Girls I Knew When I Was Twenty
Damn, the girls I knew when I was twenty.
We ran in packs like careless, hungry wolves
taunting the boundries of our dizzy, man-swarmed city;
the come and go of faces on the IRT
crowding the uptown local at Astor Place.
I don't remember the shrill car horns
or the ambulances shrieking down Second Avenue.
No, I remember the dense quiet of Thursdays
sitting on a stoop on Saint Marks Place
or the cool marble of hallways in August
as the girls answered the doorbell in bare feet.
Nineteen and Seventeen, and Tag-Along Sixteen,
ruling the world from a park bench
in Washington Square.
Of course they had names: Kate, Michelle, Anabel,
Sarah. But I knew them by scents, by movements.
I learned from them of the softness in all women,
the glance up from down-turned faces, the stirring
of legs in skirts, knees clasped while sitting;
boy-cut hair held inn plastic barrettes,
dyed black as city soot, or snowy platinum
held back with pomade in cunning twists, or spiked
like barbed wire, or soft bangs covering eyes.
On hazy afternoons in autumn cafes, sitting with
legs crossed, conversing like giggling scholars,
their eyes would dart like cats prowling
seeking mice, or mates, as their thoughts took shape.
Anabel's dark eyes, or Kate's slate blue,
and Michelle's that were soft with delicious brooding.
Freckled arms pushed a comb through bleached hair,
legs in ripped tights and combat boots,
antique dresses in pastels, or vibrant green,
green as the park in joyous June.
Sometimes I would drop some little thing--
a comb, my wallet, or a punk-band badge--
so I could maneuver in its recovery
to bring me nearer to the scent of musk or lavender;
or the rustle of old crinoline--aged fabric
faded by time, forgotten,and then salvaged and loved
again as only a girl of seventeen can love:
adoringly, recklessly, with fervor and abandon. A dress
smoothed, stiched by supple fingers grown
deft with plying marbles, with cupping secrets
whispered through pomade-caked hair.
A dress from a forsaken thrift-shop shelf, newly-shaped
to the curves and freckles of Tag-Along Sixteen.
All I know now of desire and heartache, and I know
much, of recalling the scent of lavender and musk.
All I know of how I ache when, in bright autumn,
a breeze plays with a skirt, a freckled woman
smoothes her hem, clasps restless fingers,
looks--eyes bright--through falling hair and smiles.
All I know of conversations in marble-floored cafes
where the waitress doesn't speak English,
and girls whisper,
I learned when I was twenty, from girls
whose softness and lavender wasn't meant for me.
(Appeared in the 'Poets of the Week" section of Poetry Superhighway, March 2004)