"We sing the body electric..."

We challenged, you rose to the task. Whether first-time scribes or seasoned pros from the Academy of American Poets, Salon readers have been hard at work writing body-inspired verses of their own.


Salon Staff
August 20, 2005 12:33AM (UTC)

Yesterday, Salon staff -- inspired by the new Nike campaign -- wrote some ditties about our bodies and challenged readers to do the same. We were not disappointed. We have been flooded with verse of every variety; even the Academy of American Poets has gotten in on our poesy party. Below is our first batch of reader poetry, our favorites culled from just one day of submissions. Shine on, you crazy diamonds, keep showering us with your lyric love, and we'll publish another batch of the best next week!

Sometimes I feel
Bad about the way I
Look.
Oh well. At least I can
Write poetry.
It's easy!

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-- Anonymous staff member from the Academy of American Poets

Ode

It was what I wanted most:
    a hairy chest, like my father's,
like this senior's at school, poking
    through the mesh of his football jersey.
I'd watch him strut across the field, a 17 year old with olive skin,
    darkness threading his legs and forearms.
I wanted to curl up among his curls and sleep there,
    nestled in and breathing in the dank sweat at the roots.
In 4th grade, I caught a friend scratching his groin,
    and at my look of wonder, he confided,
"It itches, don't you have any?"
    I felt left behind, especially when an aunt
would tease me about my girl legs, smooth until junior high,
    before sprouting light brown curls,
like commas scattered across the blank text of my skin.
    I wanted more.
Once, I returned to my locker to find Ricky,
    a senior, unstoppable on the soccer field,
drying off, steaming in the fluorescent light.
    It was winter, the gym's windows
    opaque and darkening by five o'clock,
and it was his hair, light golden brown all over
    his ruddy body, that glistened and transfixed me,
a boy trying to impress an older boy
    with talk of soccer practice.
When his towel fell away to reveal the mass of wiry curls
    around his small, bald cock,
I turned away, unable, finally,
    to pretend indifference any longer.

I dressed, then went home like any other night.
    But I knew then: it made you a man,
the smoothness of boyhood giving way to texture,
    a rough surface to kiss -- other boys talked
of a girl's softness, but I wanted erosion:
    to be worn away by another boy's body.
Years later, I would wake in an empty bed,
    or beside a stranger, longing for the burn
of an unshaved face against my own,
    betrayed by my shoft chest,
a man without the body of a man.
    Tucked into my baby book,
an envelope holds the remnants of my first haircut,
    a passage I don't remember,
but I cried, I am told, like most boys,     before a trio of barbers,
whose shop buzzed with clippers, as men drowzed
    through fishing and hunting magazines,
or watched a football game on the fuzzy black and white set,
    perched on top of a soda machine.
Behold the mystery of manhood,
    as the clipper's electric teeth graze my neck,
the barber's swift scissors hovering
    over my head, nipping my ears,
a halo of blades,
    while my father whispers,
be a big boy, my mother holding
    a white envelope in her hands
to catch the first curls
    falling to the floor.

-- Charles Flowers, New York, N.Y.

My hair is gray upon my head
(for that is where it grows)
and yet, the TV surgeon said,
I still could fix my nose,

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Botox the wrinkles from my brow
and plump my thinning lips
(both on my face and down below)
and lipo tum and hips.

'Twould send my self-esteem sky high,
he said, to have this look.
I cut myself a piece of pie
and went back to my book.

-- Katha Pollitt, New York, N.Y.

Chicken of the spring
I am not, sadly, these days
Ab reduced to flab

-- David Norland, Los Angeles

My legs are short
My soccer coach in high school
(varsity - thankyouverymuch)
Called me "stubs"
And this is not a story of triumph -
I did not overcome my short legs
And become the fastest girl on the team
I was the slowest.
(but I had a mean slide tackle)
Also my legs are white.
And hairy.
Not in resistance of the patriarchy
But in resistance to ten extra minutes in the shower.
And my knees are fat.
And I have cankles.
But God help me,
If I ever see that soccer coach again,
I will use all the muscles on my
Short, stubby, white, hairy, fat, cankled legs
And kick him so he will not be
Doing it
Anytime soon.

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-- A.S., Mass.

