I don’t remember if the bottle was a Coke or a Fresca,
just that the glass was cool against our hands
in the warm, empty tool shed. Where we’d gathered
after swimming all afternoon at Debbie Worthman’s
eighth grade pool party, everyone’s skin damp
and blue in the shadows, the boys’ chests bare,
the other girls wearing cute, peek-a-boo cover-ups
that matched their demure suits. And me with a frayed
blue shirt of my father’s, its tails tied fetchingly
around my first bikini, a homemade job I’d stitched
up in pink and red paisley from a Simplicity pattern,
the bottom half barely on because I’d run out of elastic.
I don’t know what Debbie’s parents thought when we slipped
away, leaving the pool. Or whose idea it was as we trudged
up the hill between her father’s prize-winning roses,
their scent filling the air like primitive attar,
their metal name tags chinking in the breeze. That seemed
to have come up from nowhere, pushing at us with invisible
hands as we locked ourselves inside the half dark
that smelled of wood chips and compost, our eyes dilating
like cats’, faces suddenly pale beneath Coppertone tans.
I wasn’t sure why I’d been invited to this party
or why I’d come, except that he was here, the boy
who’d pushed me into the pool more times than any other girl,
and who, when the guys “rated” the girls during a lull
in Mr. Tallerico’s “Classical Music Experience,”
had given me a “9,” Beethoven’s booming, making me feel
almost good enough, almost deserving of his attention.
Which, when it fell on me, when our eyes caught
and locked, threw out a tensile, silk line that hooked
my breath and heart as easily as he made jump-shots at games,
the ball teetering on the orange rim—then bingo, in.
While the sweaty mascot pranced in the moth-eaten tiger
suit, and cheerleaders scissored their perfect legs,
and I’d held my breath, hoping he’d look my way, his hand
dribbling the ball as if he was touching my body.
All that, pressurized and pushed down inside as someone
twirled the bottle and it spun, blurring as we held
our breath like fourteen-year-old yogis and (thank God)
it pointed at someone else. From whom I had to look away
as their lips met, my stepmother’s injunctions—Don’t
stare; cross your legs at the ankles—loud in my head.
Though I would have liked pointers, one dry, chaste peck
the year before from Bruce Colley all I had to go on.
But I gazed down until the bottle whirled toward me,
its opening like the little “oh” of surprise that undid
a slipknot inside my body, something not quite desire,
but what I’d soon call anticipation, singing along
with Carley Simon’s song, a fist in my solar plexus
opening and closing like a Luna moth’s wings.
As he moved across the circle and tilted my face up,
his palm cupped beneath the curve of my cheek,
then fastened his silky, Doublemint-scented mouth
over mine, everything in the room disappearing
in the plush wriggle of his tongue, the slight
thrust of his cock stirring beneath cut-off jeans.
And my tongue moving back. As if I had been born
knowing this, as if we were back in the pool,
his hand water on my skin, the rest of the kids gone,
the inside of my eyelids spangled with paisley swirls.
As I leaned further and further into this kiss that would
sustain me all summer, practicing for the next one
with my pillow or the fleshy part of my palm, enlisting
for life to the lure of the male’s hard, angular body,
the taste of mint everywhere like clean, green rain.
–from Rattle #28, Winter 2007
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Alison Townsend: “I write poetry to make discoveries, to articulate what feels (at least initially) beyond words, to find out what I don’t know I know.”