Poem of the Week | January 25, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Portrait of the artist as a twelve-year-old girl” by Shelley Puhak!

Shelley Puhak is the author of two poetry collections, the more recent of which is Guinevere in Baltimore, winner of the Anthony Hecht Prize. Her poems have recently appeared in Cincinnati Review, Hotel Amerika, Tupelo Quarterly, and Verse Daily.


Portrait of the artist as a twelve-year-old girl

I should   write my breasts   were brand-new   blossoms   but they
were   stones,   my feet   were   concrete   blocks,   my fingers   were
long   polished   slates,   and my   teeth   were   pebbles   that   kept
falling out.

I lived  in a   tower   that was   made of   stone and   there   was one
window   overlooking   the   spot   where   someone   should   have
planted a tree.

Inside, the   avocado   carpeting was wet   moss and the avocado
appliances   were vines   and the sunken   living room   really was
sinking.   Sometimes   it felt like the ceiling   wanted to   help me
out. Only sometimes.

Sometimes the door opened and I joined the others. We prayed
over oatmeal.   And then   I walked   to school.   I had a red binder.
The   wrong   kind.   The   rings   never   aligned.   There   was   no
satisfying click.

After,   I headed back to my tower,   kicking a pebble.   One of my
own teeth. I headed back, crying over the road kill.


Author’s Note

I wanted to write about the isolation of American girlhood and I had just read about Lord Byron’s pursuit of a twelve-year-old girl, memorialized in his poem “Maid of Athens.” I was thinking about the tropes of girl-as-blossom and princess-in-tower. I was also thinking about how once girls become women, in myth and fable, they often turn to stone.