When I was nine and bright-eyed,
the girl next door whispered in my ear
that Mommy had told her about a word
that was the worst word, badder than the F-word,
and never to be repeated by good little girls.
She whispered in my ear, and all
the harsh syllables collided in an unholy way,
the way the hard, hard C rear-ended the trailer-trash
ring of the 'UN', like UNdo and UNloved, and than the UNforgivable
T-sound and all things backwards, wrong, and beautiful.
My nine-year old ears soaked up the four letters
and their not-quite accident, as the single syllable
tumbled from a little perfect blonde girl's lips to create
two different monsters that day: her weed, sex, and alcohol -
And seven lucky years later, we both embraced
the unmentionable, she married our word to sullen boys,
while I just lied, because my one-half of our innocence
turned out illegal in forty-eight of fifty states,
home of the not-quite free and only-slightly brave.
Walnut High School
This is the beach. Its arms are tethered eels arched
In a stillborn dive. Its brow is ridged as porphyry, purple in the whining light.
This is the beach. In whip-grass, women clean sand from their suits
Like there isn't more beneath and all around them. This is the beach
On which I leave you. The two days after are a mausoleum.
The tide has taken a long ride out. Built in brine, clapboard-trapped,
The house is heavy for our little weight, for the ogres cast
Against the wall when the sun dips. I want to see my footprints
Rise to nothing. Come walk. The orange buoys are muscled down.
The ferry moans. My hand is tight against your eagerness.
Swim, then, before the glow worms come out, and the scientists
With their nets, and the children with their sloppy bodies. Swim.
I never liked you wet, well-oiled, smelling of fish and gritty
As a loofah. I never liked your pulsing pupils, your tongue ridiculous
As a bandage. But when you pumped toward me with all your webbed toes,
Each eye a little storm, I didn't mind. I didn't mind the rake of your nail
Against my thigh, or your turning, urgent body, how it brought me
Over and over to the sand. So many times I must have needed saving.
If I had brought the camera, turgid in its zippered suit, we might have had
Something like this: the suns of my summer cheeks shoved round
In the lens; fur blown up nostrils and around my legs where you sit
And shift to accommodate a rogue, ripe as an oyster, pushing at your stomach;
Your snout, hardly in the frame, turned to the sea where the eels strain
At their chains. Past the Vineyard, even, and Nantucket's blur, where the tumbling open
Of your belly is tides from now and only the heat of your breath is against my leg.
I am made
tightly woven skin
and smooth wax hands.
As the sun descends,
I hear the rustle of wood,
the birth of flame.
Place my arms around her waist.
We start with a red-hot polka,
pull her close,
and we whirl.
When her sweat has melted my palms
we switch to a yellow waltz,
and then a slow, dark-orange samba
to finish the night.
In the morning,
burnt out, we’ll lie on our backs,
me in ashes,
her in coal.
Things Change Size
The world is getting smaller, my mother says
the globe is not really shrinking, but she sees power
in the almost-metaphors.
The world was bigger when I was your age! is what I’ll tell my kids
when they aren’t looking too closely at our sidewalk
spotting cracks; hollow cavities that split
like spider veins
to chew them into the bell of a concrete drum.
Or the cornfields and tobacco land that hold one another by the waist
sending folded messages by way of tractor and dust;
no, the world has never been bigger.
I don’t know where to find this love
but I can tell you what it would say over breakfast or a phone call:
Its over-used, burdening, single syllable exclaim
has very little
to do with anything.
This isn’t real-estate. This is a t-shirt pulled from the hamper
and wrapped across a pillow
mocking the envelope of my mother’s elbow.
This is a night spent in our gambrel roof garage
to find the post-it from 1999 that was never meant
to be torn from the wall.
The world is getting smaller! she says I will say I know they will say too.
I swell each time you grow.
We’re running out of room.
Judge for 2009: Paul Muldoon
Winner & finalists will spend the day at Smith College, meeting privately with Mr. Muldoon to discuss their poetry, and presenting their winning work at his evening reading on April 21, 2009.