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.