We were a little afraid of those girls–
tough girls in our town–
the life they came from.
Lank hair, wiry bodies with taut faces,
expressions hardened by scant meals,
their eyes plunged through ours
as they sized us up,
black liquid eyeliner worn like warpaint–
“Don’t fuck with me,” it said.
By 14 they knew things we did not:
Cornflakes could be eaten for supper.
Clothes could be washed out in the sink with
a bar of soap.
Swiping a lipstick or some gum
from Glidden’s Drug Store
was pretty easy; that you could cry
and hold your breath
at the same time.
They could get the coat and boots off their dad, and put him to bed.
They learned where their mom kept her money stash and cigarettes,
when not to let the neighbor boys in the house, and how to
turn an uncle’s old jacket into a fashion statement.
As high school rolled on we noticed
them dropping away, petals from a wilting flower.
No longer in class—no longer in the bleachers at games—
no longer haunting Main Street with their cimmerian eyes.
There were ways to survive it–
small town life. It required shoe leather,
empty basements with record players and a couch,
Boones Farm, a six pack, some smokes;
John Prine, Linda, Bob and James to sing us what was real.
It required thermoses full of sloe gin fizz,
shrimp baskets from Robert’s Drive Inn,
Monty Python at 10 p.m. on Sunday,
the carnival every June, part-time jobs.
We had been to church; were baptized and
confirmed. Did good up to a point. Then we
awakened to our dad’s dead end jobs and our
mother’s endless desires for a new car, a new winter coat
and a finished basement; their longings for
paved driveways they could ride on into society
weighted down our hearts.
We weren’t sure what that meant for us,
but the time clock in the factory taught us our worth.
And some nights we climbed up on the hood of the car,
watched the sun go down into the cornfield
and planned our escape.
Karen Lockett Warinsky is breaking out of her routine as a mom and a high school English teacher and wants to write more about small town life, living in Japan, the vagaries of love, and all the ironies of life that have come her way. She was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Montréal International Poetry Contest, and is currently a mentee with Arc Poetry Magazine. Two of her poems will appear later this year in Joy, Interrupted: An Anthology on Motherhood and Loss, published by Fat Daddy’s Farm. Ms. Warinsky grew up in Northern Illinois and holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism from Northern Illinois University, and a Masters in English from Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.