No Cover

by Jane Wilcken
Wild Poetry Forum
Second Place, June 2012
Judged by Shara McCallum

It’s a thing I do alone, drive to the North Side, where
the finest ingredients are used, where the sign means

to say GIRLS, but the L is missing, as though once
you get inside you will hear the voices of bears.

Where the tornado hit last year. I never bothered
to come see the uprooted trees, the sidewalk overturned,

those bright blue tarps tossed over the roofs. Sleeping
low income children, their mothers dancing for money.

GIR_S. The dream recurs in the gymnasium of my junior high.
Tell myself I am a star. Tell myself the aftermath in past tense.

As it turns out, the choice was between my finger and my life
the whole time. Pointing away from myself inside the dark room,

poking into the red glow across the surface of a stop bath.
Chemistry, repelled and rapt. Call it a reaction of emergence.

This is how we learned what they didn’t teach in health class,
the importance of substitution. A boy’s erection through layers

of cloth, a living thing against my thigh. We hover toward
each new inkling, fruit in each other’s hands. I mean

it’s not like this was ever my idea, all the boys on one side,
all the girls on the other, lined up, unscathed.

The poem’s opening implies that it will unfold as a conventional narrative, but it quickly departs from that form. Starting with the loss of the letter, “L,” on the “GIRLS” sign (a loss that is figurative as well as literal), the poem takes many twists and turns. As we are pulled from one location and moment in time to another, the speaker braids together the larger story she wants to tell: about gender roles and sexuality. The associative quality of this poem is engaging, allowing us to feel as if we are inside the mind of a speaker who seems to be talking more to and for herself, than an audience, as she recounts the past. The connections between the images and vignettes (the strip club, the bear, the tornado, and the junior high scenes from gym, health class, and Chemistry) become apparent only on multiple readings—but from the get-go the unsparing nature and honesty of this voice drives the poem and keeps us “rapt.” --Shara McCallum