Poem-A-Day: Lynn Melnick

I have to admit I’ve been distracted lately. My daughter’s birthday is this week; the Orange-Belt Fairy Princess Badass is turning fourteen. While it’s enough that organizing the festivities (as well as coordinating everything else going on in my life both personal and professional, and wow, there’s a lot of that) has taken up most of my attention, I can’t let go of the scratchy little tickle in the back of my brain that reminds me she’s becoming more and more a young adult every day, and not just because she can raid my closet now and look better in my clothes than I do.

I can’t put the brakes on this train and wouldn’t if I could. We all know adolescence is a time of Figuring Things Out, and that can be a messy process. And I wish there were things I could still protect her from. Not gonna lie, if I could go back in time and not give her a cell phone in middle school, I’d absolutely do it in a heartbeat. If I could pare down the internet to make it less about entertainment and politics and nonsense, I would. But some genies just won’t go back in their bottles. And even the stress of this morass has got me mixing metaphors, so I’ll just get to the poem and then get back to catching up everything else on my “ever-expanding, self-spawning to-do list.” (And thanks to David Jón Fuller for that gloriously apt phrase.)

This poem by Lynn Melnick always makes me think of my daughter. And my mother. And everything else about the water we swim in.

.

Twelve.

When I was your age I went to a banquet.
When I was your age I went to a barroom
.
and bought cigarettes with quarters
lifted from the laundry money. Last night
.
I did all your laundry. I don’t know why
I thought this love could be pure. It’s enough
.
that it’s infinite. I kiss your cheek when you sleep
and wonder if you feel it.
.
It’s the same cheek I’ve kissed from the beginning.
You don’t have to like me.
.
You just have to let me
keep your body yours. It’s mine.
.
When I was your age I went to a banquet
and a man in a tux pinched my cheeks.
.
When I was your age I went to a barroom
and a man in a band shirt pinched my ass.
.
There is so much I don’t know about you.
Last night I skipped a banquet
.
so I could stay home and do your laundry
and drink wine from my grandmother’s glass.
.
When I was your age boys traded quarters
for a claw at my carcass on a pleather bench
.
while I missed the first few seconds of a song
I’d hoped to record on my backseat boombox.
.
When I was your age I enjoyed a hook.
You think I know nothing of metamorphosis
.
but when I was your age I invented a key change.
You don’t have to know what I know.
.

***

Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Landscape with Sex and

photo credit: Timothy Donnelly

Violence (2017) and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), both with YesYes Books, and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015). Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and A Public Space, and her essays have appeared in LA Review of Books, ESPN, and the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.

.
A former fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and previously on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, she currently teaches poetry at Columbia University and the 92Y, and works with saferLIT. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.
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