poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Things You Don’t Say in Front of Boys

I was maybe thirteen then, about the age of the lifeguards
here at the lake. I am alarmed at how young they are,
like maybe they would have the muscle to pull
me out alive, but if I didn’t make it
they wouldn’t be able to understand until much later,
at a shrink’s office where they might rescue the memory from their unconscious
and then all of their problems would unravel around my death.
But that’s only if I drown here today, which I probably won’t.
Twelve years and four states away I was thirteen
on Long Island and my mother was taking away all the fun of summer skirts
one day when she came home from the supermarket
flipping me a few plastic packs of pantyhose, I read aloud:
Her eyes widened and she hissed Shhhhhhhhhhhhh
like I had revealed a family secret, equal parts important and embarrassing.
She gestured quickly into the living room
where my fifteen year old brother and his friends were playing Nintendo
and I wasn’t sure why they weren’t supposed to know.
It’s because pantyhose is a trick
and because there are things you don’t say in front of boys.
My mother was terribly fond of saying that, usually in a whisper
an all-capital letters whisper, followed by a sage nod.

One of the young lifeguards seems to be sleeping
and the other is working on her tan and there are no waves anyway
and suddenly some pizza gets delivered so we go over to the table
with the sign that says:
and the volunteer lady talks to kids about invasive water weeds.
Milfoil looks like feathers on a red stem with a white root.
It was originally imported to be in fish tanks
and now it’s taken over everything. The way she explains it
makes it seem like it crawled out of the fish tanks, out doors,
over driveways and down the street to the lake. And now
the town has hired two guys to spend their summer picking it out by the roots.
They are the stars of the 2008 Volunteer Milfoil Pick
which consists of the volunteer lady, about ten little kids, and us.
We take a raft out into the water so we can pull our Milfoil haul on it,
and we’re twisting the long strands around all the way down to the silty roots
until our ears are full of water and the pizza looks like it’s getting cold
and we come in and dump our dirty feathery pile
near the guys who have been hired to do this all summer, they
look stoned up close and we stand around eating pizza with them
while the lifeguard whistles and shouts
Maybe we chat about Milfoil and the town and the story
I wrote when I was in Maui, the one coming out in September
to the general reading public and they ask what it’s about and I mumble something
about crystal meth addict neighbors or something like that
and we start chatting about drugs in Maui and it struck me that if
I was thirteen now and this was my town, my beach, my Milfoil problem,
these guys might so easily become the center of my summer.
My friends and I would talk about these two guys—
one has a piercing through the center of his nose and the other has a sort of
dreadlocked mullet-- yes Mother
I took it to heart, and let much of my young life revolve around older boys
before I could even talk to them, years before
I first snapped the control tops over my belly and cringed,
the way my mother would cringe if she saw these Milfoil pickers,
the way she did at almost every guy I brought home. Almost.
But the one she liked is dead and everyone loves you but before
I had you, I had control top tortures and one-sided crush tortures—
NO PUSHING! The lifeguard yells, and the cheese
on the pizza is cold and rubbery and you are joking with the Milfoil guys
and I am twenty-five now and we
got all this good stuff at the farmer’s market this morning;
sheep cheese and fresh eggs and horseradish sauerkraut
and strawberry preserves and local maple
syrup and yogurt and kale and tomatoes.

Thank god food isn’t torture anymore.
A minute on the lips
forever on the hips,
my mother was known to say.
NO PUSHING! Whistle, whistle, whistle.
The Milfoil pickers go off in their motorboat
and I can’t know which one I would have picked at thirteen
to have a crush on, but I know I would have, the way I know
that when something lucky happens, like a shooting star
to this day I wish for love, that’s what I used
all my birthday wishes for, I was
never really specific, just love, love, love.
Moths ate holes in the back of the gray sundress I’m wearing now
that swishes against my bare legs, I live
wrapped up in love, I got my wish. I got it!
This morning I was awake before you
for about an hour and I read poetry while you slept
and when you woke up you sang
You Are My Sunshine
to me and I almost cried
because I’m still not used to being this happy.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Smeared and lonely-thin panes of window glass
surround the screened-in kitchen where the fly paper curls down
down down
like a crooked finger
beckoning towards something you know and do not want to take or talk about.
Be careful not to breathe the dense smell.

He wears a smeared deep smile,
his red lips hurt your eyes
like too much light on a headache or a high.

In the closet, you keep the pants that he put his hands on and pulled
until he turned you into nothing
just an arched back like a bridge
between the past and the mornings of no-sleep
which makes the day full of
middle-of-the-night fears.

Addictions will always come back to you like well-trained dogs or
boomerangs thrown correctly. Like lovers,
who too easily hop into a creaky old bed and smile,
ignoring the smell of the spouse, still warm.

In the green room where everything is green, he is having sex
for the first time
with you on the emerald colored waterbed.

He keeps his eyes open when he kisses you.
You like the way the waterbed rocks back and forth.
You are house-sitting, which means smoking the big glass bong
on the green room’s wobbly water bed, and then it seems like
you two just accidentally kissed and now this.

Two weeks later, when you are no longer house-sitting on Long Island,
and his parents take him to visit relatives in Brooklyn,
he will hop out of the car early and find your backyard where
he will stand below your balcony waiting for you to come out for your morning cigarette.
You will see him standing there
behind the rosebushes your great-grandmother laid with her patient hands.

He will wait and when you see him standing there
he’ll say he didn’t want to wake you, and
he’ll ask if he can come in.