for no reason.

They worked. But when I woke up and walked into my living room,
all my furniture was rearranged: the couch

propped against the bathroom door; the glass cover
to my kitchen table layed
                           on the folding lawn chair in the patio;
                           my computer was unplugged, repackaged

in its original box; the jigsaw puzzle
I finished two days prior

disassembled, scattered

                           like confetti all over the bathtub.

My mind fell asleep. My body
resisted. Later that morning,
I walked outside and saw

a homeless person flipping through a photo album. I recognized
my mother’s handwriting
on the cover. So I said, “Excuse me?
                                        Where did you find
                                        that?” She threw it

into the dumpster and ran.


Homosexuality is my choice. I wanted


Once I had sex with a woman. I already knew
I was gay. She knew I was gay. But
we were bored.

She was obsessed with a man
                                               who tattooed the name Belinda
                                               on his arm.
Belinda was the name of his mother.
“I insist we have sex in the dark,” she told me.

As we kissed, the phone rang.
The answering machine turned on,
                                                     but once she heard him
                                                     scream, “You bitch.
I need you more than I need

my own mother,” she stopped, asked me
to leave the room
and argued with him for a full two hours.
                                               Several weeks later we found
ourselves bored again. She didn’t want me

to use a condom. “What if you get pregnant?” I said.

“I’ll lie and tell him it’s his,” she said.


Once Winnie and I attended
a National Honors Society Banquet.
My friends and us ate Sloppy Joes
and cheesebread in the cafeteria
                                with our teachers.
No one had anything to say

except someone’s mother who praised
the Sloppy Joes for their “remarkable consistency.”

Eventually, someone else remarked
the hallways were a nice yellow.
                                Winnie told everyone
                                about her Cesarean section:
                                how my younger brother came out

with his thumb in his mouth.
(Doctors told her
no children in her future.
Her psychic confirmed this,
so she searched for me.
Everyone told her later
my brother is a godsend.)

                                “He sucks it to this very day,” she boasted.

Someone asked about my birth:
“Anything weird there?”
Winnie told her I was adopted.
                                “Nothing too strange.

                                             No birth defects
                                             as you can see.

After all, he made it here.”
                          The parents didn’t know what to say,

so they clapped and cheered.


I saw A Nightmare On Elm Street
in a completely empty theatre
                                 on the Fourth of July.

(Only orphans and widows go
to the movies on national holidays.)
Dressed in a tattered black and red sweater,

a guy named Freddy with third-degree burns

engraves his name on the faces
                                       of good-looking teens
                                       who have nothing better to do

than die.

In one scene, old Freddy appears

out of nowhere

and chases a woman with huge breasts
in a furnace room.
                    I peed in my pants
and sat in my urine, because I didn’t want
to miss him
slashing her body. Before he shoved
                                       his nails into her stomach,
he said, “I’m the bastard
                          son of a thousand maniacs!”


On Thursdays, Winnie and I shopped
for groceries. While she zoomed her cart through the aisles,

I stalked single middle-aged women.

I was seven at the time.

                                      Once I seized
a pregnant woman’s leg. She kicked me
and screamed for help. Winnie rushed

into the aisle and pulled
my hair until I let go.

“He’s not mine,” Winnie told her.


I discovered photos of two teenaged kids
in my lover’s wallet. He was 53. I was

17. Were they his other
boyfriends? I swore I saw their faces

on the backs of milk cartons and MISSING posters.

                          Lucky bastards, I thought,
                                                    Someone’s looking

for you. One afternoon he said, “My wife needs
me to take care of my children
for the weekend. Would you like to help?”

                                       “Let me think about it,” I said.

That same night I snuck out of our bed

and scrawled a note and then taped it
next to my college report cards (All A’s)
on his refrigerator door.

It said: “There’s not enough room
in anybody’s life for two babies. Never
contact me again.” He called.
Which was more
                          than my father ever did

after he deserted us
for another woman,
two days after they received
me from the agency.

                    “She needs me,”

                                 he wrote on a postcard from Los Angeles,
                                 “You two have each other.”

