by Sasha Debevec-McKenney
My sister has been a black Jew long enough to have four children and give them Hebrew
names. I’ve been dragged to museums since I was six, my mother pushing me into the
arms of a Susan B. Anthony statue in Seneca. I get into Baltimore on a Friday, the house
my sister bought out of college. Her sons have braids above their ears. She’s cooking a
meal for her husband and telling me birth control is not a part of their beliefs. Saturday
morning I wake up in my niece’s smaller-than-a-twin bed; in the afternoon the seven of
us climb out of the eight-seated SUV and into Virginia, the grounds of Washington’s
Mount Vernon. We drape a spit-up towel over the baby’s head so she can’t feel the sun
and push the kids through the museum. It takes until The Signing of the Declaration of
Independence exhibit for me to realize my niece doesn’t recognize any of the wax
figures, these aren’t her founding fathers. She has lived all eight of her years
in Baltimore and never eaten a crab sandwich; she doesn’t know America but I do
my best to explain why a pair of wooden dentures are on a display in this museum.
I watch her climb up to the wooden cutout of George and his axe, put her face to
the hole and come out the other side wearing a white-powdered wig.
My type has always been Ulysses S. Grant, big
Midwestern boys with full beards and a flare for
alcoholism and leadership skills.
My first kiss came well after puberty’s fuzzy
mustache phase, with the kind of man who might
one day drop his X-box controller and grab the reins of a horse,
tear off his graphic tee and show me the silver buttons
of his army uniform.
I like the kind of man who knows what it’s like
to disappoint an entire nation, who’ll fall into our bed,
put his hand up my shirt and say to himself:
“Well she took a nap instead of playing video games
with me, but at least it’s not as bad as April 1862–
men drowning on the battlefield while their lungs filled with raindrops.”
I’ll love him no matter how uncomfortable
he looks at a desk,
shifting the inkwell or the Macbook
back and forth to make space
for his sweaty forehead. I’ll wake up from my nap
two hours later and tell him, you’re the only person in the world
I would go to Ohio for.
Sasha Debevec-McKenney has been writing love poems to Presidents for as long as she can remember. She was born and raised in Connecticut but now resides in the Midwest.