Miriam Feder home



Culture is that second skin, laid down so close to mosquito bites and freckles I didn’t even see it. This must be how everybody makes soup, sets the table, welcomes the end of the week and tucks away to dreamland? Well at Ellen’s the soup had dill. Mike’s Mom cried when we sang. Gina had Christmas.

My family rubbed my second skin with the liniment of literature: stories of stories the way my parents heard them; parts forgotten; untranslated; skipped or stopped; with belly laughs at punch lines that were never uttered. Well, everybody knows that old story. I’m the generation that doesn’t, that doesn’t even know the language the punchline occurs in.

My Grandmother’s story left out different parts than Amy’s Grandfather’s telling. Practice paraded through ears, eyes and nostrils in cramped kitchens and dark hallways. Orders and legions of never-written mandates governed what dress to wear, who to greet and how—as we were poked and prodded by grudges, shoves and insinuations.

Perhaps those traditions were carefully embroidered on my cuticle, binding and bathing each cell from womb-time. I drank in their melodies and cadence. Each cell dies; each cell is born. The shield reinforces and reinvents, supports and censors, mutates and metastasizes.

There’s tension, skin against skin: shushing breaths; whirring of earth beneath my feet: heat, cold, and the indescribable smell of fall-turned leaves. The names that came, the reasons, the tastes that joined those season-smells–where did I get that? How did it happen to me before I even knew? It’s in there still, no matter what else crowds in or purges out. It’s in there, in charge, singing in the corners of my mind, spinning out minor chords and faded doilies. It listens to new songs, reads new copy, and adds it’s filtering. It’s as inadvertent and essential to me as it always has been: step, by song, by soup bowl, by wistful tear, by belly laugh.