To My Best Friend's Big Sister

Ross Gay

 
One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
standing
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she
observes
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
pubescent physique
which is not
a thing
to behold
what with my damp trunks
clinging to
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
sitting open-legged
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
this morning
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
a mourning
dove struggling
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
at once
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
its head
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
now
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
gluteus maximus
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child
me
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
gilded doors
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
that child
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
to himself
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
such shames
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
barely holding
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.
 
Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Poems by This Author

For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall by Ross Gay
Was with the pudgy hands of a thirteen-year-old
Prayer for My Unborn Niece or Nephew by Ross Gay
Today, November 28th, 2005, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Further Reading

Poems About Childhood
"Out, Out—"
by Robert Frost
Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]
by Claudia Rankine
A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball
by Christopher Merrill
A child said, What is the grass?
by Walt Whitman
Another Country
by Ryan Teitman
anyone lived in a pretty how town
by E. E. Cummings
Babylon
by Robert Graves
Because I cannot remember my first kiss
by Roger Bonair-Agard
Birches
by Robert Frost
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Blur
by Andrew Hudgins
Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
deer & salt block
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Early Memory
by January Gill O'Neil
Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About
by Judith Viorst
For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall
by Ross Gay
From the Lives of My Friends
by Michael Dickman
Giraffes
by Kimiko Hahn
Going Down Hill on a Bicycle
by Henry Charles Beeching
In the Waiting Room
by Elizabeth Bishop
Jabberwocky
by Lewis Carroll
Lullaby in Blue
by Betsy Sholl
My Aunts
by Meghan O'Rourke
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
My Childhood
by Matthew Zapruder
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Playgrounds
by Laurence Alma-Tadema
Pledge
by Elizabeth Powell
Poem for You
by David Shapiro
Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Solar system bedsheets
by Sarah Vap
The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Lamb
by William Blake
The Portrait
by Stanley Kunitz
The Retreat
by Henry Vaughan
The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
Untitled [The child thought it strange]
by Richard Meier
Untitled [You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old]
by Rudyard Kipling
We Are Seven
by William Wordsworth
Poems about Memories
A group of girls from Minnesota or black mascara
by Maureen Owen
A Violin at Dusk
by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Father Listens to the Artists
by David Petruzelli
For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell
by Nickole Brown
forgetting something
by Nick Flynn
Help Me to Salt, Help Me to Sorrow
by Judy Jordan
I shall forget you presently, my dear (Sonnet XI)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
In the Back Seat of History
by Mary Biddinger
Mississippi: Origins
by Anna Journey
Mnemonic
by Li-Young Lee
Mnemosyne
by Trumbull Stickney
Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)
by Adrian Matejka
My Grandmother's Love Letters
by Hart Crane
No Ticket
by Jonathan Wells
Piano
by D. H. Lawrence
Remembered Light
by Clark Ashton Smith
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
The Parallel Cathedral
by Tom Sleigh