Two Poems From “May Everything Be This Soft and Brief”

My Name is Hugh Grant

I was vacationing in Greece, sitting in outdoor seating
at a restaurant eating black olives soaked in vinegar
when the waitress approached me. I don’t mean she physically
approached me, though she did that too, I mean she hit on me.
“My name is Hugh Grant,” I said, “and I’m a fisherman.” I figured
she’d find this funny, as I am Hugh Grant, and so clearly
not a fisherman. “I am a famous actor. Romantic comedy.”
Her eyes showed no sign of recognition. “My name is Amy DiLorenzo,”
she said, and I realized right then that she was Italian and that thus
I was not getting the authentic Greek experience I was hoping for.
“Amy,” I said, “Do you know who I am?” “Hugh Grant,” she answered.
Each of her teeth seemed to be singing to me. Hugh! They shouted
as if they were trapped. “Do you know any movies
I’ve been in?” I asked. She smiled without confidence. “Nine months?” I posed.
I was becoming desperate. “My name is Hugh Grant.” “I will tell the chef,”
she said, “He specializes in preparing freshwater trout. I am sure he will be thrilled
to meet you.” Do they say thrilled in Greece? I was panicking.
Are there freshwater trout in these waters? “Cut!” The director called
and I turned to the cameras. “Hello,” I spoke into the alien mouth of a lens.
“They’re off Hugh. You’re blanking on your lines, or fucking with me, or what?”
“I feel that I might be more comfortable doing this scene in my bedroom.”
“Jesus,” the waitress said. “Can you get me a Ginger Ale, hon?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said, reaching into her apron, and pulling out her middle finger.
“My name is Hugh Grant,” I said to the cameraman, who shrugged.
I turned to the woman holding the sound beams that hung above me.
She nodded, eyebrows raised. “Is this about the tabloids Hugh,
because you should really ignore those,” the director said, “You’re fine.
You’re doing great. You are Hugh Grant.” He was visibly sweating.
“Let’s finish this scene. Now, charm your waitress. And Anna? Let’s get Hugh
a glass of water.” I was quickly handed a glass of water by a random hand.
The set was quiet. It was my turn to be someone else. “Hello,”
I said to my waitress. Immediately, each of her teeth sung back,
You are not Hugh Grant. In a frenzy, I threw my plate against
the ground and it shattered. I looked at my hand. Blood. Olives flew
as if winged.

Excuse Me, I Lost My Compass, Can I Borrow Yours

“How do lesbians have sex?” My friend Samantha and I are driving back
from the airport, having a deep one on one. “Hell if I know,” I say.
Samantha is straight with a boyfriend and bisexual hopes
and I’ve been a lesbian for at least all my life so I figure
one of us should know. When neither of us does,
it is a bit of a splinter in the conversation. She doesn’t make
any uninformed guesses and I don’t talk about friction.
I always dove into women without wondering
what my dive looked like and now here was Samantha
asking, What kind is that? “I’ll ask my mother,” is all I can think to say.
When I go home for winter break that is just what I do.
Mom is eating Kashi like a middle­aged lesbian when I ask her.
“I’ve never had sex with a woman,” she answers, “Ask your father.”
When I approach him he is on the computer. “Let’s look
it up on the internet,” he says. ‘Her First Time’ by Reba Romaine
pops up in the search. “Like the lettuce,” I say. “Lettuce,” he says,
engrossed in what he’s reading. “Hey,” I say, feeling like he’s winning.
We are both surprised to learn that the first rule to lesbian sex is:
Masturbation. Before you can even think about turning
someone else on, it is good to know what excites you.

“That doesn’t even involve another woman,” I say,
“If I touch myself is that lesbian sex?” He raises his eyebrows
like a dog might if he had eyebrows. I get distracted for a moment,
imagining this. “Listen to this,” he says: As you touch yourself
and find the places that feel good, you’ll know where to touch her.

“But her vagina isn’t my vagina. And why hasn’t Reba
even said the word vagina yet?” Rule number two: Go sober.
You want to remember your first lesbian sex.
“I know I do,”

my father says, copying and pasting. “These don’t seem specific to lesbians,”
I shout, and in the next room, my sister shouts back “What?”
I say “Come here, Abby.” And she says, “What?” And I say,
“Oh my god forget it,” and she says, “What?” Rule number three: Fantasize.
It all begins with fantasy. Does she throw you down on the bed
and have her way with you? Or do you go skinny dipping in your
backyard pool?
“Have you ever considered this?” my father asks.

“I never considered, I always just did,” I say. “Hm,” he says, “That may be
your first problem right there.” By rule number ten Reba still
hasn’t said vagina. She tells my father and I not to use sex toys
when having our first lesbian sex. That the first time should be
simple flesh­-on­-flesh love. She tells us not to go straight for the crotch.
To undress her slowly. To kiss her elbows. To caress her
belly and inner thighs. To kiss behind her knees.
To slowly suck her fingers. She ends with telling us to lie naked
on top of our lesbian lover. “Then what?” I ask him.
He reads aloud the last step: “Enjoy.” At the bottom of the webpage,
Reba lists seventeen links, including: How to Use a Dildo,
Lesbian Anal Sex, and How to Keep Love Fresh and New.
“Great,” I say to my father, “I have nothing to bring back to Samantha.”
“Is that your new lesbian lover?” my father asks. Abby shouts
something incoherent from the next room. “Go ask your sister,
my father says,” clicking a link. I walk up to my sister
with my hands on my hips, which makes me feel matronly, and ask.
“Just ask the next woman you have lesbian sex with,” says Abby.
When I get back I report to Samantha what Abby said and to my surprise
Samantha says, “Let’s find out.” I begin by undressing her
slowly. I avoid the crotch. I kiss her elbows. I caress her belly
and inner thighs. I even kiss her behind the knees, which feels really gay.
Then, it is a blur—I am diving and she is water and I am water
and she is diving and breath is tangled with breath and for one flash
of a second we are above water. We are lying next to each other in the dark
when Samantha asks me if she is a lesbian now. “I mean,” I say,
“You’re a woman, and I’m a woman.” “Right,” she says, calculating
something in her head. “What are you thinking,” I ask.
“I don’t feel like a lesbian,” she says. “I don’t either.” And then I don’t know
what else to say so I say, “Your skin tastes like applebutter.”


Author Note: A little bit about the poems: The manuscript is a collision of fiction-poems. As my sweetheart says, “Genre is a lie,” and I agree with her. Each of the poems is a persona piece, where I speak through a cast of extraordinary nobodies as they messily navigate issues of sexuality, identity, family, alienation and mortality.



About Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman was born in Israel and immigrated to the US when she was six. Her work can be found in BuzzFeed, BUST Magazine, Autostraddle, Muzzle, the Massachusetts Review, Winter Tangerine, Union Station, and The Bakery, among others. As a musician she's been lucky to share stages with Tune-Yards, Mirah, and Coco Rosie. She earned her BA at Hampshire College. She lives in Brooklyn where she teaches online writing workshops and creates. View all posts by Shira Erlichman

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