BY JEANANN VERLEE
Maybe I learned it in the backyard
collecting sticks, building huts of salvaged
cardboard, mud. Maybe it was the way
dirt nestled black under my fingernails,
only to be wrestled out in bathwater; maybe
it was how I refused the bath. Or how I’d cut
my knees scaling the low, rough branches
of our neighbor’s pine; or tangle my hair
into knots rummaging the scrap yard, baiting
crawdads, skipping rocks in the drainage ditch.
Maybe it was helping dad change oil in the Ford,
or building campfires or digging up earthworms
or the long afternoons spent scouting abandoned mines
deep in the backcountry.
Maybe, though, it was the way their eyes
brightened when my mother, clouded in rum,
shook the dance floor/pool hall/parking lot.
How the right blues song would launch her hips,
and they’d sit layered in smoke and Jack Daniels,
spellbound, taking in the show.
Or maybe it was how we’d pass romance novels
in the lunchroom, sharing particulars
of genitals and musk. Or how we practiced
our new art on Coke bottles or bananas, straining
for the stretch. Maybe it was the way we forced
our eyes to unscramble porn, or the sweetness
we discovered in the meat of each other’s breasts
deep in our mouths. Maybe it was the tequila,
the salt licked off a neck. Or the way
the first boy in Juarez slid under my skirt in a back room.
The way the point guard unbuttoned my shirt
in the stairwell after practice. Or how the kid
with the teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye
gripped my hips, how he never uttered a word.
Jeanann Verlee is author of Racing Hummingbirds (Write Bloody Publishing, 2010), recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in Poetry. She has also been awarded the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, and failbetter, among others. Learn more at jeanannverlee.com.