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Judy McCombs

Judith McCombs grew up in almost all the continental states, in a geodetic surveyor's family: Her poetry has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, Grrrrr: A Collection of Poems about Bears, Maryland Poetry Review, Minimus, Nimrod (a Neruda Award), Poet Lore, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Potomac Review, Prism, River Styx, Sisters of the Earth, and elsewhere. She has held a NEH Fellowship, a Canadian Embassy Senior Fellowship, and a Maryland State Arts Council Award in Poetry; and taught at Wayne State University, as a Creative Writer in the Schools, and at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies College of Art and Design. Her creative books are Sisters and Other Selves (Glass Bell, MD, 20/20 Visionary Eclipse and the Whorling Try/Angles (Wineberry, D.C.). Against Nature: Wilderness Poems (in its second printing with Dustbooks CA), and Territories Here and Elsewhere (Mayapple, Ml).


The first man I called Sir
the wrong way, not meaning it, was the one
who stopped his black Chevy on the hill
near high school, Could I come over
& show him the route to West
Cherry Lane? I could, he didn't
look dirty or strange, just grown-up
but young, with a dark plaid shirt
& his sleeves turned up, & a road map
unfolded over the steering,
like my father, on trips. I was trying
to see where he pointed, when I couldn't
help seeing his other hand hefting
something below, it looked
alive but somehow skinned over,
like sausage. I knew he wanted
me to think it was really all him.
He wasn't ugly or anything
different, he had a regular nose,
his eyes were dark & real serious,
giving orders somehow. He was handsome
in fact. This was all broad daylight,
& houses I knew, my regular
route. So I called him Sir
& more Sir, pretending I thought
nothing was wrong, while I backed
away from his arm, which had hairs
like the minister's, & the closed car door,
& got back to the papers I'd been folding
on the storm drain corner. His car
drove off up the hill, getting smaller,
like a little black toy. The street
stayed empty. I looked down at my jeans,
which were brand-new from Penney's, with a plaid,
red-&-white, lining the cuffs.

Next day, in the lunchroom, I started
to tell my best friends, at the end
of the table. They giggled a lot,
Was he handsome? Did he ask you to hold it?
Did he show you his money? I wanted
to ask was it really all him,
but didn't know how. Then Agnes,
who was bigger, said he was just a pervert,
they always came out in the spring
back home, why once there was one waiting
at the bus stop, with his fly wide open,
& she & her cousins just laughed
& pointed, till he cussed them out
& ran off in the woods. Just a pervert,
that's all. I felt better, & thirsty
& hungry. Agnes had finished
most of my lunch, which was chowder
with franks, so she gave me her pie,
which was cinnamon apple with topping,
& better than usual. So I had
two desserts, before the bell rang.

Calyx and Territories, Here & Elsewhere (Saginaw, MI: Mayapple, 1998).

The Observers

The glacier disappoints you:
it resembles (you observe,
through binoculars) not snow
but rather, soiled underwear.

How right you are,
I agree.
how your underwear, discarded
(I later observe)
does not resemble
a glacier at all.

Against Nature: Wilderness Poems (Paradise, CA: Dustbooks).

Afterwards, You Learn

Afterwards, you learn to say
you were lucky, the last-year's cubs
stayed safely behind her, breaking
the thickets for berries. Lucky
the wind from the darkening valley
turned cold, and your jacket was heavy,
and zipped to the neck. Lucky
you knew, too late for retreat
in that clearing of downfall and stone,
to drop and go fetal, arm
over neck, playing dead. Lucky
the backpack came off like an arm,
saving most of your arm, and kept her
busy till the grunting cubs
called her back to their feast.

Afterwards you learn to say
that the fault was yours: you were tired,
you were stubborn, making up for lost time
on that summer-growth trail through clearings
and thickets, the wind in your face,
not bothering to sing out or warn
what was there besides you, not waiting
for warnings to reach you.

But sometimes, in sleep, you go back
to that stonefall clearing, that edge
of safety where your scalp hair rises
like hackles for no reason you see,
and there is still enough time to go back
as that dark shape lifts upright
from its tangle of shadow, like a man
in a burly fur suit, peering out,
and you wake with the ghost hairs rising
like fur on your unscarred neck
and perfect right arm.

Poetry Northwest , 39, 4 (Winter 1998-99): 16

Copyright © 2001. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Duplication of this poetry and/or art without permission of the author/artist is forbidden under copyright law. Please ask permission if you wish to use for non-commercial purposes.