My pulse quickens as my mother tells me
this story about being with my father in
a San Francisco nightclub during the war.
I am nine years old. My father died a year ago.
She may have told me before.
It feels as though this has been
shared once and then buried again.
She tells me this story on a late winter
afternoon, the sun slanting through
our drab living room window,
the air between us mote-filled,
smoke-filled — dry — stifling — potent.
I seem to know the punchline already.
It’s uncertain whether this is due
to memory or prescience. I only know
that I am being led to my life’s Rubicon.
I have never known why my mother chose
to tell me on this day, in this way, that she
and my father were in this North Beach nightclub
where these women — stunning, with angelic voices,
the epitome of femininity — performed on stage.
And then, at the end of the act, revealed themselves as men.
And I sit there, trying to decide whether to speak or not,
whether or not to share the secret that I’ve kept since
I was three-years-old, vague consequences rushing by so fast
there is no way to determine which of them holds more weight.
Silence fills the room. She lights another cigarette, and before
she can exhale, I take a deep breath and hold it for 35 years.