“History of a Body” by Jeanmarie Evelly

Jeanmarie Evelly


He wants to know what it’s like to be a woman
so I say, we all got touched in ways we didn’t want.
The first for me at fifteen, drunk
and asleep on a friend’s living room floor.
I’d only kissed one boy so far, but it isn’t this boy,
the one who’s climbed on top of me to slip his hands
under the elastic of my pajama bottoms,
this stranger who says he loves me.

Later, the one at the bar who reaches up my skirt.
But didn’t you know it was a compliment?
Don’t you know he thinks you’re cute?
Then grown and on my way to work, the older man
on the loaded subway car whose hand finds my crotch
with every lurch and sway through the tunnel.
I think I must be mistaken until he turns to me
with a wink and asks, Crowded today, isn’t it?

He wants to know what it’s like to be a woman
so I say, it’s two parts shame and three parts rage.
Trying hard to separate your worth from your weight.
Each trip to the mailbox, the bus stop, the store
interrupted with smile, with sexy, with
give me a view of that fat ass, sweetheart!
Someday I’d like to get to know myself
outside of this body.

My whole life I’ve been a pretty little thing.
Now I’m not so little, and maybe not
as pretty anymore. What’s it like to be a woman?
I don’t tell him this part
but sometimes I worry that I’ll miss it later—
maybe my only power being siphoned away
each year like so many drops of water
in a hose that’s just turned off.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019


Jeanmarie Evelly: “I’ve been working on some version of this poem, in different forms, for the last fifteen years or so. Which is a good summation of my relationship to poetry: I write it to help me hash things out, to examine the feelings and experiences I can’t shake until I put them down somewhere. There’s a line in the Ray Carver short, ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ where the main character keeps telling people the same story over and over again: ‘There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out.’ I think of that often in relation to my own writing: I am trying to get it—whatever it is—talked out. I’m grateful to have a place to do that.” (web)

Rattle Logo