Coming of Age
A Poetry Anthology
originally published in 2002
What started out as a reminiscence of adolescent youth between our Non-Fiction Editor, John Kilgore, and Editor-in-Chief Stuart Vail turned into an idea for each to write a poem about it. The result was two similar, yet very different, perspectives of a time of life that was awkward, magical, restless, mysterious, rebellious, bittersweet… and was a time that—as with most people—affected the rest of their lives. John and Stuart immediately realized that a gold mine of material was out there, in the very hearts and souls of the writers of TheScreamOnline community, and a call for a “Coming of Age” submissions was advertised. By the writers represented below, the response was been an outstanding success. We are deeply honored to not only be entrusted with these very personal journeys, but to have the opportunity to share them with you.
The Road Taken
Two roads converged at a hidden brook,
And glad I no longer had to choose
I turned around for a final look,
Quickly forgetting how long it took
To come so far, and removed my shoes;
Then waded in with a careful glide
On slippery stones and spongy moss,
And thought I saw on the other side
Where maybe the sand had felt the stride
Of someone else who had gone across.
Yet though I tried I could not discern
A sign of even the faintest trail,
And surely I came too late to learn
If the broken twig and trampled fern
Were from living man or dying quail.
I shall be telling this with a smile,
There in the sun as it warms our feet:
Two roads converged at a brook, and I’ll
Remember the way we crossed in style;
No road not taken could be as sweet.
Adriana de Barros
The bottle spun, a blurry green on a beige floor.
A clockwise rotation of past days and nothing more.
Time had moved on, although we remember being there once before.
Encircle the round. We sat in that circle.
The unity line compelled to showing us the future.
Spin, spin, spin… a schoolgirl named Casey grinned.
John, the handsome glimmered a wink. The bottle stopped at him.
Between the hype—they kissed—lips touching lips.
Everyone clapped, everyone yelled, as we began again.
Time beckoned 2nd, 3rd, 4th spin—my wish would soon win.
He, the guy, the one, the prince Sean would be mine for one round.
Nervous lips and weak hearts would soon leave us spellbound.
Kiss—and hold for 30 seconds. A rolling-tingle flared in us both.
We spun. I was now touching another boy’s face in the dark.
In this room, we innocently finished the stupid dare with a kiss.
No one could see, but his watch glowed, as I presumed it was a Swatch.
Tired of this game, nothing could recap the 30 seconds of my fairy tale.
But all ended soon enough, as the non-stop riot was becoming a bore.
They jumped, they played, devilish requests were worse than mine.
We knew the future would be grand; for its kind gesture was still in play.
Spin, spin, spin… we remember the upward curve of our grins.
The day you told me, I slipped it off.
Now it blends with the brass
of the base of the lamp:
a golden eye frozen in surprise,
a mouth wide with wonder.
The white circlet on my finger
now tans and expands
from the too-tight band
so that only the closest observer
might notice the fine polish
of fourteen years of subtle smoothing.
Helen Degen Cohen
The Odor of Memory
(a poem in 4 sections)
A boy, recalling:
We got there in a
state of awe
It was like having traveled
all those years
without knowing it
to arrive in this shaky wagon
full of straw—
the world smelled powerfully
good and there were girls
of every kind but all
the same, with skin.
they breathed like a disease
almost, some sort of
heavenly, holy disease. We grew red.
That rickety wagon.
How could you learn anything?
Yet everyone thought
we could learn.
dropped their faces over us. They were
Wheels, machinery, rolled over us,
we had to control, get on top of—ride.
A girl, recalling:
We got there in a state
without knowing it, without
having traveled. We were
trees that had never budded before,
our leaves greening, shedding, falling
you could draw on, like cloth
you could sew into anything,
so pure were we, in and out of the
our hair a river of silver fish.
without moving, we arrived
in the rickety wagon and the world
we were tickled even by the word,
we were moist, we were
open words, we were m’s the s’s could
crawl into, we ached,
we were trees finally budding.
