September 21, 2020

Laura Read


We were having breakfast
for dinner, which is never good for me
because I don’t like eggs,
and this seems to offend some people
but is not something I can fix.

Someone brought up Monica Lewinsky,
how she has a TED talk now,
and then someone else asked if
it was about giving good blowjobs.
I said No, it’s about shame.

This was stronger than what
I usually do, but not strong enough,
so here I am, mechanical pencil
scraping away on the receipt
from the vet as I wait for the car wash, 
trying to make amends. 

When I was a child, 
I had a friend named Monica 
who painted my fingernails red. 
When her mom saw,
she removed the polish right away
because Red was for hussies.

Monica asked the audience
to raise their hands if they had not
done something when they were 22
that they regretted. 

When I was 22, 
I made the biggest mistake of my life.
I will never forgive myself
though I couldn’t help it.
And the thing is
I don’t have to tell you.

I should have said more
on Monica’s behalf.
I sat at that table while people said
she should have changed her name,
and my husband was the one 
who said that Monica pointed out 
that Bill Clinton didn’t have to. 

I was mostly silent, staring at my nails,
which I had just gotten done that afternoon 
to see if I could stop biting them. 

When I was 22, 
I had a rule that I could only bite 
three a night because 
more than three band-aids 
looked like a problem.

But now my nails looked good.
The polish was clear
but had little flecks of glitter
that flashed like intelligence
when they caught the light.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Laura Read: “I wrote ‘Monica’ because I wanted to say what I should have said in the moment, which is sometimes, for me at least, the role poetry plays.”

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September 16, 2020

Laura Read


I can’t decide if it is something to be ashamed of
or proud. It could mean I gave up integrity
for affirmation. That I was pretty and popular
enough. It could undermine my desire for people
in the present to consider me smart. Which is insulting
to me and other cheerleaders and also to my audience.
I had a patch with my name on it and one 
with a bullpup because that was our mascot, 
I had a letter sweater like it was the 1950s 
because I considered letter jackets too bulky 
and masculine, and I had designed myself to be
feminine. This was before I understood that gender 
was a construct and a performance, when I thought 
it was a ticket to love. I have been asked why 
I was a cheerleader with a curiosity pretending 
to contain no judgment, and I said because I was young, 
because I liked to dance, because I wanted to fit in, 
because it was fun to stand on the wall at Albi Stadium 
and whisper and laugh with the other girls 
who had been set apart by our blue and white uniforms.
Don’t pretend you don’t think it’s beneath
or above you. You would have liked Fridays, too, 
when we wore our uniforms to school to advertise 
for the game, so we didn’t have to sort through 
all the other choices of what kind of image we wanted 
to project like a film, or the slides my dad 
used to show on the dining room wall. 
Look at you and Tom when we camped in Banff, 
and I tricked you when we hiked all the way up 
to the tea house and said I forgot my wallet but really 
I had a twenty tucked into my magic belt. 
Look at Chris. No one wonders, I guess,
why we’re looking at so many pictures of him
when he was only two and very sick and on medication 
that made his face break out and his eyes and lips 
always wet from crying. He wore a cute blue sleeper 
that had once belonged to his brothers 
so he didn’t look so different. 
He rode his Toddler Taxi through the kitchen. 
Sometimes you can see me in the corner of a picture,
coming in and out because I was so much older 
and already a cheerleader. 
Sometimes it’s even Friday, and I’m in my uniform 
with my name and my bullpup 
and the promise of the evening hovering in front of me
like the horizon. I didn’t understand the horizon. 
Sometimes I would run and run far from the house, 
trying to get closer to its vibrating light, 
but this proved impossible, which I guess is science. 
Maybe you think, what a cheerleader move,
not understanding the horizon. 
Or maybe I’m projecting.
It’s important to put everything up on the wall.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Laura Read: “I wrote ‘The Cheerleader’ because my friends were teasing me about how I always try to work the fact that I was one into conversation when all along I thought it had been something I’d been hiding!”

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July 9, 2018

Laura Read


At the spring quarter composition meeting,
my male colleague runs up to the board
and writes the word, Phallogocentric
and then explains that the essay
in the Western tradition is phallic
with its thesis sticking up right there
at the bottom of the introduction.
He says we should tell our students this
so they know the tradition they’re writing in.
I raise my hand and wait for a long time
to be called on and when I am,
the Director of Composition apologizes,
and I say, It’s no problem, I’ve just been
waiting patiently like a woman,
which I thought would draw a laugh,
but apparently, there are some things
about which we should be honest,
and others we shouldn’t.
I say I am not going to tell my students that
and then ask them to follow the rules
we just questioned. Why not say
the main idea can be arrived at?
Or maybe there is no main idea?
Maybe there are so many little ideas
sticking out like curls that won’t be
brushed down. I know you can’t brush curls—
doesn’t everyone who has them?
You have to use leave-in conditioner
and product and scrunch them
and then try not to touch them
or they will break and turn to frizz
and then where will you be?
All week now, I’ve been thinking of this word,
Phallogocentric, which my friend said
Derrida invented and Wikipedia says
is a portmanteau, which I guess
is a blending of two words
but which I thought was a suitcase.
I love suitcases. I love the satiny lining
and the clasps and how they make me think
of trains and steam and hoop skirts
and top hats. How did I get here?
Does it matter? Will I arrive?
I don’t know but out the window
voila! the whole French countryside
that Derrida once flew past while he thought
about masculinity and language.
Sometimes I think about dying
and what I see is the white sheet
my boyfriend and I washed
and draped over our balcony in Nice.
We left it there to dry and walked
through the city and ate chocolate,
and climbed up the hill and looked out over
the Mediterranean, which is so many shades
of blue and green you can’t imagine,
and he smoked a pipe, which I think
made him feel more like a man,
something I couldn’t say then
but I could now if I could find him.
Would he laugh? Would he remember
how when we got back, the sheet was dry
and perfectly white and looked like
nothing had happened?