My shoes are size seven, my rings are size four
and I stand five feet five with my feet on the floor.
You might think my measurements sound pretty great:
thirty-six, twenty-six and thirty-eight
but when I go shopping, it's full of surprises
because my one body is three different sizes.
Most people think I'm a girly-girl flirt
because I can always be seen in a skirt
but people who think that just don't get the gist;
the fact is, the pants that fit me don't exist.
Although I wear sweats for my morning contortions
they really don't look good on curvy proportions.
I'd gladly wear jeans if a pair could be found
that were small where I'm skinny and large where I'm round.
So if sellers of clothes want my money they'll care to
make pants that fit my waist and my derriere, too.
Now, can they "just do it"? Go to it. I dare you!

-- Francesca Fortunato

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I was born fat.
I stayed that way for all of a year.
Since then, I have only grown up, not out.
My shirts show wear from my collarbones.
girls go to rest their heads on my shoulder
and say "ow" and rub their temple.
But being skinny isn't a problem--
obesity is the problem.
I should count my blessings.
I bruise easily
I get cold easily
my joints ache
That's three, I guess.

-- Alan Gilbert, Atlanta, Ga.

They say all strength comes from your core, but
I have no core.
I'm a chocolate with a gooey center.
Thin at the edges
And soft in the middle.

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Yeah, I'm skinny,

Until you get to my butt,

which is enormous and heart-shaped, like a pulpy romance...

and the thighs! One bigger than the other.
My stomach -- that's an igloo, round and white.

As for the extremities, they're disheveled too.
All the dirt in the universe comes to reside under my nails.
My hair grows thick and giant instead of sleek.
My ears are not on straight.

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I even have a rock in my knee.
(I fell on it when I was three.)
Believe it, then:
There is no one like me.

-- Heather Lowe, Summerville, S.C.

I call it
"the source of all my power."
My friends and family
call it gross
and ask,
"When are you going to get that removed?"
But I think, hey,
it's not bothering me at all.
Where did it come from?
Years of karate classes, most likely.
Sometimes I think
it may be nice to have pretty feet.
Then again,
who said they aren't?
They're unique
thanks to
the wart on my right big toe.

-- Kat Zambon, Washington, D.C.

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An Ode to My Derriere

My boyfriend
loves my ass
cannot get enough of it
but I think that there is much too much
to get
and every time he insists upon
grabbing at it
I am reminded of the cellulite
And this, I think
is before pregnancy
and birth
and my 30s
Oh well
my pants still fit
and Dove says that their cellulite cream
will reduce lines and wrinkles
and I guess
if we just turn out the light
it doesn't really matter anyway

-- Katie Raser

Shins bruised,
Battered,
Banged-up and bitten.
They held such promise:
Long and toned,
But ultimately revealing
The thirtysomething schoolgirl inside.
These shins are thin-skinned and inclined
To drift
Into the unforgiving corners of
Coffee tables and bookshelves,
To leap into the arc of a car door
Swinging open,
To offer a midsummer feast
To a supplicant mosquito,
Poor thing, you mustn't have had
A thing to eat for days.
Please, help yourself.

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-- Paula Fomby, Baltimore, Md.

Big butts and thunder thighs
Match my tummy's extra size.
But it's a challenge I'm willing to meet,
As I walk each morning, down the street.
My body may be rounding, not thin as a rake,
But my depression is over, I've a positive take.
I have joy in my life, and that's how I view it,
So accept your bulges, take walks and just do it.

-- Brian Quinn, Poway, Calif.

No part of my body
other than the whites of my eyes
are the color
nature intended
and that's just fine

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Skin? That nutty warm glow
comes with the three-hour
stenchfest
that is self-tanner

And when my teeth
ZING as the bleach hits
hairline cracks from
too many years of nailbiting
I hold on anyway
because white is right

Hair? For all I know I
may have gone gray
ten years ago
I don't want to know
Flaming Red is so much more ME
than Mouse

Pale blue eyes are fine
for the days I really need to see
but really
blue and green contacts
are more fun
someday I'll wear
one of each
Just to freak people out

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Gym? Please.
I've learned the art of
bias-cut stretch-jersey camouflage
and like our Prez
I have a life to live

Cars get spoilers
and spinning hubcaps

Why shouldn't I customize
too?

Just do it

-- Denise Van Slyke

I have large, oily mediterranean pores
My whole body is covered with them
They gave me pimples right into my late 20s
On my face, my back, sometimes my chest

But they also give me glossy hair
Now there are several gray strands in that hair
But I have no wrinkles thanks to my oily pores
My grandmother looked 60 at 85

I'm proud to have my grandmother's pores
And proud every time the razor
Skims over her varicose veins.