A boy, recalling:
They stood opposite
in the roomful of straw,
grounded like open flowers,
iris, camellias, wavering,
we thought they were only girls, across
the wagonload of straw, they sat
always opposite, across, as if
already filled up with country liquor, we
didn’t know it was sugar-water.
Still, we moved, we were used to
moving, never knowing
limbs, groins, what to do—in olden days
boys wrote poetry
something in us really wanted to write poetry
something we didn’t know
so we moved,
we coiled like rattlers in the straw
and they stood opposite, like calves, then cows.
They were the world. No longer trees.
A girl, recalling:
We came second. So it seemed. Their
moving, their motion, coming first,
because we stood so still, because
we sat still as the close-up
odor of grass,
of straw you could die in, widening
in slow motion, in iris and camellian
ways (so bad) because
we could barely hold our breath
for the budding, while they
across the roomful of straw
moved, snaked, and we, waiting,
like flesh-eating plants,
opened, no, like open water
in our silver cups, opened and closed and
A stable thing is afraid of motion.
We were trunks moving, whirling, turning from
paper to leaves, to grass, to too many things solid
as silver cows,
we were no longer trees.
One sign shot to pieces sentries the road in,
and the road, wild in sumac and gooseberry bramble,
narrows to a foot-worn path that mazes through the trees
as if it has no particular place to end. Yet it ends
in a clearing, the sky curving like a magnifying glass
above a swimming hole perfectly honed out of solid stone.
A granite quarry, deep cold, slick dark,
it fell away from caution after the company closed down,
left the woods cluttered with half-formed
monuments, unfinished business.
I stand here, not Edward Gibbon at the edge of Rome,
not Michelangelo, slave to his chisel, hammering to release
the soul, just a boy caught in his own flat body
stunned to be staring at two grown naked men
and one delicately supple woman, flesh
stretched tight against the rupture of form.
Impossible to move forward into their openness
or backward into the thick shelter of the woods,
I persist, for an hour, for a year
until they dress and disappear through the trees.
Nobody sees me. That’s what I fear.
the other shoe, the fat lady, the chickens
coming home to roost and I am the egg.
Time is a walk to grandmother’s house
only to find her in bed with a lover,
heartbeats like an old pendulum clock,
the little moans a house can’t help making
under the strain of her enormous weight.
It’s boiled chicken again, dumplings
round as ice cream scoops somehow rising
to the surface in a steaming kettle.
Time is an hourglass figure leaning over
to tie her laces, her beauty running too quickly
into her shoes, and it’s shivers and goose pimples
all over the boy, not from the cold
but from watching her step out of
the shallow end of the pool. Time is the color
of blood, the smell of singed pinfeathers,
it’s the appetite that leaves only a clutter of bones
on the table. It makes dogs bark
in the dead of night, sends rockets to the moon.
It’s two hands touching in front of the church,
promising everything until death.
Except, of course, it’s death too, though the hands
can’t grasp this. It’s morning and evening
on the seventh day and nine months
into the explosion. Time is the fingerprint
a bullet traces as it leaves the gun,
the warm empty space that remains behind
Learning to Dance, 1956
For Marlene Broich
It was the 50s, and all of us
were kids, but you were older—
almost a woman—and you would
teach me to dance. You were
the dark-haired child in a family
of blondes, slightly exotic, wilder,
my best friend’s sister.
In your father’s basement,
you took my hand and showed me
how to hold you—how to hold
a woman. I was fourteen and knew
already how to be awkward. You knew
I was falling into shadows. When I breathed
your hair, I was no longer in the forest
but had broken through
to a clearing where tall grasses whispered
and swayed, where white-petalled daisies
and violet clover blossomed in profusion.
You moved me deeper into the music
and made a meadow spring up around me.
Your body showed me that I had strength
to change the moment, if only the quiet
power of a summer breeze . . .
When you said I would be a good dancer,
that I had rhythmthat I could swing,
I held you close: some day,
I would find the one
who would pull me near to her in love,
not mercy; I would dance with her
and learn her secret names.
