Gentle or Not

Laura Cresté

After we leave New York, I read a book about how to not                 let the internet destroy my brain. I think                                   the answer is to have been raised in California,to be a completely different person. At home                 people clap every night for healthcare workers.                                   They clap like someone who's seen their friend's playor flown in a plane when planes were still new.                 I call it sweet but don't know how to judge                                   public gestures, like when after the towers fell,after our mother pulled us out of school,                 my little sister chastened me:                                   "You shouldn't be reading right now."My friends take me canoeing in the Housatonic River,                 where the drought is obvious, water low                                   and undressing the downed trees.Steve noses his canoe through narrow channels                 of branches. I break through brutely, scraping                                   the belly of the boat against water-softenedtrunks while a beaver slaps toward us, as if injured.                 Steve says she's luring us away from her babies,                                   den entrance exposed by the dropped waterline.I'd like to be able to look at a thing and know                 what I'm seeing, the way my friend points an oar                                   at a pile of rocks and sees the trestle it once was.Spring is working on me. I don't want to                 change yet, but fawns and goats and all the girls                                   I knew in high school tell me it's time to have a baby.I might listen or else settle for a dog                 so large we name it Bear. When it finally                                   rains, the house shakes with thunder, wineglasses chatter coldly and moss on the trees                 brightens like wet velvet. I think I'm all                                   right but in dreams my teeth shatter.The gardeners tell us to weed to protect                 the new flowers. Every time I hear that word                                   I remember teenage friends—boys blowing pot smokeat a spider trapped in the middle of its web,                 until it seized up and died. When I imagine                                   children, I want boys who are gentle or not at all.I pull at crown vetch until there are ticks in the crooks                 of my arms. Mike says we'll have them whenever                                   I want. But I want too many things, babies, yes, but alsoto eat pizza in the street with unclean hands, unworried.                 I want to know the world the way my mother does,                                   sprouting nasturtium seeds on damp paper towels in the kitchen.I tend my own but cheat, buy them full-grown from the nursery,                 leaves round as saucers, in the way of daughters                                   fearing their mothers like them less each year we grow older.

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Color headshot of poet Laura Creste

Laura Cresté is the author of the chapbook You Should Feel Bad, which won a Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. She holds an MFA from New York University and received a 2021-22 fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Nov/Dec 2022

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Elizabeth Scanlon

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