Poem of the Week | March 09, 2015

This week we offer a new poem by Geetha Iyer. Iyer received an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State University in 2014. Her fiction appears in Orion, Gulf Coast, and Salt Hill, and has received the Calvino Prize from the University of Louisville, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and a work-study scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. She grew up in the United Arab Emirates. This is her first poetry publication.

Author’s note:

I’ve rewritten “Little Spoon” many times, and it has always resisted genre classification. Even now, as a poem, there’s a messiness to it that mirrors the messiness of talking about sex and sexuality with children. Adults invariably leave out the important stuff—not just about how bodies fit together, but the many—often unequal—reasons why they might come together. Despite their best intentions, the censored explanations and unspoken thoughts of adults project themselves onto our young bodies. We begin to understand sex as a form of negative space—a nebulous boundary zone between protected/coveted, stolen/given, skin/other-skin. If we are lucky, we shed our childhoods slowly, and grow into those projected shapes by choice.


Little Spoon

Or: How Indian girls slowly lose virginity
It is in furtiveness that strange men in public places press up against your seven-year-old bum and drift abruptly past when you turn around. The clamor of crowds conceals phantom appendages that reach like blunt clippers to nip the buds of undeveloped breasts. No amount of searching can resurrect the roots that sprouted

 those questing fingers.

As you play hide and seek in the cupboard with your cousin he will move his body before yours to protect you, his arm will reach around, a shield—he means to hide you—and his hand will cup your breast. You will try to disengage from his curiosity, the humidity in that space

between old coats and closed doors.

Our twelve-year-old fingers persist in prying apart pasted pages of biology textbooks. The illustrations and explanations of how humans reproduce are sealed off with glue. When the glue ran out, a black marker was used to scribble a censory circle of darkness—it eclipses our desire to

learn how bodies function.

Take ownership of

this body.

At thirteen, it is in furtiveness that we whisper about Ruqsana, who—it is rumored—pisses blood every four weeks

with unexplained regularity.

To the ice rink, Mina brings her father’s medical dictionary, over which we pore for answers to questions about penetration. We learn about the cervix shaped like a nose deep within our legs and go home that evening in the back seats of our parents’ cars, rubbing the tips of our noses with the tips of our fingers, wondering

if an orgasm feels like a sneeze.

We wonder about boys and men. They touch their embarrassments in class when they think no one is looking. They steal maxipads from our backpacks and stain them with goats’ blood and stick them to our desks. Our teachers turn purple, say to them—This is your mother’s blood. This is your mother. We come to believe we are a force of worship—if not, the boys would not try so hard

to stage their desecrations.

At fourteen your mother hisses when you ask what the word “fuck” means that you are never to repeat that word again because it is bad. Bad like if your mother and father were to be naked in front of each other—

perhaps something is lost in translation.

At fifteen you ask your father what a condom is and he blushes and says to

look it up in a dictionary.

The word “prostitute” bursts like a bubble from the mouth of a Lebanese sixteen-year-old slow dancing with a Jordanian who raises his middle finger at the Iranian boy who came to goad them to hold their arms lower, below the waist. To an Indian girl the Lebanese girl’s words are foreign. She leafs through the dictionary in her head and wonders if a prostitute is

like a politician.

Your questing fingers—between old coats and closed doors—learn how bodies function. This body, this body feels, with unexplained regularity. Feels like a sneeze that will not come. If an orgasm feels like a sneeze, perhaps you could just be done with it already. You are so much older than eighteen when he, behind the door, between the coats, takes his questing fingers to turn you, so he is pressed up against you—big spoon—that when you bury your nose into that old coat and whisper how long it is before Indian girls lose their virginity, he stops. And steps away. What is this new kind of worship, that he will not stage his desecration because of a technicality? Perhaps something has been lost in translation. Look it up in the dictionary, like a politician. Like a politician, he backs away, but you bend into that hollow,

little spoon.