“Six Poems” by Laura Read

Issue 80

Found in Willow Springs 80

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She wore white flats and her feet always

looked cold. I invited her to my house

and we spread our homework all over the couch

and ate all the graham crackers

and drank all the milk my mother

had watered down with powdered

and made something between us just from the hours.

Her mother took us to the thrift store

and bought us cardigans and rhinestone rings

someone dead had worn.

Some nights we drove to Cheney

and stayed with her dad who let us drink

and smoke and wear his army jackets and camo

pants when we went outside

in the middle of the night to see what dangers

we could find. Her face and neck

got blotchy when she cried.

She made me buy black boots with slits

on the sides and listen to the Violent Femmes

and Annie Lennox. We had nothing in common

except Annie singing Oh we were so young

as we drove down her street under

the yellow maples. I liked the way the leaves

flew around the car, and I liked listening

to the sounds of the diner where Annie

was singing, the spoons hitting the coffee cups

and the people talking.

I thought maybe this is what it was like

to have a sister, someone not like you at all

but who had sat in the same car and heard

the same songs, someone whose threadbare

sweater you'd worn. Someone who had kissed

the boy you loved so you couldn't talk to him

anymore. Someone whose body slept

next to yours in your bed and hers,

and all night you could feel the sighing

space between you, where you almost touched.

Wayward sister, weird sister, weird as in

not pretty like the other girls with the soft

hair and nice clothes. Pretty is a word

that hurts, its ts like staples. Pretty

like a camouflaged girl, like the sound

of fifty silver bracelets clanging together

on an arm, saying I need to make this sound

so you will know I have something inside of me,

how else can you explain the way I can make

this cigarette bloom with fire? Weird as in

we could see the future. For example, the boy.

We put him in the cauldron.




Fresco means fresh,       means the plaster is wet               and you paint on it

and what you paint     becomes part of the wall,                    means a crack in the wall

becomes a crack in a face,       a beautiful face.           Let there be a girl on the ground

in a plaid uniform jumper,              the skirt lifted up.                   Let there be a knife

hanging over her from a thread.          We need a tree,                apricot for the one

in her backyard.           Her mother sliced them in half.           Their skin tasted

like her own.   One year the tree                          dropped all its apricots at once.

Paint something in the corner for death,            a full moon            perfectly still

and then its reflection on the water, moving.                      Paint the long dress

she wore that day.        Long like a girl from long ago.            Like maybe

she wasn't even there.                   I bought her a suitcase           to keep her letters

but it's only big enough           for her old dresses and coats.              They are mute

so she can't give them away.                   Let's paint the suitcase.          A yellow dog

a patchwork sheet                   a skein of hair              the wind's fingerprints on the lake.

The other day I saw a child cry.          The tears just came over her,  there was no

stopping them         and I remembered being young            and how you can't help

anything           how someone can touch you   and make you feel good          and bad

in the same moment,            how your body is always flooding          and cracking open.




It's what we call a girl who likes lipstick

and dresses and what my son has to call

a girl in the play when he is coming on to her,

playing Charlie Cowell, a salesman

who sells anvils. He doesn't have the time

but he sure has the inclination.

My son who is only fourteen

and who has never come on to a girl

or a woman, who knows

that girlie girl is a way to put girls down

for being too much like girls

and tomboy is a way to put girls

down for not being girl enough,

my son whose first kiss is on stage

when this girl tries to distract him

to make him late for his train

not because she likes him

not because he's the hero

but because he's in the hero's way.

My son who says he's a character actor

not a hero, that his drama teacher said

It's good to know who you are.

But this is The Music Man, the play

with a swindler for a hero,

with the message that it doesn't matter

if you lie as long as you lift the spirits

of the drab people of Iowa.

It's good to believe in something

even if it isn't true.

I was a girlie girl. Still am.

Look at my shoes. I always buy

Mary Janes as if it would be disloyal

to choose something else, something

with a pointed toe and a heel,

something that somehow suggested

a dark room with a piano, ice cubes

in short glasses, smoke swirling

like the possibility of sex,

only briefly visible.

By girlie I mean like a girl

and not like a woman. Which is what

my son means when he propositions

Marion--he means she is still innocent,

which he likes and wants to ruin.

I mean this is what Charlie means,

not my son whose body used

to live inside mine. But my son is the one

saying the line.




Once I went to a kegger at my childhood home.

I didn't know I was going but Jen was sitting

on her dresser listening to the Eagles

and curling her hair and then we were walking

through the dark neighborhood and then

we were on my porch and someone

was handing me a plastic cup.

I said This is my porch and he laughed

and said Mine too, but it wasn't.

He didn't know there was supposed to be

a brown-flowered couch in the living room

and over the mantle, a print of a Rembrandt

called The Jewish Bride, 16 67.

