SPOTLIGHT: A Poet by Candice M. Kelsey

A Girl Remembers Whale Sharks and bell hooks

A girl passed out while diving with whale sharks
At the Georgia Aquarium
When she was celebrating her fifteenth birthday.

Her father was in the tank with her, as was
The largest fish in the world,
An ovoviviparous creature whose embryo

Is formed within the egg which then hatches
In the mother’s uterus.
The young are released into the sea fully formed.

Litters can be more than three-hundred pups,
But even weirder is that their teeth
Point backwards and their spot patterns are as unique

As human fingerprints. The girl had a cold that day
And trouble breathing in her mask—
It’s remarkable to think of her vulnerability,

Like an astronaut floating in the atmosphere.
They pulled her out, and she was fine
After they gave her a splash of cold air and a shake.

She remembered her grandmother in Scranton,
Who barely spoke English,
And stood in her kitchen for hours rolling cabbage

While she sat in the back seat of a woody station wagon
Coloring her best picture to give her,
A grandmother who had barely spoken to her

For the ten short years of her life. It was a deep sea
Scene from National Geographic’s
Magnificent Ocean: Coloring Book, her companion

On the twelve-hour haul across Ohio
Through the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Chewing gum
And scented markers and the hope of a grandmother’s
Love. When they moved to the back yard to sit
Under the clothesline, she braved
The walk toward Grandma Balish, picture in hand.

She looked at it and nodded, then handed it back
To her. She remembers wanting to swim
Like a whale shark, deep into the temperate waters

And away from the humiliation. Today
She is fifty-one. She reads a post on Twitter
About a grandmother who gave her grandchildren

All the pictures they had made her. She had them
In garbage bags, one for each child.
The overwhelming response was warmth and awe

That this grandmother had kept the artwork so long
And returned it out of love. She weeps—
In a way, her own mother has handed her garbage bags

Of the stuff she kept over the years. This woman has stored
Them in her body. A hatred for her thighs and belly,
Disgust for her arms, the need for male attention.

Women like bell hooks helped her take out that trash.
She carried a slip of paper in her wallet
The past twenty-five years: If any female feels she need

Anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate
Her existence, she is already giving away
Her power to be self-defining, her agency. These

Are the words bell hooks gave this woman and a generation
Of women tired of giving themselves
To people who looked, nodded, and handed them back.

A young girl’s heart is an ovoviviparous creature.
It gives, and it gives endless litters of love
Until it realizes the embryos hatch inside itself.

Dear Boys,

Consider whispering
your threat: she’ll eat shit

before I let her leave me.
Use code words rather than — go fuck yourself,

whore, bitch, cunt — riddles,
that like Sunday clothes, you’ll briefly wear.

Try metaphors of sport
— striking out, calling an audible, yellow card —

rather than jacking off, eat you out.
Refrain from watching

shows that fetishize stalkers, serial killers,
rapists. Stop the implications

of a female body: helpless

male desire or tempting entryway
into female gaps. Mute, undo this

— flippancy — then unravel
to prove you understand

the language of violence, the deltas
where levies meet

hurricanes. Don’t call them

titties and pretend alliteration lacks intent. Most
important of all:

when your date
ditches you at the middle school dance,
and you scream to your buddy:

I just wanted to get in her pants,

the omission of the word pussy softens
the blow, but when

she realizes — as all us girls do —
the gaping distance between continents,

the ancient echo of gender tectonics,
she’ll find her own new words:

clots of blood and mucosal tissue,
shining, like light — between two thighs.

Like the sound of words rubbing
together: blood & hair. tampons & pads. Like things

that deserve no shame. Like those
things and these,


A Girl Remembers Myron

We never made the perfect fort, my brothers and me. That galaxy of its own, where blankets embrace chair-backs and shoot us into space like astronauts— where we could find forever, sequestered from the sounds, smells, and eyes of our parents. They were always too busy to notice anyway. Too busy to care if we never made reentry into their ashtray, ice-melt, Bridge-game atmosphere. I remember the night Myron came over. My mother knew him from some previous life, and it all seemed so uncomfortable. Especially for my father, who tore through a second pack of Salem Lights faster than usual. We’re all going out for Chinese in honor of Myron visiting from California! she announced, after strapping on her only pair of three-inch heels. I didn’t realize it then, but this was her own failed fort. Myron left from Hunan Pan before the check came, and my parents never put away the bedding meant for him— we collected the pillows and sheets later that night. The cool scent of cut-herbed linens walled us into our fort like fresh ribbons of ginger placed on a Lazy Susan, or cold jasmine tea. Tom pretended to be our father, complaining about the hoisin sauce while Chris and I inhaled pretzel-stick cigarettes, exhaling every mother’s galaxy of disappointments. We pretended to ash in honor of Myron.

The Way of Elegance in Palm Desert

A little girl holds the map like a harried tourist.
Her three brothers kick flip-flops
& dive like pelicans into this twenty-third
of forty-one pools
as she chases them, coaching the next one’s over here!

A middle-aged woman hauls her laptop
to chase the shade. The patio chair
a makeshift shelf for her
rippled companion – Basho’s water-rippled
Narrow Road to the Interior:

Basho walked eight months
across Northern Japan from Ueno to Kyoto to Edo
& home again where
Sora’s silken sighs became waterfalls. The heavy autumn
frost melted their hot tears.

But these children, hungry cormorant wanderers,
travel a brief desert morning
across the manicured lawns of La Quinta Spa & Resort
determined to swim one lap
in each pool.

The first boy has the lyricism of Tu Fu;
the second, Li Po;
the third has the Zen of Han Shan.
The girl is Po Chu-i.

& the woman is the white splash darkening the edges of every pool.

Sixty-five palm trees soon shed
shade & the San Jacinto mountains like desert temples
kick off their sandals to guide
the woman’s fingers – ten tiny divers – to splash.
Her only map, every little girl.

V is for

my vagina and Venice Beach
both of which
are no longer that Xanadu
subculture of old school grooves and funk –
there’s no more riffing with Morrison,
no sonic hey-days
spent skating figure eights.

My vagina and Venice Beach
are haunted by the laughs of men
who’ve gentrified Bohemian-sweet virginity
with basil-honeysuckle soap
and brute celebrity.

My vagina and Venice Beach
were plowed by lucrative
boutiques, Silicon Beach, and tiny
yellow ghosts pulling out.

My vagina and Venice Beach
went from roller dancing to race riots,
Dogtown to Blue Bottle Coffee –
the boom boxes were stolen,
and the gondoliers
all bought homes in the Valley.

The First Baptist Church of Venice
sits vacant and boarded up
while residents hold Sunday morning vigils
protesting the billionaire
who’s determined to make it his home.
The place he’ll hang his pants.

V is for the vigil
I hold between my thighs.

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