Laura Cresté
Gentle or Not

After we leave New York, I read a book about how to not

     let the internet destroy my brain. I think

          the answer is to have been raised in California,


to be a completely different person. At home

     people clap every night for healthcare workers.

          They clap like someone who’s seen their friend’s play


or flown in a plane when planes were still new.

     I call it sweet but don’t know how to judge

          public gestures, like when after the towers fell,


after our mother pulled us out of school,

     my little sister chastened me:

          “You shouldn’t be reading right now.”


My friends take me canoeing in the Housatonic River,

     where the drought is obvious, water low

          and undressing the downed trees.


Steve noses his canoe through narrow channels

     of branches. I break through brutely, scraping

          the belly of the boat against water-softened


trunks while a beaver slaps toward us, as if injured.

     Steve says she’s luring us away from her babies,

          den entrance exposed by the dropped waterline.


I’d like to be able to look at a thing and know

     what I’m seeing, the way my friend points an oar

          at a pile of rocks and sees the trestle it once was.


Spring is working on me. I don’t want to

     change yet, but fawns and goats and all the girls

          I knew in high school tell me it’s time to have a baby.


I might listen or else settle for a dog

     so large we name it Bear. When it finally

          rains, the house shakes with thunder, wine


glasses chatter coldly and moss on the trees

     brightens like wet velvet. I think I’m all

          right but in dreams my teeth shatter.


The gardeners tell us to weed to protect

     the new flowers. Every time I hear that word

          I remember teenage friends—boys blowing pot smoke


at a spider trapped in the middle of its web,

     until it seized up and died. When I imagine

          children, I want boys who are gentle or not at all.


I pull at crown vetch until there are ticks in the crooks

     of my arms. Mike says we’ll have them whenever

          I want. But I want too many things, babies, yes, but also


to eat pizza in the street with unclean hands, unworried.

     I want to know the world the way my mother does,

          sprouting nasturtium seeds on damp paper towels in the kitchen.


I tend my own but cheat, buy them full-grown from the nursery,

     leaves round as saucers, in the way of daughters

          fearing their mothers like them less each year we grow older.


Found In Volume 51, No. 06
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  • laura creste
Laura Cresté
About the Author

Laura Cresté is the author of the chapbook You Should Feel Bad, which won a Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. She holds an MFA from New York University and received a 2021–22 fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.