LESSONS by Joanne Grumet


Henry, my father, was a sweet man,
had a smile for everyone.

He loved to sing opera
along with Jussi Björling

and the other tenors on the radio
though he didn’t know the words.

When I was eighteen, he gave me driving lessons
in our grey 1950s Buick Roadmaster.

One day, when we stopped for a light,
two young men in tee shirts

and slicked-back hair signaled my dad
to roll down the window.

“Your back wheels are going forward,”
they laughed.

My father laughed as well,
“All right boys,” he said.

Later he said, “I had to answer them or
they might have called me dirty Jew.”

I learned that day
how vulnerable he was,

how young men might
shame him for who he was

how his pain was my pain, too.


Joanne Grumet has studied and written about language as a lexicographer and a linguist. More recently, she has been writing poetry and her chapbook Garden of Eve was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020. She has also had poems published in the journals The Poetry Quarterly, The Same, and Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, as well as online at NYCBigCityLit.com, The Vital Sparks, The Closed Eye Open, and in The Bangalore Review.