The old man cruises our neighborhood
in a 2-tone Chevy built like a fort;
he offers 25 cents to the girls
who’ll come close enough to let him pinch
a cheek—gaze hidden behind dark
glasses, one hand on the wheel,
one eye on the rearview mirror.
Across the street, we dare
each other: you do it; no,
you do it—pulled as much by the glory
of what a whole quarter buys,
by the yearning to be wanted
by someone—we’re just trailer court kids
on a Saturday morning made of asphalt,
shaggy pines and rain. Our mothers
chain smoke Pall Malls inside thin walls,
fathers or stepfathers or mothers’ boyfriends
out hunting work or already drinking.
We’ve all spent nights waiting outside The Mecca
in our parents’ old cars, peering over back seats
into dark windows as if wishing
could erase those light-years of distance.
I am a hungry heart on skinny legs,
standing on the edge of a journey—
no maps, no guides, instincts muddled
by neglect or abandonment or mistake;
naked, letting other people dress me
in trust, shame, lust. I want to say
I will learn how to hide my longing—
that invisible sign scrawled on my forehead
like an SOS revealing my location to the enemy—
but the truth is something more like this:
If there is a patron saint of trailer courts,
if Our Lady of the Single-Wide watches over
potholed streets, crew-cut bullies,
stolen bikes and wildflower ditches, if
children learn to brandish scabs and scars
like medals; if a prayer exists to banish predators—
well, no one taught me that magic.
So I step into that road, cross that street,
take that bribe—and keep walking, out
of that trailer park, away from that childhood.
I follow my hunger, my emptiness, the flame
on my forehead not betrayal but reminder:
it’s not wrong to want, to ask—not wrong—
I keep the beacon lit so love might see me.
Copyright © 2021 by Deborah A. Miranda. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“‘Torch’ speaks to the shame that haunts children of neglect who are left vulnerable to sexual assault. Such children grow up immersed in a maze of loneliness. Loneliness for contact, for touch, for the full attention of someone who cares. We are taught that this need is wrong. This poem follows my younger self through that maze to a moment of clarity: It wasn’t me that was wrong. It was never me.”
—Deborah A. Miranda
Deborah A. Miranda
Date Published: 2021-03-05
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/torch