(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments & Links



Ellen Bass

I had been waiting waiting for what felt like lifetimes. When the first girls stayed out of the ocean a few days a month, wore shorts instead of a swimsuit I watched them enviously. I even stayed out once in a while, pretending. At last, finding blood on my panties I carried them to my mother, hoping unsure, afraid--Mom, is this it? She gave me Kotex and belt showed me how to wear it. Dot Lutz was there, smiling, saying when her Bonnie got her period, she told her when you have questions, come to me, ask me. You can ask a mother anything. I felt so strange when she said that. Mom didn't say anything. The three of us standing in the bedroom me, the woman-child, standing with the older women and the feeling there once was a feeling that should be here, there once was a rite, a communion. I said, yes, I'll ask my mother but we all, except maybe Dot, knew it wasn't true.


Ellen Bass

My nephew is distressed that he's still in love with the girl who went back to her boyfriend— the one who's not good enough for her. When he ran into her again, she had that same bright laugh, like the shine on an apple, and the wind rose reaching up into the limbs and fluttering the leaves in the whole apple tree. But when she left, it hit him all over. She was headed for her boyfriend's house, she'd walk quickly in the brittle March night. He'd have a fire going. She'd unlace her boots and offer him her mouth, her lips still cold, velvet tongue warm in that satin cape. He didn't tell me all this, of course, but who hasn't longed for that girl? that boy? He's mad at himself that he can't get over her. He's young and he's got goals, quit smoking, gave up weekend drunks. Now he tackles model airplane kits, one small piece at a time. He wants to learn mastery. Sweet man. Should we tell him the truth? That he'll never get over her. Love is a rock in the surf off the Pacific. Life batters it. No matter how small it gets it will always be there—grain of sand chafing the heart. I still love the boy who jockeyed cars, expertly in the lots on New York Avenue, parking them so close, he had to lift his lithe body out the window those sultry August afternoons. He smelled of something musky and rich—distinctive as redwoods in heat. I still long for him like a patriot exiled from the motherland, a newborn switched in the hospital, raised in the wrong family. Each year that passes is one more I miss out on. His children are not mine. Even their new step-mother is not me. When she complains how hard she tries, how little they appreciate it, I think how much better off he'd be with me. And when he has grandchildren they won't be mine either. And when he's dying— even if I go to him—I'll be little more than a dumb bouquet, spilling my scent. We don't get over any of it. The heart is stubborn and indefatigable. And limitless. That's how I can turn to my beloved, now, with the awe the early rabbis must have felt opening the Torah. And when she pulls me to her, still, after all these years, I feel like I did the first time I stood in front of Starry Night.* I had never known, never imagined its life beyond the flat, smooth surface of the textbook. Had never conceived there could be these thick swirls of paint, the rough-edged cobalt sky, the deep spiraling valleys of starlight. *This painting by the nineteenth century Dutch expressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is frequently reproduced in art books.

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