Jennifer Dempsey

The Trip Down

Oak leaves still sugared with dew. Our small boat
. . all but free from its rhythmic thud—
. . . . . . bow to dock, bow to dock. This water

thick, black, & falling. Let it rain. The night
. . the bear crossed Cheboygan State Park,
. . . . . . we hung berries in the pine.

It broke the fragile branches —scattered needles,
. . crushed fruit— & ripped everything of ours
. . . . . . that remained. Gone, we didn’t

hear the scream— her eyes, his lips. They’d been
. . chasing each other, covering their fingers
. . . . . . over the constant stars & rubbing

the falling heat. July came slick on the skin.
. . We swam in the Huron to escape
. . . . . . the growing deer flies, an unrelenting itch.

Dawn, their blood puddled by the lake. Footprints,
. . a single hand along the shore, gripping air,
. . . . . . & gnawed—. No bodies found, but I still smell

that desperation— in this bottomless morning river,
. . along these splintering paddles, & between us,
. . . . . . the moments we know we want something more.

Soft Knees

. . . .For Katie

We tunneled beneath the sink
for tissue to plump our bras. There, your mom’s
super tampons. Lipsmacker necklace, pink
scrunchies, a tube of mascara
in the drawer of expired makeup.
You rubbed its crusted wand above my lip,
a new moustache for the evening. Dinner and Dirty
, my voice lower than yours— I was the man.
Just remember/you’re the one thing/I can’t get/
enough of
. Layers of tulle around your knees,
soft with blond down. How I wanted
that piece of womanhood— beautiful
gauze clutched in each hand, the skirt
fanning when you twirled. How I wanted
those half-inch heeled sandals,
cream-colored, purple nail polish
fresh on your pedicured toes. You wouldn’t play
90210 that day, even with your Dylan doll.
“We’re eight,” you said.
And when you pulled out that razor,
edge shiny, unused, I was unsure
which way to direct the blade— down toward my feet
or up toward my thigh. My first shaving blood
right there on the carpet. We stopped at the knees—
because ladies don’t go up there
and rubbed our fingertips down that polished skin.

Jennifer Dempsey is an MFA candidate at University of Maryland and a 2008 fellow in the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Redactions, Pebble Lake Review, The Santa Clara Review, Long River Run, and others.