--Sativa Quinn, Anchorage, Alaska

Symmetry

ain't       what god gave me
too uptight       by his/her decree
gray hairs that populate       mostly one side
one on the left       to each ten on the right
wavering cheeks       that bulge when i laugh
but less on the left       -- my better half
yet i've gotten even       by seeing straight
despite poor vision       that deviates.

--David J. Banks, Minneapolis, Minn.

The line from my neck to the small of my back
Ain't so bad, curves are soft-focus
But the line ends at a pouf, a fat shelf
That casts a shadow over my flat ass below it
Lo! My shelf!
How you make pants fit in awkward ways!
How many pairs of Spanx do I need?
Back kicks! Sit-ups! Begone, shelf!
One parent with shelf plus another parent with shelf
Equals four daughters with misshapen asses
But curves are soft-focus, they ain't so bad
The shelf is part of the package
He can rest his head on my pillowy stomach
And fall asleep cozy
Try doing that with an Olsen twin

-- Marla Garfield

I am a girl-woman:
A woman with minuscule breasts
They barely fit in A-cups
And can't hold up a strapless dress
I used to curse my booblets
I thought they were a real drag
Now I consider myself lucky
Because they're simply too small to sag
They just won't do it.

-- Corrie Pikul, New York, N.Y.

My neck cracks. Ankle
flecked with odd blue veins -- who knew?
Three-three: My summer.

The chicks dig it not:
Like Yoda, shorter I am.
Inch on Farhad though

Ate. Drank. Just fucked it.
The body I made is mine
to accept or change

-- Christopher Rusho, Ocean Beach, Calif.

It finally happened at 30
my body left its confines
after years of spinning turbines
the cigarettes and wine glasses
of twentysomething dating classes.

The butt that never gained a thing
a lure for men, a giggling thing
that danced all night in gowns once worn
by tiny 20s movie stars.

But now a meal lasts a great deal longer
than lingering eyes over wine and pasta
and goes to my thighs like white on rice.
Hey Mom - I've discovered cellulite!

How now begins this epic battle?
Will esteem drop with hips that waddle?
I've heard the elders mutter bitter
of tits that sag, how men must gag
and that one day I'll understand.

But this precious territory
is sadly, only temporary
And it's the only one I've got
for life's in motion, life is not
the perfect frozen laundry list
the measure of the men you've kissed,
so let me die an onanist!

-- Zoe Greenberg, New York, N.Y.

My magnificent ass
Hides behind me like
A shy child clinging to its mother
It is a barnacle on a ship
Unwilling to be pried off with will or force
It is my own version of a Kentucky waterfall
Business in front, party in the rear
Unfortunately, the party is getting rowdy
And I think there may be a wrestling match going on back there.
But no chair is too hard
No bench too uncomfortable
For this super-convenient, ultra-soft, |ber-padded rear
Perhaps God is trying to tell me something?
Pass the remote.

-- T. Fenniak, Edmonton, Canada

Saddlebags.
Straight out of a Saturday afternoon western
I've got 'em.
Packin' twin sacs either side of my hips
The likes of which size me a sub-waist 12 or 14
Perpetually.
Nice shoulders
Nice neck
Long legs, arms, hands, feet
Wrists and ankles narrow and slim
Bellybutton? Vertical. And taut.
My back's even been called Superhero
Oh--
and I'm Tall.
BUT.
Butt my hips.
My ravenous, gluttonous, hoarding hips.
THERE IS NO IMPENDING FAMINE
I see my body as an otherwise long smooth perpetual line
assaulted
by hungry bumps.
Unrequited Perfection.
I'm still young and vain and stupid enough to court that sadistic bastard.

-- Amanda Henkel, Cambridge, Mass.

My smile
Is almost as wide as my ass
And in the echo of my laugh
You might not notice
The extra weight to my arms
Or legs
Or stomach
But I do
It's an uphill battle to not care
That my body could fill a phone booth
Even as I know the part that really counts
Could fill a stadium.

-- Kimli Welsh, Vancouver, B.C.

I love my Dad
but hate his chin
his chin is my chin
It starts at his jaw
and goes to his collar
Like a turkey
I see my future
in his chin
gobble gobble gobble
Plastic surgery at 35
Just Do It.

-- Jennifer Levett

The face in the picture is some old broad
Scarier yet,
My mother, perhaps.
All those lines of longitude
Between my brows
Hollowing my cheeks
Turning my lower jaw into Howdy Doody.

