I have a terrible problem with constantly tinkering with my writing. Like Whitman, I continually revise and rewrite them. Some enjoy the moment of creation, whereas I enjoy revision. This poem is one that I’ve revised a number of times now. I wrote it over twelve years ago,and have rewritten it as many times. It’s been published twice, each time with substantial changes, and as I was washing dishes this evening, something in the damp grass and budding lilacs brought it to mind, so I pulled up and and began tinkering with it again. It was part of an abandoned series of poems I was writing about childhood along the lines of “Spoon River Anthology,”with an elementary school rather than a graveyard tying the poems together.
I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with this rewrite, but it was quick and fun–and a nice distraction from my novel in progress. I will get back to it.
That fateful first day of 5th grade
with her red hair in braids
and freckles speckling her cheeks
like cinnamon sprinkled on pancakes
Melanie sauntered into the classroom
carving her name on the heart
of each boy in our class.
I spied her from the swingsets at recess—
A boy at the playground waterfountain
received a kick in the shins
and his friend standing beside him
a punch in the stomach
for whistling at Melanie
as she flitted across the blacktop.
Her eleventh birthday she celebrated
at The Lucky Dragon.
She laughed at the boys who
prodded ginger chicken
and catapulted rice onto the table
with proudly fumbling fingers and chopsticks.
By her side, unnoticed, I
shadowed her – spreading the cloth napkin
across my lap and cradling my fork as she did.
The night I stayed at Melanie’s house
we pirouetted and sashayed
in front of her bedroom window
clung to our bodies like saran-wrap.
With our eyes screwed tight and our heads tilted back
we spun around and around
and she made a wish.
When we opened our eyes
she told me to see
dangling from the elm tree—
all of the boys from our class,
an audience of monkeys swinging from monkey-bar branches
ogling us with desire.
Illuminated by her nightlight
Snug on her bedroom floor
in Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bags—
two pink inchworms we huddled
mint chocolate chip ice cream
still on her breath
tingled my cheeks
alone in her bedroom at night
Melanie covers herself in a sheet
pretends to be a ghost.
Last fall going door-to-door selling
Girl Scout cookies
she kept all of the money she made
and in the front seat
of a broken-down VW van
in best friend’s backyard
she stole a kiss
from an unsuspecting boy.
On snowy December evenings
Melanie sneaks out of her bedroom
and strolls through the park.
She populates the stretches of solitude
and spells out the names of the boys
she secretly loves
with a stick.
Lying in the snow
she crafts constellations of their faces
in the stars.
Before we went to sleep
Melanie shed her sleeping bag
knelt down at the foot of her bed
The moonlight and starlight
and maybe even the nightlight
she reminded me
(forgive this blasphemy)
of the Virgin Mary.
The 4th of July
caught up in the excitement
of cannon blasts and explosions
pointed her forefinger and cocked her thumb
aiming directly between the eyes
of the man-in-the-moon,
fired! She turned to me,
leveled her weapon and
“Boom!” with a blast
that blew up my heart.
At the end of the summer
Without a “good-bye”
like the sere leaves of the lilac trees
outside my bedroom window
shorn from the branches by a breeze—
blown to another corner of the earth.
Now at night
before I sleep
I imagine Melanie kneeling
at the foot of my bed.
Bathed in the moon’s halo
Her breath warms my toes
peeking from my sheets
as she prays for me.