The music crooned,
muting the cries
of young bodies
in the dark
we were awkward
on stiff couches:
by promises . . .
the insistent music
teasing us into
a taste of unison—
swearing we could move
You were prim
as a ballerina
but less steady:
in our pas de deux
I pulled you close
as I could,
you moved when I moved
but kept your distance
The First of the Month
In the Post Office I see her.
That’s her pooch outside, yapping,
carefully tethered by red leather leash
to wrought iron fence.
She’s pressing a stamp to a magic carpet.
Pressing white into pink of nail.
She haloes the stamp
with an earnest smudge.
Lips form words again and again:
she checks the address; she won’t do this wrong.
She mails it to adults
whom she’s never met,
addressees who couldn’t ever understand.
It glides down the shoot.
She glides with it.
There will be enough time
before no reply comes
The postal clerk, wry, a benign drug dealer,
through unshaven cheeks
as she buys more stamps.
I see her in stacks of grade school libraries
fallen where she opened
books she has no business with.
women pained with ennui
one must never name
languish on the covers.
At a family reunion
of hearty good people
who could teach tool and die,
some smart aleck thing
pops out her mouth.
Food spews, laughs yip; there are gasps,
and everyone wonders.
sun and white birches,
hikes all alone.
I could throttle her.
Why can’t she join up with the ball team,
suck up to teachers,
snag a boy…get knocked up…go on welfare?
If it weren’t for her,
I’d have a job—
admin assistant, maybe,
and would know where the rent check
will come from tomorrow.
My mother’s cigarette flares and fades,
the steady pulse of a firefly,
on the patio under the chestnut.
The next door neighbors are over.
My father, still slender, is telling a joke:
laughter jiggles in everyone’s drinks.
On his hour’s reprieve from sleep,
my little brother dances
in the sprinkler’s circle of water.
At fourteen, I’m too old
to run naked with my brother,
too young to laugh with my father.
I stand there with my hands in my pockets.
The sun refuses to set,
bright as a penny in a loafer.
1. The Siege of Khe Sanh
The war was not much in my life.
Marching in the spring demonstrations,
I wasn’t thinking of my black brothers
stalking through the green mazes
or shaking through the incoming rounds
exploding into killing bits of steel
around them. My thoughts were all on love,
the pure hippie girl yearning for me
and the dreams we wove in our letters
that built a bridge of love and dreams
that we were sure would bring us finally
together, but that spring I couldn’t wait
and I dropped out and hitched to Maryland.
I wanted to touch her, feel the weight
and shape of her breasts when she rolled
her gray sweater above her head and said,
“Don’t be so shy, John, don’t you love them,”
and I did, more than the dreams of beaches
and waking in a house among green
and red flowers with the scent of sunlight
stirring the curtains softly, not enough
to wake her from her dreams but enough
to wake me so I could follow the curve
of her chin and imagine the taste
of her hair in my mouth. Vanilla,
sweet apricots, and something salty,
maybe my sweat after we made love.
The dreams kept me writing, imagining
her but they weren’t enough. So while
my brothers in Vietnam pressed their backs
against the sandbag shacks of Khe Sanh,
I hitched the twenty-three hours east
to Maryland. But none of it worked out
the way I’d imagined. She was still
in school, preparing a project
on the peasants of the Mekong Delta,
and drafting a final paper on Crime
and Punishment, asking me what
I thought Raskolnikov’s final sin was.
The pride that drove him to drive his axe
into the old lady’s head, or the love
he always felt for his sister and mother?
And sometimes we’d walk the lazy paths
of the campus at night, stop on a bench
and neck, or sneak into her dorm room
and press against each other, my hands
on the breasts beneath her gray sweater,
her palms rolling soft circles on my chest
but mainly I sat in a diner off campus
dreaming and spinning a silver dollar
toward a .22 cartridge shell standing
upright on the counter near an ashtray.
