Paul Hostovsky


Nobody wants to hear a white guy going on about
the black people he has known, especially not
a white guy who hasn’t known many black people,
and especially not the first black person he ever knew,
the live-in maid in his grandparents’ house
whose name was Frieda — Frieda Farrell —
who did the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning
and the clearing, and served the food at his grandparents’ table,
and came from Jamaica, and came from Newark,
and came when his grandparents called her
with a little silver handbell from Germany
that they kept on the dining room table next to their plates.

And nobody wants to hear him going on about
how Frieda would come when she was called,
walking slowly, limping a little (she was as old
as his grandparents, maybe older) into the dining room
from the kitchen where she ate her meals alone;
how the bell would ring and she’d put down her knife and fork
and enter the dining room in her uniform, a gray and blue
livery, and stand beside his grandmother or his grandfather
and wait until they spoke to her. And nobody wants to hear
how his grandparents kept a collection of those handbells
on a shelf above the sideboard, all of them silver and ornate,

or how he remembers, once after dinner, picking one up and examining it,
admiring its heft, the craftsmanship of its carved wooden handle,
when suddenly Frieda came limping in from the kitchen
because he had called her. But he hadn’t called her.
He hadn’t meant to call her. He would never
call her or anyone with a little silver handbell. “Don’t
play with that, it’s not a toy,” she had scolded,
then turned and limped back into the kitchen. Nobody wants to hear
how he can still hear that little handbell he never meant to ring,
how it goes on ringing in spite of what he means or doesn’t mean.

PAUL HOSTOVSKY’s poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, and the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. His thirteenth book of poetry, Pitching for the Apostates, is just out from Kelsay Books. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter.

Read more by Paul Hostovsky

Poems in B O D Y
Author’s Website
Poems at Only Poems
Poem in Bicoastal Review
Prose in midnight CHEM