It is the season of thinning out the herd, and I
am leaving Brooklyn. October is in the city: bright
colorful leaves and a track fire on the J, stalling all trains.
Over coffee with milk and sugar, my teacher asked if I’ve begun
to believe in God, in good fortune. How to have answered her
in a way that didn’t betray my mother’s nonbelief. I will say:
I’ve begun to pray in moments of duress, hands folded like napkins
in my lap, or rather, into the shadow shapes on the wall
that amuse children: a dog, a bird. Something
impermanent, and without teeth: a truncated religion.
There are churches on every block in Bedstuy.
There are butcher shops and their decorated
windows: their wares dangle like earrings, a wink
in God’s eye. It is Sunday. I guess everyone
needs someone to believe in: the buskers
on the subway, the children tangled in knots
around the basketball hoops in the park, the Hasidic
women in headscarves, pushing babies in stern black
strollers, and yes, I’m sure butchers must have their saints,
too. Briefly, and at once, I realize it’s the start of Sukkot,
and the Williamsburg bridge is rising around me
like arms, and the language on the school buses suddenly
makes sense in my blank and startled brain: it’s Yiddish
and I’m panicked, and I’m sure no one has ever loved me
enough to level with me in a tongue I understand, not even
God. I exhale, and my father’s wheeze huffs out
of my mouth; it gives up the air like an offering
to the cab’s dead and empty space and
I am leaving Brooklyn so
quickly, it’s already gone.
KATHRYN BRATT PFOTENHAUER is the author of BadAnimal (Riot in Your Throat Press, July 2023) and Small Geometries (Ethel Zine & Micro Press, March/April 2023). The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, their work has been published or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Adroit Journal, Crazyhorse, Poet Lore, Beloit Poetry, Journal, and others. They have received awards from the Ledbury Poetry Festival and Bryn Mawr College, as well as support from Tin House and The Seventh Wave. They attend Syracuse University’s MFA program.