We were in my parents’ house,
the rooms quiet. The sunlight
in the windows in the afternoon
spinning the rooms to gold
and she said she didn’t love me
that she had come from Maryland
to tell me she was seeing me
for the last time, and that my love
was not enough to keep her with me
dreaming of California
and she was moving to Frisco
and this was the end of the dream
and I went to my parents’ bedroom
and pulled the gun from the drawer
and I grabbed her arm so tight
she could hardly pull away,
and I pointed the gun at her face
and said I would shoot her
and then I would shoot myself
because she didn’t love me
and I didn’t even know if the gun
was loaded, or if it was real
or if I was just joking
and she said she didn’t love me
and that I should really do it
if I was going to do it
just right there in the kitchen
where we spent so much time
dreaming of us in California
and she said John just do it
if you’re going to do it. Do it
because I don’t love you and don’t care
if I go to California alone
or die here with you, and I said
I would do it, really I would.
I would take the revolver
and do it. I would do it because
I couldn’t live without her dreaming
with me about California
and cold beaches and red wine,
those dreams that filled our love
with all the glory and beauty,
all the time and sunlight
I ever thought we ever needed
and she said just do it, just do it,
just press the gun there and do it
and I knew I couldn’t do it
in the kitchen with the sunlight
so pure almost like the sunlight
on the cold beaches in California
and I let the revolver drop
to the floor and said I can’t do it.
She said it again, I don’t love you,
and I couldn’t look at her
and asked her what we’d do now,
and she shook her arm loose from my hand.
Coming of Age?
I’m 54 and next year will be 55
(on June 22 if you want to send flowers
or candy), and what I’ve learned about
coming of age is that we come of age
the way the great glaciers come of age.
Slowly. One year we melt a little.
The next we freeze a little. A wind
comes from no place and shines up
our northern walls. The next year
the wind is a little stronger or weaker.
We don’t change the way people in books
change. Today’s hero, tomorrow’s fool.
Our future—a patient grandmother
with a toddler in hand—comes slowly.
Ridge Street, 1965
Thirteen and skinny, I didn’t get the Stones
that fall the songs turned dark and lovely,
and all the other kids knew how to dance.
Proud to be the youngest in my class,
with a new scar on my eyebrow, to show
I’d stand up, anyway, while being punched
I’d learned from Suzy Carson how to kiss
halfway to strangling on our tongues, and told
my friends, to watch them roll their eyes, grinning
funny, pinched-up grins. Still I missed the point
almost entirely, till that night
after Homecoming, when at her door
I said goodnight to Suzy with a peck
that gave the lie to all we’d found to do
clinched in the shadows outside the gym;
and Mom in our old Falcon drove me home
with my buddy Wayne, who’d stay the night
just so the two of us could wait our time
and sneak back out, six blocks or more, hiding
from headlights in the curfew-haunted streets,
to the alley window where our buddy Rob
waited with his flashlight and a plan
To crash the neighbors’ slumber party.
That year the girls could top Scheherazade
in fabling their own fathers. So overnight
for her birthday Patti Wheeler’s dad
had given her his giant fifth-wheel camper,
chocked in the weeds at the edge of their lot,
to fill with eighth-grade friends. Now they waited
with magazines, snacks, cards, stuffed animals,
a stereo, one set of jacks, perfume,
Kleenex, compacts and curler kits, all
gleaming in the light of many candles. Into
this chattering seraglio we arrived
like visiting celebrities, ninth-graders after all,
and takers of a vast dare, to have stolen out
at these amazing hours. We’d brought a beer
And passed it around, so everyone had a sip
Which only Linda Galles claimed to like,
then took a turn around the yard,
beneath the matchless moon, whispering
to faces pale and sudden in the dark.
And was it then? Or just a little later?
And how exactly? That Barbie Tyler with her
secret smile, her Beach Boys album,
her beginner’s breasts and all
the whippet grace of her small body
chose me, and I chose her? The words are gone
because it hardly took words then:
things happened by themselves, mysteriously,
the way your body grew, or grass came green,
the way a group of kids decided anything
without deciding, a cloud in any breeze.
Back in the camper someone made a game
of putting candles out, and voices
softened toward sleep. Patti had paired
With Rob, and Wayne with Donna Major, quietly,
as if they’d always known they would.
Barb and I called “dibs” on the overhang,
and a sleeping bag whose honest Dacron smell
mingled with shampoo, perfume, Juicy Fruit.
