Poem of the Week | April 08, 2008

This week’s poem is “When We Are Late” by Marlys West. It is previously unpublished. Marlys West is an award-winning poet and writer living in Los Angeles. She was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, an NEA grant recipient in poetry, and received her M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers. In 1999 the University of Akron Press published her book of poems, “Notes for a Late-Blooming Martyr.” She is currently finishing a new book of poems and a novel.

“When I was young the front lip of every front yard in my neighborhood had a deep, grassy ditch and silver culvert that tunneled under each driveway. Summertime we played in the woods behind our houses; at night we played in the front yards and those ditches were the perfect place to lie down when it was dry. Because it was hard to mow, the ditch grass was longer and softer than the grass in the rest of any particular yard. I didn’t include that detail in this poem, but I may keep it for something else as I keep mulling over the idea that as a child you don’t really belong to the landscapes you inhabit.”

When We Are Late

Winter we were much more in trouble
but that summer the big stick
stayed in the corner,
and everybody kissed his or her lucky stars.
June passed in three houses:
brick on a cul-de-sac, a treehouse out back,
last the half-collapsed barn
in a bamboo glade that took ages to reach
and where we found a chipped teacup
we called fine china and a dirty
indeterminable thing
made of yarn.
What was it for?  We each had our mothers.
It was a long day for them, too,
moving bird-like in their respective kitchens.
July we lay in the drainage ditch,
and waiting.  The barn was better,
bamboo pressed tight as a wool blanket.
I was tired by August; I was eleven.
My teeth began to buck,
my hair splintered.  It took forever to get
marginally pretty.  Such is adolescence
for girls.  There was a log ladder
for the house in trees, you climb up and up
until the loam and sticks of the forest floor
look like tweed.