“Channel 37” by Michele Graaff

Michele Graaff


Cable TV dreams cast out
from a clickety slide bar channel
changer. One of us, sister or I,
standing on thick beige carpet
in our tapered teen jeans, scrunchied
hair and socks, to slide fast
the changer, a zipper whip
of color flashes on the screen, fast
faces with perfect bangs, movies
made of satin romance,
commercials zing a jingle, sugar cereal
we can’t have, never pastel charm girls.
All these vague wonders, zip-zipping
careless, until we landed
on Nickelodeon or MTV.
A click too far was VH1
and Steve Winwood
wasn’t our jam, like George
Michael, or Duran Duran.
Stop there,
because higher up the slider,
we got nervous.
We were little girls who kept
ears open for the tremble of trouble,
in footsteps, in screen door slams.
Never slide that bar past 36.
Except I did.
When sister wasn’t around,
I kept going, but slow.     Click     click     click
Stop. Squint crooked
at the mish-mash vertical rainbow
of that scrambled channel.
Finger the volume knob down,
hiding the hiss and scratch,
the heavy breathing. My ears perk
to the weird moan of pain-not-pain.
The pain of finding
a mosquito bite itch
with sharp fingernails
and going at it hard.
Sometimes the secret screen cleared
—just for a second—
and a leg glowed smooth,
flexed and looped
around—a waist? 
A neck?
Other times the TV lightning
bolts broke the pixels like magic
and suddenly, there were breasts.
Nipples bright-blushed
like Barbie skin. Tits,
groans a fuzzy-voiced man.
My hand on the channel slide jerks
the signal back to safety.
Something in me buzzes—
a bug trapped
in the jar of my rounding pelvis.
I would know
secret bodies, know much later
to see them with half-closed eyes.
A muscled hip, a knee by an ear,
a throat wide open,
teeth in the scrambled dark.
Would come to know
all of it was trouble.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019


Michele Graaff: “In thinking about what my words represent, all I can say is that writing poetry allows me the distillation of the aching, weird, hard, and lovely into something seemingly manageable, maybe even solved. Even if that relief and understanding only last as long as I pencil the page. Poems are often paper prayers of grace.” (web)

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