I don't see the same me in the mirror
Only in photos.
What's with the selective perception?

I could afford a face-lift
Yank everything up and along the equator
Wear turtle necks over my turtle-neck
Or
I could burn that picture
And keep smiling at the mirror

-- BilliDawn Schoggen

My belly is my grandmother's
The legacy of Northern starches -
A product of Germany and Scandinavia

Lefse smothered with butter
Dumplings as big as softballs
Potatoes drowning in gravy

Krumkaker smothered in whipped cream
Sandbakkles full of almonds
Brown Betty bursting with apples

My niece has the same belly
To her it's the Hoff Family Belly
And she's damn proud of hers.

-- Brenda Brant, Eau Claire, Wis.

i have, almost exactly,
my mother's body:
hips that start too high, too wide,
a small waist (comparatively, at least).
where others may have
birthing hips
we have birthing thighs.
i see where i will be
thirty years from now,
a little heavier,
arms doing
that flapping thing
when i wave,
(and a butt that's wide,
but side-to-side,
and never a booty will be.)
i have my mother's body,
almost exactly,
but god is not just,
and i don't think this is funny:
while my mom,
who gave me life and a little back fat
is really kinda stacked,
i'm not even a B.

-- Jaime Green, New York, N.Y.

I have always been
Tall and thin
Thanks to good ol' Dad
I once had a body of
Enviable perfection
To the gym 6 days a week I went
With a soul full of sad
But now I've found the pleasures of a beer
And food
Sleeping in rather than 8 a.m. cardio
Shared with a great guy
And two dogs
So cheers to less muscular perfection
A body which is no longer so tightly cut
It has finally grown enough room
For a soul full of glee
Just do it.

-- Karen, Atlanta, Ga.

My puku protrudes:
a little girl once asked as I biked past "are you pregnant?"
No, I just really like chocolate. The boobs are worse:
"You're an f-cup", said the nice lady A what cup?
At least I have a shelf to sit my snacks on.

-- Kathy Lowry, New Zealand ("puku" means belly in Maori)

My body sings a song of decay,
of sagging and creased flesh, of knees that ache,
of brown spots dotting my hands.
(But, by God, my hair in the mirror is
brown,
though in photographs it is
snow white.)

My body sings of lymphoma,
of carcinomas,
of acid reflux,
of seboriah,
of herniated discs.

And I celebrate them all for they are proof
of God's creation,
and of the revelation
that all of life
is built upon death.

-- Case Wagenvoord

Ode to My Physical Inheritance

I drew the genetic short straw:
Jiggly potato-farming thighs
Like two jello molds under a napkin
From the big side of the family.
Very small breasts
That even Wonderbra can't help
From the little side of the family.
Dammit!
Why couldn't it have been the other way around?
But then again
If I had gloriously slender thighs
And an eye-poppingly bodacious bosom
I would probably tip over all the time
Because I'm also kind of clumsy
(But I don't know where I got that from.)
So I guess it's just as well.
Or at least,
That's what I'll keep telling myself.

-- Kate Hagerty, Somerville, Mass.

Narcissus Trims His Nose Hair

For nearly thirty seven years
I had control of nose and ears
Smooth skin upon the conch and lobe
And nostrils clean as Manitobe

But time and genes bedevil me
My good health lost to revelry
I'm sprouting gardens in these holes
Profuse enough to shelter voles

Now naked fore the glass I stand
Electric clippers in my hand
To prune these bushes back to stumps
And check my testicles for lumps

Strange growths from body, mind and head
At least they're signs that I'm not dead

-- JD Frey

My back is curved,
my knees don't straighten,
my feet are sort of fat...
probably because I've never walked on them.

The doctors have their words for me:
spinal muscular atrophy,
scoliosis, edema, and peripheral neuropathy...
"Supposed to die by age 3."

And I? I have my words:
battle-scarred and tattoo-decorated,
unconventional, curvy, and intuitive,
Twenty-five, healthy, confident, and sexy...

Beautiful.

-- Becky Blitch, Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2005, Largo, Fla.

i'm proud of the lines on my face
and the stretch marks on my belly
my two kids have certainly been worth
this glorious texture like jelly

i could take better care of myself
and mindfully i know i should
but most days i feel so young and free
i've never been one to argue with good

my body surely tells the story
of a young girl turned to woman
but i'm still so short of stature
oh, why did i stop growin'?

-- April M. Wilson, Richmond, Va.


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