Jamaica Baldwin ’08

Jamaica Baldwin’s poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Hayden’s Ferry, Rattle, Spiral Orb, Birdfeast, Third Coast Review, Prairie Schooner and the Seattle Review of Books where she was the March 2017 poet in residence. Jamaica has received nominations for Pushcart and Sundress Best of Net and is the recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and the winner of the 2019 San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference Contest. She received her MFA from Pacific University Oregon and was a 2017 Jack Straw Writer’s Fellow. She currently lives in Lincoln, NE where she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing at UNL.)

L and I

If L were a horse
she’d have been a Mustang
not because of her nighttime shine
but because she was brassy
and had a tongue so sharp
you’d mistake it for confidence.

So when L talked about the boy
she almost met at third base
then leaned me back on the bed and said, like this,
I didn’t budge.
And perhaps I’m the horse in this story too
moving in unison with a body
that knew not to show fear.

L had things I coveted:
the Michael Jackson jacket and glove,
God and heaven,
even though she once told me I was going to hell
because I didn’t believe.
But I had a room with a bed
that didn’t tell us girls shouldn’t kiss girls,
and a mother that never tried to slow
my curious down with a belt,
who would have come to my aid
if Uncle anyone tried to make a woman out of me.
But this is what I know now.

Back then,
L and I took turns under covers,
exploring each other’s marsh and bayous.
L was a big-boned girl and looked grown,
though we were the same age,
and because she had been taken
under covers before—
she knew things.
And because someone she loved
could have done something
but didn’t,
our exposed softness being a choice,
was a kind of sweetness for her
I couldn’t have known.

I choose to remember her that way
vulnerable and coy, hardened yet hopeful.
I choose not that face
on my computer screen
twenty-five years later,
no longer sure about heaven,
no longer bristling,
but broken in.
Bit secured around mouth,
pulling and pulling
her rightfully-bitter
back into a smile no one would mistake
for happiness.
Beautiful as always, she’d typed. 

What I said?
It’s nice to hear from you after all these years.
Of course
I’d prefer to tell her
how youthful and happy she looked,
how cared-for and confident
but, this is all to say
I didn’t want to be tested this way.

So, I closed my eyes and pictured
the Mustangs in the wild,
and the larger, darker, braver one
leaping and bucking,
not to loosen something unwanted from her back
but for the joy of having a body capable
of such innocent pleasures.

Published in the Fall 2017 issue of Third Coast Magazine