“Self-Portrait By Someone Else” by Courtney Kampa

Courtney Kampa


The afternoon we traced our 2nd grade bodies
with poster paint, legs V-shaped on paper
like the outlines of victims at a crime scene,
I was the only girl stuck partnered with a boy—
his fists filthy from prying back scalps
of onion grass, bug shells crushed up in his teeth
because he’d liked the sound. He refused
all paint-colors but blue. Leaned over me,
complaining loudly to his friends. Then his lip,
heavy with focus. And the red wing
of his tongue. Dragging his paintbrush
like a match in a room of gasoline. The week before
Debbie Kaw passed a note saying babies
came from standing too close to a boy,
or if one sweat on you, or spat
in your direction. So the girls called it brave, what I did,
letting one trace me. And I let them think so—
let them run ahead in the carpool line,
the blood still returning to my knees.
Let my mother hang it full length on the refrigerator.
The white space something I’d stepped from.
Its thick blue line sort of wobbly
between my thighs, where his hands shook.
In the mornings my little sister would stand
on one foot, looking at it. Her groggy pajamas.
Her hands playing in her lunatic hair.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Courtney Kampa: “One of the many 23-year-olds in New York City, I’m from Virginia and miss it.” (web)

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