(Previously published in Moraine, by Pearl Editions)
Janet, my friend in fifth grade, lived
as I did, on a farm but while on my farm
there were lemon trees, on hers there were animals
and bales of hay stacked up like blocks
to make a building with some tunnels
we could hide in and where a little black cat
nursed her kittens. Janet showed me
the horses in the stable and the chicken coop
and we loped around the corral neighing
as we liked to do on the playground at school,
Janet’s fine, dishwater blond hair flying behind her.
We can get pregnant any time, she said,
Once we start our periods. I didn’t think
That was right, but her mother told her so.
Then Janet told me that sometimes her brother,
John Wendall (she called him “Jonda”)
would do it to her and she told me exactly how.
It seemed to me so weird, such a strange thing
that even though I’d heard a little about it
I didn’t believe her. She said that sometimes
even her father would do it. She said this
as though it were a simple act, no less mundane
than tying her shoe; she was even puzzled
at my disbelief. A few months later my parents
were looking for a house to move to in the city;
I found out later that one of the Mexican girls
in my class was pregnant and my parents
decided it would be better for me to go to school
with white kids.
- Tamara Madison
Mother tried to make me believe
it was Everything, so I knew
it was nothing. The docile boys
back home had held no great
temptation; the blond biology
student that third month in college
was just an accident.
In college, “no” has a different
meaning, “I’ve never done this before”
is beside the point, and “Hey!
That hurts!” comes out a little late.
It’s over so fast it has to be nothing.
Something so fleeting, so without
ceremony, could never mean
Everything and Mother, of course,
But later in the dormitory bathroom
I find crushed berries in my pants,
like something stolen
from some far-off bridal-sheet-
balcony-display; little berries
whose bruised faces seem to cry
“It is Everything!” but they wash
right out so I know for sure
it was nothing.
- Tamara Madison