you are in the diode archives fall 2010



This Is Not the Poem

in which the good girl learns
         the leather jacket, the joint,

                  the rug burns on her knees.

The poem of a small flask filled
         with heat she tries to swallow,
                  as she will swallow other things,
because he likes to watch
         her open mouth.  Not the poem
                  as spinning bottle in the basement,

the body that turns and turns
         upon itself, dizzy taste
                  of spiked punch, ashtray lips.

Or the first tongue stud.
         The first tonguing like someone lost
                  in an unexpected room.  Not

the first hand fumbling her shirt,
         discovering the lay of buttons,
                  the tease of eye and hook. 

Instead.  The poem of pimples.
         Call them zits.  The poem of braces                                 
                  pinching until a kiss becomes

the same as being punished
         by her mom.  She hates this poem,
                  that she is not the ponytail,

the pop of cherry gum.  The poem
         that cannot flirt—a skirt flipped up,

                  a flash of panties in the breeze. 



Ugly is the new beautiful, my best friend said,
          brushing shadow
on my eyes, a color called sludge
          Suddenly plaid flannel
was a way of softening how strange we’d become,
          our arms like streets
in a stretched-out city, how tall we were,
          jangled with caffeine. 
The end of school was a rest stop someone kept moving
          further away. 
The clock kept dragging its aluminum hands. 
          We changed our minds
about boys, dumped the ones who slid the walls
          of empty swimming pools,
gliding their skateboards in reverse. 
          Or the debate champions
who answered every question with a rough
          tongue of tweed. 
Other strangers were the answer. We tied
          on weighted boots,
painted our nails radioactive,
          forgot to wash
our hair.  We played the same CD a thousand times,
          imagined heroin, cocaine,
any foreign beating in the blood.  Ugly
          was the new desiring—
it made asphalt easy to love, our mouths a shade
          of oil slick. 



                    Theater camp—which meant we acted
like adults or how we thought adults would be,
if they stayed brave forever,
          always reciting secrets to the dim

          audience of the world,
                    each whisper pitched to carry.  
It took training to speak so clearly or the backstage
shadows, the velvet curtain

where we watched lovers imitate desire,
          the O of open mouths,
          one body draped across another
                                        like a yard of cloth. 
                    Michelle, who strangled my hand
as if in answer to the scene—all day, we ran lines,
passed words in the small company between us.
          We practiced fighting on the mats,

false slaps, a choreography of jabs
and punches that left us with real bruises. 
          Three-quarter speed.  Full speed. 
                                                  The trick to falling

was locking eyes.  The trick was looking back at her.
                    We dressed in black,
                    carried props to the table—
          a bowl of wax oranges

          that looked so fresh we almost tasted juice,
a wallet full of counterfeit,
a plastic baby in a bassinet. 
In vocal class, we said to be, or not be

                              without the consonants.
We rolled on the ground to find the infant cry
inside our lungs.  What we wanted—a speech
                    about the thorn-memory of flowers.

Everyone was an ingénue that June
or played the ancient lady or wore the pants.
                    Everyone was in costume,
          moving like someone else, from

                              the hips, the jutting chin,
                              from the gap between our legs. 
We learned to hold a sword—the foil
                    just our sharpest point. 

                                        We sang on cue.
One night we bought sangria with her fake ID,
drank from the box until the dorm room faded out.
          Wine and citrus on our tongues— 

                    the word for blood. 
We had rehearsed the bed and the drawn curtain.
                              Easy, then, to close our eyes,
                              improvise the way

our teachers told us to, Yes, And 
—and Yes and Yes, repeating like an exercise until we fell
                              asleep.   Skin to skin felt true
          enough, like what actors call the moment

                    We curled into the moment of that place—
          only my fingers in the naked dark,
the opening of that summer,
                              the brightened arch of her.  


Water through a Hand

In the changing room,
  a woman loops the tape
    around my chest.

I hold my breath against
  the measurement
    and remember

my mother, how she used
  to stand this close
    when I was five,

shampooing my hair,
  the scent of apples
    filling up our bath,

how I watched through wet
  eyelashes the small wet
    curls of her,

and her breasts that swayed
  like an afterthought
    of the body. 

I never asked to touch,
  although I often did
    as if by accident.

At other times, so distant
  from the nakedness
    of the shower,

she exchanged a black lace bra
  for nude, her back to me,
    a strand of pearls

laid out across the bed,
  her clip-on earrings
    oystered in a velvet box.

That was thirty years ago,
  when what I wanted
    was dresses pink

as tender parts, or a pair
  of Mary Janes
    in mirror-shine.  Here, 

I raise my arms to learn
  cup size and band.
    I try on bits of cloth

that match my skin—
  and this satin
    paradox of women,

the wire of our movements,
  the way we slip
    like water through a hand.  


Jehanne Dubrow’s  work has appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Ploughshares, and The New Republic.  She is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Stateside (Northwestern UP).