We practiced kissing first, dutiful as bees
with news of nearby poppies; then nestled down
in a kind of dreaming dance, neither knowing
quite what we meant—but something knew
how our unfinished bodies could become
so strangely what they were, fitting like
two halves of an exquisite vase, long broken,
now mended and annealing in night’s kiln,
till with the spell of our own breathing
we seemed two fabulous new creatures,
silken, electric, dangerous—
while in the moonlight, just the other side
of the cold window, the world we understood
shivered and began to die. What
She made of my alarm I’ll never know.
Wayne and Robbie took it well, grousing just a bit
as I nagged them up, and out, and home:
back through the deserted hours, the chilly streets,
dropping Rob off at his place,
just beginning to suspect what grief
I’d made for myself with Suzy;
continuing with Wayne on up the hill
past the church where next year, further
hardened by experience, we’d go Sunday nights
after prayer study, to try our luck with the girls;
on through fraternity row, where
the year before we stole homecoming decorations
and years later we would go to parties,
past the park where I’d smoke pot the first time,
and split my lip in a Friday-night scuffle,
Not knowing this, not knowing anything,
not guessing that the War then blowing in from Asia
would still be ours, to fight or refuse
—Back at last to my quiet house, where no light burned,
the door was still unlocked, and no angel
waved his sword before the gate, but nonetheless
there was no way back inside.
And, as with the sirens whose songs taunted Ithacan ears,
pubescent promises tore me from the mast of innocence
to which I was so securely tied.
Waters, once clear and calm, safe and nurturing,
now ran deep, were pregnant with mystery,
anxiety, danger, the unknown.
At first I tried to return,
but after one glance of faint recognition,
Argos rolled over and died.
Childhood’s balm, lost to Penelopean yearning—
and the mountain. . . barely a memory.
Now and Then
Playing doctor used to be something
where you touched someone in places
you have never touched before, wanting
so much to be touched as well, for those
thrills that came flying down through you.
These days, it’s a school computer game:
You touch a patient on the screen,
your hand moving, finger clicking
a mouse. And, though you may have
a partner, all you share is an image
on the screen—the object? To see
how far you get before the patient dies.
At seven and eight, Diana and I were
fighter pilots on her front porch:
shirts pulled up and buttons undone,
shivers flying inside the injured one,
setting the plane on automatic pilot,
attending to and binding the wounds,
bringing this best friend back to life,
only to be hit a minute later, and fall
into the lap and arms of such a summer game.
Shirley Dunn Perry
when I was little
they called me Goldilocks
I had hair the color of
dirt that is dug up in springtime
I would have liked gold hair
all the town kids who got good grades
had hair like sunshine
I do have one small strand of blond
on the left side
if I lift layers of dark, I can see it
last year when I visited my mother
her hair, a winter landscape
she asked if I still had that streak of gold
together we went to the bathroom mirror
probing till we found it
they called me Goldilocks
I didn’t have blond hair
I never invaded anybody’s house
let alone a bear’s
not in a million years would
I walk in unannounced
eat someone’s porridge
break their chair
sleep in their bed
they wanted me to have yellow hair
wishing for good grades, good looks
smart enough not to get pregnant
one hidden strand of gold
just wasn’t enough
At Friday’s on Sunday
At Friday’s on Sunday
at breakfast in the morning
by a table with coffee and rolls
at a table near
was a young woman with hair
so fine straight and dark
surrounding an oval face
with eyes deep and brown
with lashes clustered above
lids that were coy and skeptical
a straight nose directed
downward by eyes reached
full lips in deeper tone than
the olive browned skin
when she spoke her teeth
glistened like moist ivory
and the smile created her
eyes to activate and glisten
she was extraordinary with
sunned complexion and deep
shirt belted to white pants
and tennis sneakers slipped on to
graceful feet that
produced ankles fine and formed
I watched those hands with fingers so
delicate move about
in motion as she ate and spoke
a quality that was unique
and my mind was arrested
on this lovely feminine charm
I needed this softness and concern
I needed those eyes.
