Ben Segal


Today Simon, by this archaic measure, you have become a man. Do you believe it? Does anyone in the room? Regardless, we both, you and I, we both have a speech to deliver.

And as it is tradition, I thought at first to make this speech in the standard form of pride and praise. I wrote that speech. I did. I wrote that speech and Rabbi Zucker approved and even lauded it, and I will admit it had a certain beauty, a certain perfection, a pathos found in the fabric of its loving fiction.

It was easy enough to begin with a truth, the typical telling of a flaw in your person, a cause for worry designed to draw laughs. But then came the hard lie of gentling out my insults, the always-lie of telling my surprise at the remarkable person you’ve become.

Though yes, in a manner of speaking, you are worthy of remark. The obvious place to start being either your head or your birth, both overly watery, stretched too long, smeared in blood. Neither being a bit beautiful or having even the whiff of miracle about them.

To be fair, I’ve never seen a beautiful baby and only rarely does a head augur more than dim cruelties. And no, you have not been an unmitigated disaster. I do remember a moment I felt tenderness; an image of you that was at least striking, at least worth recalling. This was after you smashed your face against Denny Johnson, for once a time of swelling instead of blood. Your mother had nothing frozen but a rack of ribs that she pressed to your eye so as to swallow your face in thawing meat. Remember how you lay there moaning? How you dripped freezer melt on that t-shirt we’d bought you when you were on that soccer team for which you never started?

Even now I imagine you rib faced, the meat and bones to screen and muffle those hacks from your throat that pass for language. To think at thirteen you still so awkwardly shape your tongue to your teeth. Today, as I was to feel such pride, I could only cringe and hide my shame in deep davening. Imagine me, looking out amazed at these people with their regretted checks already made out in your name. Here I was, bowed over, prayerful, thinking how in good faith could I deliver such a lying speech? How could I read those cards that would sound sour and false to any person with an even passing knowledge of your character? And so this rough and off-the-cuff performance will have to suffice as my contribution to your coming of age. Here then, my hopes, your speech:

Son, we see today that you’ve survived to thirteen, that you’ve even memorized a rough recital of these Hebrew noises. This is what must count as accomplishment. There’s little else; besides that rib-faced spell, I can recall nothing about your youth that one could reasonably celebrate.

However, my Simon, I am not yet ready to give up on you entirely. From this stubborn place of paternal optimism, I can now salvage something of the usual ritual- that traditional Father-Speech moment in which the elder Jew imparts upon his child a bit of tailored advice.

What I suggest is to daily wake and bind your face in frozen meat. Thereby that oblong head and dull face you carry will be transformed into a site of mystery and feeding dogs. What I imagine for you is blindness set upon by leaping hungry beasts, your body pawed to the ground, your ribbed mask torn to bits morningly, until your skin is open to the teeth and tongues of dogs each day and each day after.

Ben Segal has written an interlocking series of short stories in the shape of a crossword puzzle (78 Stories, No Record Press), a few chapbooks exploring impossible dimensions of bodily desire (Weather Days and Science Fiction Pornography, published by Mud Luscious Press and Publishing Genius, respectively), and many other short and generally strange works that have appeared in places like Eyeshot, Tarpaulin Sky, and Gigantic. He co-edited The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Cow Heavy Books) and serves as an associate editor at the journal Continent.
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