The teenaged girl is searching for a place
that goes through, the hole
to put the tampon inside. When she finds it
she asks her mother, Is this where the penis would go?
Yes, her mother explains.
Then I will never have sex.
Sweltering New York City. She wears a red dress with a silver necklace, bangle, and earrings. A college friend she’s known for years says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your body.” He’s right. Though she thinks of her body constantly, she hadn’t realized how masterfully she’d hidden it. She has no idea what has freed her.
In midsummer, strawberries in the uphill
garden redden deeply. About two
handfuls haven’t been eaten through
by slugs and ants.
She deliberates which one to pick.
Mirrors lined the front wall of the ballet studio. There, students were trained to inspect themselves, correct mistakes, and follow the more advanced dancers by watching them in the mirror. A few weeks before a performance, the ballet instructor would reorient the dancers one hundred and eighty degrees. The back of the room would become the front. There are, the instructor reminded the dancers, no mirrors on stage. From that point on, they’d have to depend on rehearsal, muscle memory, musicality, will. They smiled at their imaginary audience and ran lightly on their tip toes as if they weighed nothing at all.
Her mother says, I think
you’ll change your mind.
Her mother says,
Sex can be many things.
This far north, the sky glows blue-white well past eleven o’clock. Night becomes a drawn-out goodbye. All day, birds swoop between the pines and what she calls The Roosting Tree. She thinks they may be terns because of how they dart, fall, and rescue themselves, turning their bodies in the air. Their white bellies flashing.
The hairs on the strawberry remind her
of the black wisps above her lip and under
her chin. Her mother has a stubborn
gray hair near her upper lip
she can’t see in the mirror.
Daughter plucks the hair. As soon
as she turns her back the hair grows back.
Picking roses, poppies, and long grasses, her friend says flowermonger meaning florist. It feels as if they are in a Jane Austen novel, ambling through a landscape painting come to life. A rhyme about two magpies flying. Everywhere are superstitions. Something about an odd number grouping of flowers. Nowhere nearby is a stereo bumping, She’s a brick house. She’s mighty mighty, letting it all hang out. Only the big sound of the river onward. The squash blossoms unfurl the way a woman might reach her lover’s lips on tip toe. The apples grow redder and heavier. The place where the river turns back on itself is the spot where you can wade into the water. They don’t run toward a patch of blue sky; they muddy their boots and walk in the rain.
When she bites into the strawberry,
it is sour.
Ed said women poets find certain topics off-limits. He said several central experiences don’t find their way into poems. Skeptical, she asked for an example. Like the relationship between sisters-in-law, he said. She admitted he was right. Later, concerning a woman she loved like a sister, she wrote:
It’s not her beauty or her husband
I’m envious of, it’s her willingness to stay
in a burning house in order to get what she wants:
a baby, a collaborator, a glimmer
of glamour and fame. And the house—
she has a huge house to live in as it burns.
In Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, Jadine is orphaned,
fucked like a star, and towards the end of the novel,
orphaned again. Nanadine urges:
“Jadine, a girl has got to be a daughter first. She have to learn that. And if she never learns how to be a daughter, she can’t never learn how to be a woman.”
the long, slow drink of June
evenings stretched out like a dress on a bed
Family by birth, sisters by choice or Sisters by blood, friends by choice: something like that her sister-in-law quoted in a long letter / In the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle, asks her aunt and uncle to stay behind so she might read her sister Jane’s letters: Would you be very angry if I beg you to postpone our outing? she asks, while raising her eyebrows and bringing the letters closer to her chest / Celie finding Nettie’s letters in The Color Purple / They named the paired mallards Toni and Angela. Without having to confer, they knew Toni was distinguished by a blue feather. One night, during a storm, they saw Toni without Angela. Toni squawked and cried out. It moved her, this crying out. At her insistence, they searched for Angela too, until he said, I don’t think we’ll have better luck finding her than a duck. They got out of the rain. She worried in her sleep. The next day, she was relieved to see Angela, not far from Toni, swimming in the pool / In Catholic school, they called the nuns Sister and the priests Father / It’s okay, she offers, when her brother calls her by his wife’s name / New sister, old sister, half-sister, big sister, kid sister, sister-friend, girlfriend, girl, honey chile, sweet pea, sweetness, dear heart, llama, tweedledee, bestie, best, the best, forever / Because she didn’t want to be the type of girl who fought over boys, she let her friend have him . . . losing her friend, not the boy, broke her heart /
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
She doesn’t want to be mother
or daughter. She wants to shine, throb,
and burn out the sky. Over and over
again, she wants to be fucked like a star.
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
The rest of the strawberries,
bunched up with the red ones,
are pale green, undisturbed,