by Marie Howe
I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement
of somebody’s parents’ house, a hymn for what we didn’t say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each other’s mouths
how to move our tongues to make somebody moan. We called it practicing, and
one was the boy, and we paired off—maybe six or eight girls—and turned out
the lights and kissed and kissed until we were stoned on kisses, and lifted our
nightgowns or let the straps drop, and, Now you be the boy:
concrete floor, sleeping bag or couch, playroom, game room, train room, laundry.
Linda’s basement was like a boat with booths and portholes
instead of windows. Gloria’s father had a bar downstairs with stools that spun,
plush carpeting. We kissed each other’s throats.
We sucked each other’s breasts, and we left marks, and never spoke of it upstairs
outdoors, in daylight, not once. We did it, and it was
practicing, and slept, sprawled so our legs still locked or crossed, a hand still lost
in someone’s hair . . . and we grew up and hardly mentioned who
the first kiss really was—a girl like us, still sticky with moisturizer we’d
shared in the bathroom. I want to write a song
for that thick silence in the dark, and the first pure thrill of unreluctant desire,
just before we’d made ourselves stop.
Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008); The Good Thief (1998); and What the Living Do (1997), and she is the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). She has been a fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and a recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others. Currently, Howe teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia, and New York University. She was the 2012-2014 Poet Laureate of New York State.
Marie Howe, “Practicing” from What the Living Do [buy now]. Copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Marie Howe
More about Marie Howe
Marie Howe is represented by Blue Mountain Arts, a literary speakers agency.