of doubt and skepticism . . . there was never to be
I was photographing her
she in her innocent way was
perturbed that she was
not the view from my camera
“it was the view behind that
I am photographing” so I said
and this way the ploy to reduce
her ego and enter
her graces—her eyes were
dismayed and her lips
pouted as I sat at her
table beside her with a kind
request that she could not refuse
she was sweet and innocent—naive
and shy but above all skeptical
I wished to hold her hand
and then kiss the ear which
was pierced by a solid gold earring
she looked at me with a warmth
and tenderness beyond anything
I had witnessed
she was above reproach and
beyond approach and I found her
to be doubtful and unrestful
I knew she was alone
as much alone as I—perhaps
so much alone to be lonely
she looked with those deep
brown eyes direct
and parted her lips to smile
and utter her name
with such softness that
there was never to be
another name as lovely
M. J. Rychlewski
I wasn’t looking for a home
that night at the truck stop in Ogallala
in September of 1971.
Ray and I simply gave a ride
to an exhausted French hitchhiker
and a hippie chick from New Jersey.
We drove into Lincoln,
picked up his buddy at the Greyhound Station
and then chugged to Chicago in my ’65 Mustang.
I put them up for a week,
and the hitchhiker invited me to Paris
the next summer. I went there and returned again in ’75
and lived with Michel and others for a year in a commune.
Joe, a college acquaintance,
stayed in Paris for a few months that year.
We hung around together and became friends.
When I got back to Chicago
he dropped by one night with his buddy John.
John became my friend. Years later
he introduced me to Jan.
We had Claire.
This is the myth of my life.
You probably have your own—some party
you attended, a phone you decided to answer
after you had already closed and locked the door,
a missed turn… and your life tumbled out.
But is it that simple?
In truth, I already had a fascination with Paris,
so when I saw he was a “French” hitchhiker
I was more than ready.
Or perhaps I needed to create a home
for my imagination—a Paris, a place
I could learn to leave of my own accord:
It is 1961.
My parents are moving again—from Denver
back to Chicago. My father calls it a vacation,
but within a week I realize we won’t be going back.
Once again I do not get to say goodbye to my friends.
(In the coming years
we will move through every neighborhood
where they once lived,
in search of their lost happiness.)
It is 1972.
I am young and in love
and leaving Paris for the first time.
Alicia and I kiss on the platform at Gare de Lyon.
The steam scarves a dream around us.
It is 1976.
I am finishing the grand odyssey of my young manhood.
It’s time to go home. (My mother is older now. Alone)
I lean out the train window at Gare du Nord.
My friends walk alongside for a few seconds.
It is 1984.
I have fallen in love,
but she does not love me.
We drive and drive through the hollow streets.
She pulls over along a wide stretch of dark still water.
It is 1987.
I get a call. My mom has had another heart failure.
I don’t want to leave Jan. I don’t want to go back.
“It’s time to come back,” says my friend George.
It is 1994.
Jan and Claire and I have lived in Paris
for two years now. I collect our security deposit,
then sneak a quick sidecar at Harry’s,
playing ghost of the fly on Hemingway’s wall
as a tanned and glitzy couple down the bar
booze and bitch about each other’s teen-age daughters.
But is it that simple?
During all these many years
I have recurring dreams of leaving Paris:
I have been in the city
months longer than I expected
and now I am leaving and I have not seen my friends.
Why have I not seen my friends?
Why have I not said goodbye?
down streets, along boulevards,
across intersections, under viaducts, up expressway ramps
and in the many leavings of my childhood,
through rooms packed high with boxes
my parents have hastily packed as we are moving once again.
I have been back to Paris twice since ’94:
A friend my own age died there a few years ago.
This summer a friend’s daughter committed suicide.
(Are those leavings of another order
or are they tied to mine?)
In the dreams I race through the streets so I can never say goodbye.
But to whom? The boy and girl who lived next door?
