You might think this is a start-up company.
It’s a start-up of sorts,
a young woman’s developing breasts,
which are noticed with great interest,
not only by boys, but girls, too,
who have been strolling past bras for sale
and giggling, now ashamed
of their undershirts. They ask Mother:
When can I have a bra?
When you have more than fried eggs
hanging from a hook, she replies.
The most precocious girl develops ways
to fend off boys and pushes at any,
who, taunted by friends, thrust a finger
into the middle of her back, pull,
snap her new bra.
What other girl is on the fast track?
The one the wee beasties call Milk Bottles?
Questions to Mother about this nickname
elicit the information that breasts carry milk:
Good god, like cows?
Developmental Writing Class Students Call Therapy
One student gets to most classes, especially
after the professor telephones him when he misses
two in a row. She likes his good humor
even though he whines that he is the only one
who sends money home, the only one
who visits his mother in Brazil.
One night he comes to class looking pale
and shaky. He says someone yelled at him,
“Why don’t you go back where you came from.
Why don’t you learn to speak the language.”
He may burst into tears. His boss sent him home
for the rest of the day and gave him a gift certificate
to LL Bean. His boss tells him the stranger
was having a bad day. “Forget it.”
One of the Egyptian students is a terrible writer,
but he has a rich imagination. He is writing
a “process” essay he has titled “How to
Please Your Wife on Her Birthday.”
You begin, he reads, by waking her gently;
kiss her on her eyelids. Then take her breakfast
in bed. While she is at work, he recommends
washing her dog. The class is in a delighted uproar.
Of course, he vacuums the apartment
and when she comes home from work
he has tickets to fly her to Venice for dinner.
What adds to the general joy:
the professor has forgotten once again
that this student makes everything up:
he isn’t even married.
And then one student–she’s been in this country
seventeen years, many of them working
the night shift in a local factory. She is having
a nervous breakdown. She owns her own house
where she enjoys her garden and white wine
on Saturday afternoons, but her second husband
cheats on her. She begins to cry in class,
sometimes even before it starts.
Another student goes outside with her.
The professor sends her to a counselor,
doesn’t know what he says to her,
but she gets her tears under control.
She ends up seeking a divorce–
and the highest grade in the class.
Another woman, American, college age,
who has ADHD, frequently runs to the front
of the class in terror, confused
and overwhelmed. Somehow the professor
penetrates her anxiety, teaches her to unscramble
her tumbling ideas. She tells the girl again and again
you can do this. Take your time.
Consider first one idea, then the next.
Make a list. Do a little mapping before you begin.
Judith Askew is the author of two books of poetry, Here at the Edge of the Sea and On the Loose, and she was coeditor of Out of the Cellar, a book of women’s poetry. On the Loose won the Bass River Press Poetry Competition judged by Tony Hoagland and was the first book published by the press.