In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • My Father’s Nipples, and: A Series of Feasts, and: Reading Sartre by the Creek
  • Charlotte Pence (bio)

My Father’s Nipples


Fat, pastry-dough sacks, tipped with cone-shaped nipples, not hard, considering it. No—more like bloated pieces of candy corn. The raging colors of that autumn, that elm we sat under as he told me his plans for me, for other girls, but mostly for me.


A father and daughter under an elm— so tall it scratched all day at the sun. Branches gnarled but striving up and away, something Frost might say a boy could climb, a man might climb to leave earth awhile, only a little while.


From a distance, perhaps the kitchen window over the sink, his hand cupping mine might have appeared loving.

Index finger circling, circling inside the palm— This is how you masturbate.This is how you kiss a man’s nipple.


One side of his pectorals: a beached jellyfish, a strong hope, a deflating ball sitting all winter in a puddle outside the door. [End Page 82] Rain didn’t skin the hole each day, but what always remained: the sinking in the driveway. Twenty feet down an elm root must have broken off part of the earth, pulling down part of the drive, flattening one side of the ball, so don’t tell me earth itself doesn’t leave for a while.


You cannot leave this earth, but you can cross a splayed log that crosses the creek once spring begins its thaw; And you can stare at the shifting light through the shivering branches; And you can decide to love what isn’t attached to what you hate.

Separate the log, the crossing, the leaves, the mother watching by the kitchen window from the elm, the body, the weight of the body. Even relinquish your hate of this earth forbidding your climbing away, giving only an afternoon by the creek under cover of damp-green rhododendrons while humidity and ghost-thin mosquitoes hover alongside something else best not to name. [End Page 83]

A Series of Feasts

Life began when I stood on a stool listening to the stiff-shirt rustle of a brown grocery bag, worms hatching, crackling from pecans I’d gathered, warm top of the humming fridge birthing them all.

From the stiff-shirt rustle of brown grocery bags, to the light, the dark as Dad paced by windows, the warm hum of the fridge accompanying all, how can this life not be “a feast of brief hopes?”

The light, the dark. From Dad pacing by windows, my brother swallowing ten bottles of pills, “Life is,” Milosz once wrote, “a feast of brief hopes.” How Ann smiled, one corner down, at my husband

as we swallowed shots of Scotch after dinner. At that moment I realized I’d never smiled how she smiled. Folding one page corner down, he focused on his date book’s next task; he avoids grief

most moments—like realizing I’ve never smiled or reading scrawled love notes found on sunken ships— by doing his date book’s next task. To avoid grief, each ship trudges to the next shore, the next hope.

I wonder: how dying notes scrawled on ships like the Kursk differ from immigrants’ prayers who travel on orange dots of rafts floating to the next shore. Helen, too, crossed the Aegean convinced of better.

How different is it? Immigrants traveling on, Helen crossing the Aegean sure of better love, to worms crackling from pecans I’d gathered, never ate, life beginning as I stood listening. [End Page 84]

Reading Sartre by the Creek

Not an S, more like a furious scribble, that cottonmouth charging me. Wet-black, thick whip cleaving creek-side grass and horseweed in harsh whispers. Wild thrash

of body. Wide ghost of mouth. I’ve dreamt this, a snake attacking, woke worried what it could mean. But now, the snake real, I grin at each strike and miss, at speed, quick as pain travels through flesh,

grin at how the day’s suddenly filled with a sureness: no debate what I should do; no mystery of its intent...


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pp. 82-85
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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