Second Nature
Miriam M. Kotzin

He was right to be suspicious.
Even now I am conscious of betrayal.
But what did he expect when he dared

me to take his challenge. “Write a poem
using what I say. Quote me, Miriam, if
you can. Shape a world of your own

making. I’ll stand in it laughing
at you the whole time. Why not
write about Edith Stein, a Jewish girl

who became a nun? They’re working
on her sainthood now.” Standing,
he looks cold. Yet his raincoat’s never

buttoned as though he’s always on
his way to someplace warmer.
At the bar he seems almost at home.

“My father-in-law was a saint,”
the end’s a certain martyrdom.
“His charity left no money.” When

he talks about his daughters he names
only the younger, and her carefully.
His voice fills with love like a jug

with cool milk in summer. His
older daughter’s gone, her name
changed willfully in a cloistered

order where all her art is given
over to God. Twice a year he
sees her through a grill. “I’m Jesuit

trained.” He’d left the seminary.
Had his daughter meant to be
a son following a father’s path, going

farther? How much patrimony? How
much vocation? How much unspoken love.
“Miriam,” he says again, “write about
Edith Stein, the nun, my daughter.”


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