Saturday, February 26, 2005

Andrea's Poetry - The Girls in the Cane

I first remember Andrea working on this poem in one of Van Brock's poetry workshops. We were at Van's apartment on Call Street, I think, and I couldn't get over the image of the girls' hands "like brown doves cooing." The poem received an Honorable Mention in the Chester H. Jones Foundation's National Poetry Competition 1995, and was also published a year later in Rosebud.

From Andrea's comments published in Rosebud: "In retrospect, I think this is my mid-life crisis poem, the one we write when we realize we are too old for Never Never Land; when we've outgrown the Lost Boys, or in this case, the lost girls. While the meaning of the poem may have eluded me during the writing, it came to me mercilessly in the end, as an epiphany of irretrievable loss."

The Girls in the Cane

At ten, we were Father McKennon's demons,
wild skinny girls with skin stitched over our hearts
like drums. We smacked gum in catechism, pelted
the young priest with spitballs ripped from the scriptures.
By twelve, we were collectively in love. Plump and holy,
we pretended our bellies were tight with his children.
That summer in the secret patch of sugarcane, we played
at conception, parting each other's sun-parched knees.

So when our mothers call from Alabama
to tell us in Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado,
that Father McKennon is dead, I see us
holding phones like empty Campbell's Soup cans
strung together with kite string, mothers repeating
"Are you there?" And we excuse ourselves
to tend lovers, husbands, children, who,
for once, don't need us at that moment.

It is what we have come
to fear most: the secret child
has filled her bandana
with irreplaceable treasures,
and even now is disappearing
down Hillcrest Drive, past Mrs. Strozier's
Dance School to the sugarcane field
by the old Confederate cannon.

This is not a sweet loss like virginity.
The girls have gone into the cane
without us. They have taken summer
with them and left us suspended
by this deep baptism. Slight and tan,
they suck on the sugary reeds, their lips
soft as vespers, and their hands, their hands,
like brown doves cooing.


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