ESSIE MAE   |   MISE-EN-SCÈNES






[Tomboy’s Prologue]



Slippery as a silver fish, Essie Mae

slept in cracks, her damp ripe. Wanting,


my little cherry held my whole heart—

young & barely tufted.  I


shared her with Uncle Eddy. Only

for me, she slipped past the couch,


past the chair asleep on their watch.

Tiptoed through TV’s bruised light


blaring. She crept walls

to my bedroom door, her blurred dark


laid down beside me, pressed

my mouth to each raspberry, swollen


quick, her hungry   outfoxing

winter’s hold—early cold-heated


mornings.  Mouth open, she left her lips


on my neck, her hurt sounds

calling & calling for me all day. 





[Neighbor’s barn, late spring, late day]



In stygian heat, we stage the loft—pair

            ebon eyes, your dark




straw—we invent fresh acts of love


your breasts puckering

            two full moons.

                                    The barn

                        crawls sunset

across the pasture—


I mount

            her last shadow


                        in canopies

of horse chestnuts,


trunks shifting legs—

            sway thick crowns

                                    in and out

                        of lunar light. The loft

window holds one eye open,


guards fledgling fingers



                        all afternoon,

our want milked


sweet arcs. Tonight, we return,

            slip leather reins off the hook—


                        the horses

with small handfuls of grain to watch over


our secret. We gambol stallion

            & mare, I straddle you

                                    & we ride

                        & ride

the wall, your leg thrown over

                                    my shoulder.





[Bedroom, window overlooks backfield, midwinter night]



You chase

your hand up my leg                        

                                 your lips  glazed


I pony into first love

all at once                   


                                 I thought I knew

only the body can speak of)

You shake

                                 your mane down

                                 in the backfield

at the lower corner

of the bed

                                 Horse eyes

                                 sink into cold

sockets mid-winter

The window

                                 an open book

                                 you leave

for me

a blank white page    

                                 in snow   A bird

                                 in the radiator

whistles steam

& sings                      

                                 sings for spring

                                 & O   Here you come





[Bedroom, crocuses appear after light snow, first sign of spring]






 [Boat launch, July, hazy sunset]



At dusk, you crack champagne over the hull

of the Maggie C. at Buck’s wharf, you

in your white dress splattered with peonies

each the size of a baby’s head, loud & pink. You dissolve

into fog with Elvis, your red heels sliding

slow octaves across wet planks. Your arms ess-ing

double snakes over your head. The whole family, extended

& loaded stumbling beer & lobster—how you

pulled Uncle Eddy into you, his launch

with his wife’s name under floodlights, glaring.


His hand reaches under your hem, throws

his head back, laughing as if that’s

what cousins do. Behind the gray fish house,

shingles push into your back, for a second

you’re gone. A fisher-boy sweeps

Uncle’s wife off the sideline, leaving her vacant

chair spinning Your Cheatin’ Heart.


& just days ago, my little carrot pointed straight up—

pulled out from your peony bed, slow, centrifugal. Tonight

when Uncle’s boat lowered down the slipway, its stern

tied & chafing the wharf with smallest waves

lapping, I stood inside its hooded cabin,

reached down. & where the cabin window

was paned, held the other over glass,

making you, the full moon, its gorged night

disappear wholly into deepened, reddening fog.






[Fish house, summer, night]



Flicking sticks we dance accidents in dusky

                  salmon & lily—leftover from my father’s

         pot buoys. We strip, drip raw moonlight

waxing, indecent. & under the amber bulb,


its single purpose sags a lit teat from the peak,

                  the earnest buzz of utility, the frantic fly

         nipping paint-speckled glass & a bat’s shadow

sweeps ribbons crisscrossing its sonar


in pelican gray. We explode pastiche in a Pollock

                  on bleached canvas, a boat cover castoff, peppered

         frayed holes, stretches the fish house floor.

With a snap you launch a thousand nipples


across the starry chest. Grommets nurse salmon

                  bleeding the edge. In a brush you bristle lily

         between runny legs, the whole floor thrown to drizzle.

With one last sleight of hand, the pink pebble


rises, swells, screams for mercy in wee morning light.





[Bedroom, early spring, night]



Moon-oystered in April, my window stretches

squares of light to the opposing wall. My room skewed


tough & sassy, spins its adolescent center. The record player

needles a quick sweat, jitterbugging you


to my muffled door. & when Orion perforates glass,

I hoof my three-starred belt, my bright metal


cot unfolds & lies

lit.  Your dress full of last night’s apple


blossoms where we crawled under the pearly skirt

of the neighbor’s tree. When I lifted its fresh edge & entered,


the whole tree bent, crowned with becoming & the lea—an ocean,

forbidden—wild grasses hissing gossip at the brink.


*     *     *


Tonight, I wait for high tide

to pull you into my hungry cove, fish


opaline pearl. & when houses along Huddle Road

turned their backs, cut lights & drew their quiet shades,


I went nebula: Orion orbiting my walls, three stars

hover April’s waist, the moon peeking its oyster


above horizon’s dark hem, lifting your face, I dare you boy.





[Epilogue of a Tomboy]



Was I ever not boy? When

I look down from the ceiling / I see

size 11 men’s extending / outer edges of my face / I watch

myself / watching / & then I watch the one watching

& so on / maybe / my body three times removed / So when I see

myself in daylight / I see only shadows

overlapping / For years I could not keep my lies

straight / only nights I was true / Essie Mae appeared

in galactic figments / you may have noticed  / she arrived

at dusk mostly when my neck bent / my head down / chin dropped
into the clavicles / She lifted my face / held it

to hers / & yes / I made her

older / She had to be / accepting / & yes / I made her

boomerang / Uncle’s two-timing / & her oglers crowding

mise-en-scènes / backdoors of desire / dumb-

founded / Crows fly the belfry / no roost / no

ring / Door / handle pivots / I exit stage left

unattended / Cri de coeur / for the godforsaken curtain call