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Image by Tony Mucci


Untouchable at fifteen 
as if clothed in porcupine quills.
my daughter’s moroseness infects
like a rash.

I find her bunched 
in a prickly ball on her bed, 
offer all the right words: 
Can you tell me what’s wrong? 

It’s okay to feel angry or sad. 
Furtive tear wiped away
but silence still. 

Stymied, empty of words, 
knowing she’ll bristle if I persist,  
a sudden idea:
Would you like me to give you a backrub? 

Her wobbly I guess
belies a deliberate dullness of tone. 
She unrolls, turns over, and I begin: 

vulnerable vertebra-bump 
at the base of the neck, 
curvature of the ribs, 
contours of wings at the shoulders, 
valleys and crests of the spine.

Over and over I knead my way down, 
her skin warm through the shirt.
Nowhere a spike or a spur.  
Finished, I bend, kiss her cheek, 
and for the first time in days
hear her voice small, undefended. 

Night, Mom. 
Thanks for the backrub. 

Watching the Watcher

sprawled among other children
on the hard-rubber floor 
of the seatless Jeep wagon 

I watch fascination and shock
dawn on the plain freckled face 
of the girl in the opposite corner

when she gazes under my skirt
at the stretched-out elastic
of the legs of today’s underpants

feel the heat of her eyes 
meet the cool swirl of the air
between my raised knees

find myself in thrall 
to the same sensuous tingle
as when friends play with my hair

For weeks I imagined he watched me
as if from above

prone on the floor
and clawing the carpet 

soldiering on 
with my wide-open wound

in the arms 
of a dark-haired new man 

knowing the power of his gaze
made for a more potent high 

as I watched him watch me

Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. “Watching the Watcher” is drawn from a childhood memory, and “Spines” from an event during her oldest daughter’s adolescence that still moves her (it is that daughter’s 62nd birthday today as she writes). Her early work includes two scholarly biographies and two memoirs; more recently she has published two poetry chapbooks and a collection, while miscellaneous individual poems have appeared in various literary magazines.  


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