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Natalya Marie Cowilich

That Made Her a Lesbian

They whispered about it on the bus,
middle school lips moving in that controlled, flapping way
that you do when you’re telling an urgent secret,
a thread of gossip, lush and ripe, bursting in your teeth;

they chew on secrets forever,
grinding them down to the fat and bones and cartilage,
breaking veins and arteries and spitting them out and swallowing them again,
regurgitating misconstrued pieces into the gaping brains of their young.

Kelly Leonard ate her period in the middle of History class;
she stuck her hand right down her pants
and licked the bloody chunks from her fingers
and liked it.

For some reason that made her a lesbian—
we make our own definitions in America,

like the time I was shaking on the swing,
my wet sausage fingers shoved into the holes of rusty chain arms
suspending me over a sea of woodchips, sitting next to my little sister.
I told her what someone had told me, I think.

Do you know what lesbians do? They shove scissors up their bodies
and twist them around until they bleed forever.

Maybe I made it up myself.
I did make it up myself.
I was eight, maybe nine, but that’s no excuse;
we all hide from ourselves sometimes.

I couldn’t help but picture silver shears
the first time I stuck my fingers inside a woman .
And when her fingertips felt their way inside of me,
for a second, sharp blades were pressing on my insides
and I knew I was going to bleed forever, and I  liked it.


When I Learned to Juggle

I am four and Mr. Monks instructs me to climb between his legs. He is a human tunnel.
Mesh shorts on both sides of my head feel like the walls are caving in. I don’t breathe
until I survive and sit back down with the rest of them on the gym floor.

I am ten and I change in the handicap stall so they won’t look at me. They snap their swim caps
and swing their goggles and laugh, while I shimmy into a race suit as fast as I can.

I am seven and a giant rainbow parachute billows over our heads. We play cat and mouse and raise the
colors up into the sky to bring them down again, full of air. I am next to my friend and I
am holding yellow, smiling. He is holding green.

I am five and the teacher is throwing scarves into the air. He says to throw two and then catch
them with bear claws. Purple and blue scarves are everywhere, fighting against gravity to
settle back onto the basketball court.

I am eleven and we are sitting in alphabetical order on a cold metal bench. They say she’s
a lesbian. The locker room smells like bleach and musty socks. Everyone is looking at
their knees in silence.

I am ten and I finally did it but no one saw. I call to the teacher but can’t do it again in front of
him. When he’s standing there, the ball goes up, and then the second one, but the third
one is afraid to leave my hand. Keep trying he says and walks away.

I am six and I survive the obstacle course. You pass, they tell me. The older kids are there to
help us. One of them tells me she is my cousin and hugs me. I think I should love her, but
I don’t know her.

I am nineteen and she’s next to me on the elliptical. I know her very well. Every time the bass
beat echoes in our heads we’re propelled up and down in never-ending circles. The
hickey on her neck makes me wish those were my lips.


Natalya Marie Cowilich is a poet living in Ithaca, NY. When she’s not working on her (first ever!) novel, she’s a violist in a local band called The Sweet Freaks. She loves busking in The Commons or jammin’ with the townies. Her favorite place in the world is between green rows of kale in any healthy organic garden. She has a rat named John Paul II (‘lil John for short) that she rescued from the belly of her best friend’s ball python. She recently graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees in writing and sociology.

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