This poem is a collage of answers I slowly pieced together to resolve the burning, sometimes embarrassing questions I had when I first started dating women later in life. It is arranged as a list of those answers, but I've intentionally left out the original questions to each one. My hope is that certain readers dealing with a similar transition will recognize what the different sections are answering and find comfort (if not a little humor and heartbreak) in resonating with each one. I'm looking forward to participating in the Queer Girls Literary Reading in Asheville later this month, and may share it there as well. It was originally published in Bloom Magazine.
Ten Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, Answered
The first time? I thought myself an infant, rooting the breast for dinner. You too may feel the seamless press of your body to a mirror,
the smudge of your own skin a ridiculousness that need Windex, and quick. Embarrassed, I asked to be taken home,
but in the car was the bright green of her dashboard lights burning
the clean color of go.
Years before. I even admitted it once to a woman that later sent me poems
dipping their beaks into feeders full of cocaine dissolved in sweet,
Finally came summer, my summer of plain clothing—unironed and cotton and bland—nothing afraid
to get dirty, nothing afraid to be slicked with mud, the forest coming off in a happy heap
on the tent floor.
It was the summer I allowed myself to be bitten enough that the welps rose but dissolved back by bedtime; it was the summer I finally said
come, mother mosquitoes, my reddest blood is ready for your young.
Stupid things, mostly. That’s how I wasted most of my worry—dumb-ass questions that do not matter. Who should open
the door? Who to pay for dinner? Who to lean in first with whose hands braced strong to the jawline? Who in the tie, who in the dress, and what about all this long, long hair?
Consider this: a woman’s pH is between that of wine and bread. An imperfect leaven, the kind of crust that betrays the softness
inside. Cooled to the heat of your mouth, its sweetness dipped in a dry red, the aftertaste of that one oyster you had
from the other coast. You were slightly repulsed, but then the fisherman pulled it straight from his bucket for you, cut it free
with a small, curved knife.
You will miss it. Not the man but the normal
the man brings.
Unfortunately. All the time. In the grocery, a mother swung her arm to corral her daughter behind her, protecting her from us—the contagions behind.
We were hurt, but we stayed in line; we waited our turn. We smiled at the child peeking from behind the thick coat, and because it was a good day, we felt a little sorry for the mother. In our basket was red tomatoes and yellow peppers, a riot of greens, the unbelievable brightness of
all we had chosen.
The strawberry is a fruit unshamed of its seeds. Make no mistake how it is textured
as the tongue.
Thirty years old.
Too late? Perhaps, but only when you think of evening, the song full and crickets volleying the trees,
the sound from one side then the other, a saturation that can carry the young
down the black river of who they think they should be.
Think instead of morning. Not the thin monotony of weak light, but that low, constant pleasuring of the air
that doesn’t try so hard but simply tips your ears
Nickole Brown received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. Her first collection, Sister, was published in 2007 by Red Hen Press, and Fanny Says came out from BOA Editions in 2015. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until she gave up her beloved time in the classroom in hope of writing full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry and is on faculty at the Writing Workshops in Greece and the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, here in Asheville.