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poemoftheweek poem of the week


Alice Anderson


Licking Wounds 


James went first because James went first.  The year I was six

and he eight, when we invited all the kids on the block—Linda

          and Lisa,

little Amy, Jenna and Adie and her brother Ludie the snake boy—



to slide on our Slip-n-Slide in the backyard.  James pulled the orange slip

out of the garage in a wrinkled heap and brought it out back by the

          long, still

fishpond.  The pond where I fed my favorite fish too much and

          he drowned.


Those were the years we still had money, when Mom still carved

          my dresses

out of conspicuous bolts of brushed silk, linen, and furry, beige


James held one end, and Ludie the other, backing away from each

          other, their


long arms outstretched but bent at the elbows as if pulling hot

          cupcake pans

from an oven.  They laid the Slip-n-Slide out across the lawn,

          screwed in

the garden hose to the orange plastic nozzle, and watched as the

          chalky plastic


filled and shone with warm and then cold summer hose water.

          James went first because he always went first—not because he

             was the oldest or

the tallest or the least smart of all the kids.  He went first because

          he liked


the protest, the jerking one-footed whines of girls with smaller

          faces, smaller

voices, and smaller, white thighs.  I was obsessed with germs that


wouldn’t have eaten at all if I had known that to make it, someone,



had to take it into their hands.  The butcher, with slabs of meat

          and bone, wrapping it up

in gleaming, invisible cellophane.  The maid, washing lettuce,

          tearing it to shreds

before washing it again and placing it in a heap in the crisper.  Even

          my mother,


washing the boneless pork under the faucet before dipping it into silt

          white flower,

turning it over, and over, and again, before laying it softly in the

          sizzling copper pan.

At dinner, when no one was watching—no one ever did—James

          would lean over


and let out his long, hot tongue.  He’d lick his lips, my meat, the

          edge of my milk

glass, or the tight, cold corner of my mouth.  So he slid first down

          the Slip-n-Slide.

He backed up to the fence and took off full speed, tight-fisted and

          leaning into his leap,


belly-down, sliding in a jagged, wild line.  And his sudden wailing

          scream seemed

to come from somewhere in his shining, glassy eyes.  It took hours

          for the doctors

to extract the shards of glass from his chest and stomach, his skinny



A broken jar?  Camping lamp?  No one knew.  But when I went,

          finally, to that

tall white bed where he lay for one long afternoon, I let out my

          small, cool tongue

and ran it up his peach-fuzzed arm from wrist to elbow to shoulder



and for one day, I was first, and no one was looking.


The Split


This is how it happens.  You are just out of the shower maybe

in the afternoon when your lover comes up behind you and kisses you


on the shoulder.  You turn, kiss back.  And you even remind yourself,

during that first heavy breath or fall to the bed—I am not


going to close my eyes.  But you cannot help yourself and you

close your eyes, forgetting your promise, and you see him.


A figure, moving form, enormous shadow appearing somewhere

between your eyelids and the air.  There he is above you


and for a moment you are happy about it, amazed to feel again

what it is to be that small.  How exquisite your tiny finger,


how fragile the bones of your wrists.  You see how easily

your thigh fits in a hand, your shin in a mouth, your buttocks


in the crook of a hip—how easy it is then to be filled.

This is real to you: this is what you turn sex into.


You feel your knees pushed open with thick warm thumbs and

you can feel your knees are skinned and then you see them


getting skinned, you see yourself beyond that shadow.

You see your white skates on the drive, the slope of the tar,


and into this vision you escape.  Leave.  Cease to exist.

You are gone from the place of the thin bed and the blue panties


caught around an ankle.  Someone else has taken your place.

You then are on the driveway and your cat is in the flowerbed


and your mother looks out the kitchen window at you in your

good dress which you are not supposed to wear with skates.


You skate in circles and watch the sky, picking shapes

out of clouds—turtle, clipper ship, heart, hand.


Your mother tells you Watch where you are going young lady.

And even before you skin your knees you feel something


slowly rising in your throat, the way the cream lifts every time

from the milk in the glass bottle that arrive on Sundays,


no matter how many times your mother shakes it up for you.

It rises in you like that—thick and lukewarm as your father’s skin.


The taste inches up but you keep skating, try to make the circles

perfect and small, try to smell the beefsteaks on the barbeque


in the side yard where your father calls over the fence

to the neighbor, saying This is the life.  But when you hear


his voice it is enough to send you down.  You fall.

Your knees are skinned and full of rocks but you’re almost


you again, panties wrapped around an ankle, undershirt pushed up.

You hear your breathing and his breathing.  You’re hot.


Your eyes are open again, staring at something they

don’t even see.  And when finally it happens you realize


that it isn’t your father filling you this time, he is

only making you fall. It hits you that you’ve done it again:


this shrinking into someone, then somewhere else.  It is always

the same.  You cannot control it.  You never learned to skate.


You are there in your grown up bed with your lover and you have

just made love and he says Isn’t sex amazing and you say Yes.


                        -from Human Nature: Poems

BIO: Alice Anderson is the author of Human Nature: Poems, which won the Elmer Holmes Bobst Prize for Emerging Writers from NYU, the Best First Book Prize from the Great Lakes Colleges Association, and was short listed for for both The Bluestem and the Walt Whitman Prize. Human Nature earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and rave reviews from Library Journal, Booklist, and The Boston Review of Books. Anderson holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and is the recipient of The Plum Review Prize and the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in journals such as New York Quarterly, New Letters, Agni, and The Plum Review. Poems are featured in the anthologies On The Verge: Emerging Poets and Artists; American Poetry, The Next Generation; and The Why and Later, Poets Speak on Rape. Anderson's classic poem "The Split" will appear in the 20th anniversary edition of The Courage to Heal. She teaches writing at an urban community college. An advocate for victims of incest and domestic violence, Anderson lives and writes in a very old house in Sacramento, California, having escaped the deep-water bayou hell of post-Katrina Gulf Coast Mississippi. She is the single mother to three light-filled, miraculous children and is, remarkably, still standing. And smiling.

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