Her father said don’t stay out late,
his hand too long on her shoulder.
I would have driven a mower into the side
of his blue Camaro but my feet couldn’t
reach the pedals. I could have punched
high enough to graze the perfect arc
of his jaw, but I wasn’t strong yet.
My mother promised me height,
a broad chest, and hands big enough
to sing all the songs of war.
His smile swung its hook above us,
so we leapt gates, she and I.
Pretend you’re a scorpion
and I’ll be the peregrine, talons out.
You can’t hide!
Our paths tore grass,
crazed gnats in the fallow.
Deer flies followed us back home
and needled into dreams in which
we shed skin like wool and writhed
under pins and wires—because bugs have bugs
that bite ‘em. I dreamt of feeding pieces
of myself into the mouth of a beast
until the beast outweighed my fear.
When we woke starred with bites, her father
flung her against the wall as if to slap dust
off a rug. His handprint on her faded slow
as water off a handkerchief. The things
we were taught had something to do
with mosquitos hurtling themselves at us
like there was a law for it, with her mother
dozing in the window, and with what touch does
to make a girl a castaway bird, grieving
from the boughs, an out-in-the-open orphan
gentling toward a dying time.
I couldn’t muster the courage to ask
how she could still vault a rain barrel in sheer glee.
Only allowed to finger the last knot of her hair,
I kept chasing till my legs were a twist
of nerves and brittle gears.
I am neither strong nor tall
and my hands can’t grasp
beyond the quiet in us, wary as deer
in the clearing where she’d command me
to undress. Lay down. Don’t move.
I wanted to believe wasps could fumble
painlessly against us like snow
tumbled from the leaves’ miscellaneous hands.
She wanted to be dangerous, the one
giving orders, and so on ad infinitum . . .
Copyright © 2023 by Frank Gallimore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.