For all of childhood, it hung there

and I never knew what it was called or why,

how an art dealer said it was a father giving

a necklace to his daughter for her wedding,

but how most art historians now think

it is actually Isaac and Rebecca.

There was another keg in my room

in the basement. Strangers were moving

between my invisible bed and my stereo,

stepping over my clothes on the floor,

staring at themselves in my mirror,

wondering if they would ever be good enough.

The water rushed through the pipes

and the furnace made that sound

like it used to. I had to stand in the corner,

drinking and singing both parts

of "Total Eclipse of the Heart,"

holding the note at the end of Turn around

bright eyes long enough to imply it was still

going when I started Every now and then

I fall apart. This was the song I listened to

late at night while I waited for my boyfriend

to come pick me up so we could drive through

the empty streets in the dark.

Years later, that same boy will go back

to that house to show me he remembered

where it was. You know how they say

the wind gets knocked out of you,

like there's wind blowing through your ribs

all the time and then suddenly it's quiet?

In the painting, the man and the woman

are not looking at each other.

I like it when one thing covers another

but not completely, like fog.

Rembrandt was famous for his ability

to concentrate light. In the painting,

the light shines on the man's hand

touching the woman's chest.

Everything else is dark.




I am sitting on the porch on our house on 19th

staring at the tree I am too frightened to climb.

I am amazed by my legs. They are short and round

with little blonde hairs that shine in the sun.

I like them. I have a scar on my right hand,

close to my thumb, where a mother Dalmatian

bit me when I tried to pet her puppy.

The scar looks like a crescent moon in the daytime.


I am sitting in my desk at school, looking down

at my stomach, thinking it wouldn't be that hard

to just slice it off. But how will I hide what I've done?


I am swimming in Mica Bay with my boyfriend.

He can't float so I put my hand under his back.

You have to let yourself fall into the water, I tell him.

He can't. Mica is shining slivers in a rock.

The stars pull their needles through the water.


In the water, my body is secretly beautiful.

I am a seal who has to wear the body of a woman.

No one has touched it and said don't tell anyone.

No boy has kept his picture of Tina on his dresser,

putting it facedown when I come over.

I have never met Tina but I picture her driving

down a California freeway in a red convertible

that matches her red nails and lips.

She is tan and thin, but in the water,


our bodies are the same, our limbs light and swaying

like a willow tree's branches.

I loved willow trees when I was a child.

You could go inside them and no one

knew you were there.


I have a C-section scar.

Sometimes it still hurts when I roll over in bed.

When I open my eyes underwater,

for a moment I can't tell the difference

between the seaweed and my hair.




What you need to know is that a Lincoln-Douglas debate requires

three judges in the final rounds. And that we waited in the room

for a long time for the third judge who then sauntered in


and said he would keep time and the other judges should share

their paradigms first because he liked to go last. You also need

to know that my son is one of the debaters and the other one


is a girl with beautiful hair. The resolution this fall

is The US. ought to limit qualified immunity for police officers.

I remember when it was the right to be forgotten and all


we were talking about was erasing ourselves from the internet.

Not black men being pulled over and shot one after another.

My son drew the affirmative and argued that the tyranny


of the majority over the minority results in the Trail of Tears

and he said the girl with the beautiful hair was abusive

when she said he had to change the whole legal system


to end racism, which I agreed with because how could Ben

do that, standing there in his first suit, reading his case

from his laptop with the stickers on the back that said


Hey Moon and Transcend the Bullshit At the end of the round,

the judges filled out their ballots while we sat in silence

and the third judge again declared he would go last.


The first two judges sided with my son and the Cherokee

walking from Georgia to Oklahoma in 1838 who needed

no one to have any more power over them than they already


did and the girl with the beautiful hair who looked like

just a few years before she was lying on her basement floor

playing with plastic horses and dreaming they were real


and she could climb on one and it would take off running

and her hair would fly behind her seemed to understand

that she had debated well but had come up against


what was right. And then the third judge said he was voting

for her and even though his vote didn't matter because it was 2-1,

he made us listen and we were trapped in that high school


Spanish classroom, staring at Day of the Dead

posters and thinking of the 234 black men who the cops killed

this year while he said her argument was the Eiffel Tower


and Ben's was that upside-down building in Seattle

and I thought what upside-down building and doesn't

an upside-down building still have an architectural design


and speaking of Paris, had he seen the Centre Pompidou

with all its pipes on the outside so it looks like the inside

of a clock or a pocket or a fantastic mind and then he said


the Trail of Tears didn't seem to fit and I thought seem?

and why am I hating this man who is telling all of us

that we have just witnessed Lincoln-Douglas at its finest


as if that is what matters? Of course, he is not the first man

who has ever told me what he said was the most important

and his argument is so phallic and shining and pointing


straight up to the sky where we keep the clouds and reason

and God and why can't I see it and all I have

are the blue veins in my wrists as proof for my side.


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