(We swung brooms at bats darting through the summer twilight.)
are my Paris,
as I am their unidentified face
in an old photo—
I suppose it was the best
Full of promise and near successes
A nice, intimate mix of
Tedium and rabid exhilaration
With short Basho blurbs
Read in a stuffy classroom;
No care for meaning
Only a raging spark—somewhere, anywhere—
When a developing girl on the other side
Of the room shifted slightly
Weekends filled with
Spying crisp pictures of
A recognizable, young man, smirking
In his New York City t-shirt, and wondering
Why everyone could love him
Or savoring the pungent, curdling
Perfume of too much cinnamon gum
Wrapped lethargically around a searching tongue,
A serpent, giddily invited to
Invade my mouth
And the hesitant push of a
New, or perhaps,
Which might bring more searching serpents calling
On a crystal Friday
Adolescent country boy
moved to suburban neighborhood.
Left behind childhood of horses,
walking to school through fields of alfalfa,
hunting for tadpoles
at the river.
left behind innocence . . . .
Concrete and asphalt,
telephone poles and traffic
replaced the alfalfa fields of adolescent country boy’s
new trek to higher learning.
The call of the country plagued the boy
in his new surroundings; though . . .
the fire of adolescence, the heat in his groin—
the three sisters in the house on the corner
quickly filled the void.
Just four houses away.
The thirst and the ache and the fire of his youth:
Unquenchable, untreatable, inextinguishable—
Three sisters . . .
and a terrified adolescent, former country boy,
paralyzed and possessed by their raw fecundity,
held hostage by his hormones,
blindfolded, gagged, and handcuffed by his rabid imagination of foreign lands:
mysterious, dark, moist and tropical.
Classrooms became cubicles of erotic daydreams—
hourly delineations of sexual fantasies
by ringing bells.
Textbooks were nothing more than sketchbooks,
the wasted-on-the-young words covered over with drawings of . . .
just four houses away.
They barely knew hormone-boy existed, yet
they represented—embodied—all that he lived for.
He ate, breathed, dreamt their womanhood.
There was nothing else in the world that mattered,
nothing else existed but the fire in his loins for what lived
what might as well have been four-hundred miles away.
It was the ultimate incarceration, yet
once boy was paroled and he went forth into the world
in his new suit with twenty dollars in the pocket,
he crashed headfirst, finally, into relationships, marriages,
into the mysterious, dark, moist world of his adolescent imagination,
and he finally knew of the three sisters on the corner. . .
And hadn’t a clue.
Ellen Doré Watson
Shiny valve by valve the woman shakes
saliva from her French horn. I must have
seen this. I put her in the movie.
In my throat. A ready ember.
She is the red cloth they use
on stage to mean blood
after the body receives the wooden sword.
How can that stalk hold a bird?
The eight-year-old that was me looks to the ocean.
Her toes are dusty with dander of sand,
tough and bare as any part of me
will ever be. Awake, she floats with ease
and touches snakes. Asleep, she is terror
running from a man who has no face,
blank pink skin. I am six times her age
and he looks to me like a big penis
wearing a hat.
Father looked as sure of himself
as ever. None of us knew of the part of him
that was wondering which part of him
would out-shout the rest tomorrow,
and would he fly the plane alone?
A reef is a hurting and a way not to drown.
The brass of the horn is its own gleaming.
The mother I have made for myself
says: apply yourself aslant.
When the nun walks out
of your body, hold her by the shoulders,
say: many are our paths. Mother’s face
gives me to understand this.
Tells me I can open as easily as walk.
When I was twice the age of the barefoot girl,
I dreamed every month of standing
on the median, rattled by the whir of traffic.
Always from behind came a knife
for no reason
and a burning that was I knew
the way it would feel.
In the delicious dark of the movies, I have
no body. Sometimes I forget
my elbows for weeks at a time.
The day I felt the knife from behind in Catch-22
right there awake in my seat I knew
the dream would not be back.
A man on the radio says the world
in an unexpectedly orderly fashion
(lightning, earthquakes). The man
says fractals, says weeds and synapses.
I am asleep. His breath stirs
the hair on my arm.
It’s the bird’s song that lightens
the stalk’s load.
The worst things that have happened
I didn’t know to fear.