Amanda Gunn


The worst didn’t happen

when I was young, even when, at just ten,

that first-shed red smear came away

on my hand—

some mercy contained me,

kept pristine my bright acid-

wash jeans.

The house still full of my brothers.

I had to speak that blood

into the consciousness of others.

My mother sighed. Said, Show me.

She was the age I am now,

sweating out hot flashes

while her husband and kids slept sound,

now standing in the dim bathroom—

after dinner, her shirt dishes-wet,

day not done, too tired to hold in

her scowl. Gazing

on the start of her daughter’s

almost-pregnant years,  

fearing, too, what a young

grandmother bears. She couldn’t

offer me the fragile, symbolic flowers

I’d heard of from other girls.

She gave me something

I wanted more anyhow—

the stack of lilac pads I’d been

waiting for, afternoons alone,

cross-legged on the olive shag floor,

smoothing the creases from the half-gloss,

flesh-pink pamphlet. A diagram

of a woman inside-out.

Just waiting. Caressing it

like a picture of a friend.

No one told me what a mess you’re made

at the end. Not even my mother, who,

as if looking back on one long,

terrible vacation, bless her,

remembers mostly the hot weather

she couldn’t acclimate to.

I didn’t anticipate the vague shake

of my doctor’s head, as he turned away

toward the corridor

and more fruitful matters.  

Meanwhile, she’s grown tired,

my body,

of all I planned or didn’t plan.

Tired of quietly carrying things for me.

And so, in front of fine company

after a very fine meal, where I’ve

been charming, barely betraying

my forgetfulness or my sweat

or my rage,

she leaves her last abundant burden

on the crushed seafoam velvet

of someone’s chaise.

Amanda Gunn’s debut poetry collection is Things I Didn’t Do With This Body, published by Copper Canyon Press (2023). Her poetry appears recently in Poetry, Narrative Magazine, and LARB Quarterly Journal. She is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a doctoral candidate in English at Harvard.
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