The Secret

By Bridget O’Bernstein

Featured art: Women in Groups by Jesse Lee Kercheval

As a child, I flew alone to California
to spend the summer with my mother’s three sisters.
Aunt Moe made a soup out of bones and covered me
with a canvas blanket in the rock garden.
I played with Aunt Sheila’s cat under the willow for hours.
She walked over with a brush in her hand and said,
You can speak to cats, too? I nodded.
Before I left, Aunt Kate gave me a green velvet book
into which she’d taped a stick of spearmint gum
for my plane ride home.
When I arrived in Brooklyn with my secret,
my father pouted when I wouldn’t share it.
And when I said, It’s private,
his face made a face of such hurt surprise,
like I’d cut him, that I immediately gave it away.
I said, I can speak to cats,
at which point he laughed and went out to the deck
with his coffee, shaking his head.
What a mistake!
To extend to my father
the wonder of my secret, like a rose,
for safekeeping.
I stood there afterward, shocked
at the way I’d invaded myself by sharing it.
Now I had nothing.


Bridget O’Bernstein grew up in Brooklyn and received her MFA in poetry from Syracuse University. In 2019, she won the Indiana Review Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize and the American Literary Review Poetry Award. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Birdfeast among others.  

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