You Embarrass Me


Illustration by James Forrest /Dallas Morning News/MCT

Ully Hirsch/Robert F. Nettleton Poetry Prize Runner-Up

Mom, I don’t go out with you anymore,

at least, not how I used to, when I was younger,

when we used to go to Flushing Meadows Park

and sell empanadas to old Hispanic men,

in cargo shorts and faded t-shirts,

while they sat and reminisced.


I hardly speak about you

when my friends and I share

stories of family and long gone pasts.

I don’t talk about how we used to stay

at home on Sundays, making sopa Paraguaya

for homesick Paraguayans, or about

how I used to be bored out of my mind

at the laundromat down the street, while you

made sure Susie and I had clean clothes for school.


I don’t bring girls over to have dinner with you;

we both know it’s not because you can’t cook.

I don’t tell girls too many details about you.

A woman could tell a lot about a man from

his relationship with his mother,


through their past. I keep both in the dark,

lingering passed shadows in my room at night,

behind the dark brown shades of my eyes.


I don’t carry pictures of you in my wallet,

so as to not remind myself of the home

I’m going to every night,

so I don’t see your eyes,

when I pull out a 20, 10, or 5 bill;

pay for another cheap drink and

cheapening thrill;

to forget who we are;

what we’ve been through.


The truth is you embarrass me.


You’re a lonely teacher,

turned housekeeper,

turned cook,

turned single mother with two kids,

living alone, in debt, and yet

you don’t look back.


You embarrass me because you keep

ungrateful children on your arm and back;

one high school dropout teenage mother

whose baby, like her mother, has no father,

and another one, a son, with wasted

potential, scared of his own potential;

he who, quit music, quit sports, quit all the jobs

that fell on his lap, quit working hard, trying and

only stays in school because he doesn’t

want to end up like you.


You embarrass me because you drive

a beat down blue ’94 Jeep Cherokee, with

reflective stripes on the back bumper,

red and white like the universal sign

for barbershop, and when I try to take

girls out on dates I have to wait,

till the night time so the car could shine.

When I play my cards the right way, I mess around

with girls in the back seat on lonely Queens’ streets

because my room, at home, is right next to yours.


You embarrass me because two weeks of

missed work would throw you into bankruptcy,

I’ve felt this instability constantly throughout my life,

when I close my eyes tight enough, I can feel

this boat we’re on being pulled with the rip tide

while the anchor chain floats loosely by our side.


You embarrass me because you did it alone,

every night when I come home, I see you

tucked in your bed alone, watching the food network

on t.v. and you look at and smile at me,

make me dinner and talk to me about how a new 711

just opened on Northern Boulevard or about how

the weather has been crazy lately, the little things,

even though we both know I’m out growing you.


You embarrass me because you’re alone,

you do it all alone,


You embarrass me because

I’ll never be as strong as you.