Has Anybody Here Read Heidi?
by Puma Perl

Washington Avenue faces the Botanical Gardens.
I am three years old, wearing a blue plaid suit
and my father’s smile. The double-breasted
jacket falls fashionably over what will someday
be hips. My eyes turn away from the camera,
longing for rocks, hills, and lily ponds, hating
the dressy clothes, and the hat tied so tightly
that every time I try to talk it hurts my chin.

The picture has lacy edges and yellowed tape
marks. It feels like April. Maybe we were going
to my grandmother’s Brownsville home, a long
ride, entailing two bus transfers. I lost my best
doll on one of those treks and cried inconsolably
while my mother pretended to call the police.
My grandmother patted me and called me her
shaina maidela but it didn’t make me feel better.

My grandmother’s house smelled of potato latkes,
upholstery, and a dirty blind dog named Skippy.
One day, I tried to teach my cousin how to mail
letters but I got confused, rang the fire alarm box
instead. They hid me in the bathroom when the fire
trucks arrived and we never told. My uncle said
that if I were caught, I’d go to prison for ten years.

My parents liked to have company and talk about
books. I hid behind the gold patterned couch,
listening, because I liked books, too. I wondered
aloud if anyone had ever read Heidi. They all
laughed and my father chased me into the room
as if he planned to spank me, but his hand was just
a soft pillow. I danced around the room, hoping
that everyone would keep laughing, but they had
moved on to other topics, so I lined up my books
beside the bed and finally, unwillingly, fell asleep.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author on Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, at age four, taken in front of the building where her family lived and where the dinner party mentioned in the poem took place.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: What I remember most clearly about my early childhood is that I loved books and hated going to sleep. Growing up in Crown Heights, my mother took me regularly to the Grand Army Plaza Library, Brooklyn’s main branch, and I learned to recognize words and read at a very early age. This poem reflects my love of books and hatred of going to bed early, neither of which has changed.

Puma Perl

Puma Perl
is a widely published poet and writer; she is also a journalist who writes an arts and cultural column for the Villager/Chelsea Now and is a monthly contributor to Steel Notes Magazine. Puma is the author of two chapbooks, the award-winning Belinda and Her Friends and the recently published Ruby True, and two full-length collections, knuckle tattoos and Retrograde. She was the co-creator, coproducer, and main curator of DDAY Productions, which mounted shows in various NYC venues. Her current venture is Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, which launched at the Bowery Electric in 2012 and brings poetry together with rock and roll. She performs regularly with a number of excellent musicians and continues to curate shows. Her photographs of artists, poets, and musicians are frequently used for album covers, fliers, and headshots, and have been published in literary journals and newspapers. A lifelong New York City resident, she lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Author photo by Len DeLessio.