My father was right. On my answering machine,
Willis sobbed. “I dropped them
                          off at the movies. Found a baby sitter.
Come back, kiddo.”
                                That same night I showed up at his apartment.

“Promise you’ll give me
a good beating,” I said.


I have another best friend who is a woman.
She is fifty and talks a little funny.
Encephalitis. Ex-heroin addict.
“A Buddhist told me

                                       my soul has outgrown

this body,” she said. When we watch
movies together, she excuses herself
to go the bathroom and sniffs
Tester’s Glue.

I asked her if she’s ever had an abortion.

                                       “Are you kidding?” she said,
                                       “Of course.” How many?
                                       She started to count her fingers
and then stopped.
                    “Do you want me to round up
or down?”

                                       “Maybe I’m one of the aborted babies

reincarnated,” I said. She laughed

and then slapped me.


Before my junior high dance, I confessed
to Winnie that I never kissed a girl.
“Do you want to practice
                                               on me?” she said. I stood
                                               on my toes and shut my eyes,
puckering my lips. Her lips
were cold. She smelled like beer
and Noxema. The kiss lasted
                                 a millisecond. “Maybe you should try

                                 this on your pillow,” she said.


I only talked to Maxine one other time.

I called her from college long-distance.
She regurgitated headlines from the tabloids
about famous movie stars: HARRISON FORD



when she said their names.
She was used to loving people

                                       from a distance, I suppose.
“Are you gay?” she asked, “Don’t lie.
I read The Enquirer. I know
what’s out there.” I sighed:
“I don’t know.”
                                       It was a good enough response
                                       to keep her on the line

for another twenty minutes.
“I’m not great
at small talk,” she said.
And then added:
                          “I almost forgot. I always
skip the major things.
A month after we met
you won’t believe who
called… My other son.”

                          “A brother?” I said.
She laughed so hard
                          she sounded like a laugh track
gone beserk. “I put
eight kids up
for adoption
during my life. Each
from a different guy. Two
contacted me before you.
Four down, four
to go.”

I banged the receiver against the wall
and shouted, “Do you hear that?
                                       I think
                                               there’s a bad connection.”

And then I hung up and screened my messages
for a year. Just in case.

She never did.


My undergraduate history teacher forgot
our names.

              Ahlzheimer’s. On Tuesdays
he called me Sunny, on Thursdays
Duke. On the final, we all missed

                                        Question Number Fifteen. He gave us

the wrong dates for the Spanish Civil War.
So everyone got a freebie. Two years later
I took a political science class. The teacher asked

if anyone knew when the Spanish Civil War began.

Without thinking, I raised my hand and offered
the wrong date: 1926. I never learned
the right one. Everyone wrote down

my inaccuracy. No one questioned it.
This memory has stopped
me from killing myself
on at least nine different occasions.


I’ve always had two birthdays.
One on the day I was born,
July 18, the other on the day
                                 I was adopted, November 2.
I once lied to my grade school teacher
and told her my birthday
                          was the latter, because otherwise
no party for me: my real birthday
landed in the summer: school
was out of session.

                          My mother threw two parties.
In high school, I rebelled
                          against her: after she grounded me for sneaking
                          out of the house after midnight, I confessed
that I “sucked

             the homecoming king’s cock

                                       and he enjoyed it
more than me.” I refused
to attend my second birthday party that year.

“We’ll do it without you,” Winnie said.

And she did.

I hold her in the highest respect for that.

All my friends and relatives were there.
Naked, I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom
with two joints and jerked off.

I slid into my sweatpants
and crept down the stairs. Everyone was circled

around the cake on the living room table.

The lights were shut off.

They were singing, “Happy Birthday to Me.”

I walked into the room.
“Glad you’re here,” she said,
“But I should have figured.
                                       You always make an entrance.”

I didn’t tell her I feel that pressure every day.

They started the song from the beginning.
Winnie and I stood in front of the cake.

I let her blow out the candles.
She tried so hard
                         to blow them all at once
you could see her spit
on the tips of eight candles.

The room was so dark
she whispered, “Honey,
are you there? Give me
your hand.”

I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything.
And then someone turned on the lights.