Because it’s June and there’s nothing to do,
we go to the strip mall at the edge of town.
Someone’s mother drives us; it isn’t mine.
These girls, they’ve got hair blaring red
as a siren, no curfews, boyfriends and rumors
of going all the way. I’m fourteen and buttoned up
in a blouse, bespectacled, a little shy,
but last summer I tried to die,
which makes me interesting.
We loiter in the moist heat of the parking lot, calling
lewd things to strangers across the relucent sea
of asphalt, laughing with our whole mouths.
Every part of us gleams: our licked fingers sticky
from free Krispy Kremes, our lips
glossed cheap cherry. We’re not that beautiful
but we’re young, which to men, we’re old enough
to know, is close. We stare them down,
perched on the curb. We bare our thighs
like secrets that have hurt us.
Sitting there, impatient, one girl might kiss
suddenly another, giggling, shadows merging
on the pitted sidewalk, eyes open to see
if they’re seen. And at the very least,
there’s me, ever the apprentice
in tenderness and nerve. When a man eventually,
inevitably, approaches, we rise
as birds do, all at once, flushed
and shrieking until we regroup out of reach, our bodies
heaving against each other as if we have narrowly escaped
a fate we know to fear but can’t name. Then
we do it again, to be sure.
When the sun swells before the sky’s mantling
like a rosy bubble, we wander
snapping Hubba Bubba as the streetlights pop
on above us, proffer wishes
and gossip like they’re makeshift stars.
We wait for someone
to wonder where we are, find ourselves
waiting long into the dark. I think we like this part
best, the night falling over our shoulders
like a borrowed sweatshirt, still warm,
the blond grasses whispering as we circle and circle
the unclaimed lot—knowing that we could be forgotten
but are not. And if we listen hard, before someone comes
for us, some nights our names are called
between guitar riffs on the classic rock station
blaring from rusted cars and the bar
patio across the street—songs we know by heart, songs
our fathers once sang to our mothers
before they were ours
or anyone’s, ballads that made them
believe it was possible they could, a lifetime, love, be
loved, desperately, like that.