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Laura Read: “This poem was inspired by a real experience I had at a department meeting at the college where I work. I do want to note that the male colleague to whom I refer in the poem is very kind. He is not the villain of the poem. The villain is, in this case and almost always, the patriarchy, but the poem would like me to ask, ‘Does there have to be a villain?’” (web)

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May 13, 2016

Laura Read


The year I was 13, I worked in a steel mill by day
and as an exotic dancer at night like all my friends

in 8th grade. We were tired but about to get
our big break. Since we were all Jennifer Beals,

we wore leg warmers to keep our calves loose
so we’d be always ready to show what we had.

We cut the necks out of our sweatshirts so they slid
off our shoulders even though our mothers

made us wear shirts underneath. I didn’t tell
the other Jennifers how I went down to my room

in the basement where I moved after my mother
remarried and started to have new children

and played “Maniac” and tried to run in place
as fast as the real Jennifer, so fast you couldn’t see

the magic. Like those flipbooks of cartoons,
each drawing only different by one small move.

And then the song when she shows everyone
what’s under her welder’s mask and overalls,

a body that can fly across a wood floor and land
in a somersault. I had to pretend the flying part—

there wasn’t enough room between my bed
and the accordion door my new father installed.

I lived in a warehouse like Jennifer.
I couldn’t believe it when she went to dinner

at the seafood restaurant with that man and slid
her foot into his lap. I thought it must have felt

like the lobster she was eating,
something I’d never had.

from Rattle #51, Spring 2016
Tribute to Feminist Poets


Laura Read: “I consider myself a feminist poet because many of my poems are about the experience of growing up as a girl and then being a woman in our society. I have been greatly influenced by my mother who was a women’s studies professor for 41 years. I remember all the books on our coffee table had ‘women’ in the title. Now I teach a women writers class at the community college where I work.”

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August 11, 2012

Laura Read


Our son plays a German child in Hansel and Gretel
and dances with a girl dressed in braids and a pinafore
once in Act 1 and once in Act 2 but when they do the show
twice on a Saturday, sometimes she falls
the third or fourth dance.
Later her mother tells me she has cystic fibrosis
but she doesn’t want him to know.

When I was 12,
there was a girl on our 8th grade cheerleading squad
whose muscles snapped like a rubber band
when she tried to straighten her arms
so I tried to hold them for her
like a violin. She had a limp
and couldn’t do the jumps so we put her
in the back row. She had blonde hair though
and a big house where we spent the night
sitting on our sleeping bags in the basement,
rubbing the plastic threads
of the red and white pompoms together
until they curled. We pretended we didn’t see
the girls on the walls, naked women in cheap frames.
He must have cut them out of magazines
but the way they look now
in the blue room of memory
is like paintings, their skin pink and thick.
I see him at the kitchen table
after his daughter has left for school,
dipping his brush in the paint and sliding it
like a hand over their breasts which some of them
hold in their hands like gifts, and they’re perfect, circle
of nipple in circle of flesh. He likes the clean lines
of their legs, how the muscles lie neatly along the bones.
Later when I no longer knew her
I read about him in the paper. They had a day care
in that house where I slept
under the kitchen and heard him open
the refrigerator at night and felt the light go on
and the pressure of the low arches of his feet
on the linoleum. And of course he touched them,
the young girls in their flat chests
with their arms they could hold up straight.
He was heavy so when he stepped
the ceiling sank a little and I wondered
if the other girls saw but I thought
they were sleeping, I could hear their soft breaths
like a metronome. His daughter was broken
and the basement the kind with fake wood
paneling and orange carpet with bits of food
caught in the shag and stains from the dogs
and maybe he hoped the girls
would help and he didn’t think of us
or maybe he hung them there so we would know
what he wanted.
Today I am 41 years old. I know that man
was wrong and I think of how it felt
to be young and sleep beneath
the cross of a painted woman.
I know, also, that he loved his daughter.
He came downstairs that night with her mother
carrying bowls of chips and plastic cups of punch,
and I could see it, the kindness that flooded him
so when he walked he spilled a little,
and he was ashamed like she was
of what the body does.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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August 29, 2011

Laura Read

          for Tom

You were the one with the body
that could balance on a skateboard,
dive into a pool, the water
closing behind you.
And you could hold your breath
at the bottom, watch the sunlight shatter
on the tile.
Your eye marked where to send a ball
and it would hit
the backboard, the mitt—
you could chart a trajectory
from the boy in the doorframe
who stood next to me and looked at our mother
not getting out of bed
after our father died,
his bed made, all the stripes pulled up vertical
under the pillow
where his head would never leave
another dent.
You said, If she dies too,
we’ll go to Kentucky Fried Chicken
not Wendy’s

where we went after the funeral
which you spent driving your matchbox cars
up and down the lines of wood
in the pews, steering the small wheels
around the knots underneath
the soft polish.
You tried to be quiet, but I could hear you
making your car noises
in your throat.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

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