Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Wrangler

by Laura Foley


Does the Wyoming sun shine hot enough to make me sweat,
in my red-checked cowgirl shirt and dungarees?

As he holds the rope controlling Thunder, does he patiently explain
my pony’s name in his sonorous voice, Born in the midst of a storm?

Do we stop at an icy stream to dismount,
shucking our boots, as we prepare to wade,

a new word I repeat with sudden feeling,
as my feet freeze, as I see my first word at three.

Does he lead me gently as he did the pony, to sit shivering
while he gathers wood to build a fire to warm my feet?

Does he intuit what I like, or do we share the same taste
for fire-roasted hot dogs without mustard, ketchup?

Does he help me pull my boots back on,
teach me to mount the pony on my own?

Does he teach me how warm a father can be—
unlike mine, in his chilled city penthouse?


* * * * *

"The Wrangler" appears in Laura Foley's chapbook, WTF (CW Books). 

Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including, most recently, WTF and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. A palliative care volunteer in hospitals, with an M.A. and a M. Phil. in English Lit. from Columbia University, she lives with her partner, and three big dogs among the hills of Vermont.
                            


Monday, 30 October 2017

Prayer, 1943

by Laura Foley


Dad and his fellow prisoners
crouched under a shed,
its roof a sieve
of shrapnel holes
allowing rain
they didn’t notice
any more than hunger,
in their concentration
on pawns, queens, bishops,
rooks they carved
from discarded
toothbrush handles—
from their mouths,
to God’s ears.


* * * * *

"Prayer, 1943" appears in Laura Foley's chapbook, WTF (CW Books). 

Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including, most recently, WTF and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. A palliative care volunteer in hospitals, with an M.A. and a M. Phil. in English Lit. from Columbia University, she lives with her partner, and three big dogs among the hills of Vermont.



Sunday, 29 October 2017

Squint Test

by CLS Ferguson


I was only visiting for the summer
I had only stacked them next to the old armoire
Hidden from view
One of my faint attempts at sinking into the walls
Until fall swept me back to Louisiana
I thought I had made every attempt for myself and my effects to simply
[Fade away]

Crystal Lane, he called with such authority I was suddenly eight again
Crystal Lane, come in here! 
I have something I want to show you
Though I wanted nothing more than for him to forget my existence
I couldn’t help but obey my father’s command

Even though I was 25 and ABD
Even though I only lived with him for the summers because
            My mother had moved to Tulsa and
Southern California had infected me like
The shingles left over from childhood chicken pox
And I was lucky enough to get a great teaching job at my alma mater
Even though I had discovered we could only have a superficial, civil relationship
Even though I had done everything to simply vanish
Even though I had the power to clearly refuse
[I obeyed]

As I neared his voice I could see that he had taken them
From their polite storage between the old bedroom cabinet and the wall
He had spread them
expressions from my soul
near the freshly painted baseboard
Between each of my ignorantly and unapologetic abstract oils on canvas
He placed one of his precise, photographically accurate watercolors

His, perfectly recognizable as its intended image
Mine, only occasionally intended as anything specific—open to any interpretation
His, each in its perfectly coordinated frame behind thick, beveled glass
Mine, sloppily falling onto the edges, some complete with dust from their earlier storage
His, the work of a master artist
Mine, the work of a girl with her emotions on fire

In every other context of my life
I did what I could to stand out
Wore all black, voted Republican, went to traditional Protestant Christian Church
Pierced every part of my body I could think of, but refused to be tattooed
Always fought to be in charge, on top, beating the boys at their own game
Chose Hanson as my favorite band, planned only to adopt, expressed my feelings
And did nothing to hide any of it

But, with my father, I wore the thickest veil I could
So my evaporation could be interpreted as choice
Rather than force

Only the summer before
I had made what I thought was an attempt at a real connection
A true second chance
We looked through my sketchbook together
He read one of my academic conference papers
He was almost complimentary of both

What I don’t understand is, he stated plainly
Why so many of your sketches have symbols of violence
Specifically violence toward women
And why you write about rape

I took the deepest breath my lungs could handle
Because I was raped, Dad

No you weren’t
And one more piece of me fell to abyss of things my father ignored

It was the same reaction as the one I got when
I came home from school after being sober for a month
C’mon, have a glass of wine
My dad’s wife urged at my dad’s birthday dinner
After about an hour of the ‘peer’ pressure
Coupled with questions as to why I kept refusing
I finally blurted out
Because I’m an alcoholic! 
That’s why I can’t have a drink! 
I’m a month sober and I’d like to keep going! 
At least for today!
My dad’s brilliant response
You are not an alcoholic
Even standing up, loud and clear would never be heard by him

So, now as I stood in front of my works of passion
And my dad’s works of art, he said
I want you to see something
He spoke with such enthusiasm that for a moment
I was hopeful he might say something encouraging
Come over here and squint your eyes
First squint at one of my paintings
Then squint at one of yours
See how when you squint at mine, nothing disappears?
And when you squint at yours, things disappear?
I nodded in vague agreement
Desiring nothing more than to return to the guest room I was staying in
Maybe even clad myself in the ugly curtains
In my artwork, my father finally saw something that he didn’t want to deny
Didn’t want to stuff away
Something that I had created
Yet, through his eyes, he couldn’t hold on to it
That’s because your paintings have no depth


* * * * *

CLS Ferguson, PhD is a communication professor who has published many academic articles and two academic books. Her performance in Silence, which she co-wrote and produced earned best actress and best film awards. Her music video Secrets & Lies also earned accolades. CLS has published poetry in Dirty Chai, Sheepshead Review, Drunk Monkeys, etc. Her poetry collection God Bless Paul is out on Rosedog Books, her chapbook, The Way We Were co-authored with JC Jones is out on Writing Knights Press, and her collection Soup Stories is out on Portage Press.  She and husband Rich are raising their daughter and Bernese Mountain Border Collie Mutt in Alhambra, CA. http://clsferguson.wix.com/clsferguson   


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Beneath the Surface

by Eve West Bessier


I am more
or less

dominated
by solitude

My needs
unavoidable
as yes

and as deceptive

In the night
we are minnows
sleek in silver lakes

We mirror
each other

in bright
and weightless
movements

glide silent

into that space
where air and lake
must meet

Troubled by the shadows
cast beneath the surface
of contentment

unnerving as doubt

We remain unanswerable

but embrace with such conviction


Friday, 27 October 2017

EVERYTHING ONE POEM AT A TIME                                                  

This poem
used to be longer,
used to contain
all the words,
the marching band,
a sleeping tiger,

but

a page is like
a block of marble
on the verge of change,
each poem sculpted
from it
to present
Everythingness
in its Relativeness
one poem,
one word,
one sleeping
tiger
at a time.         


* * * * *

Lisa Segal, a poet/writer/artist, has lived in Los Angeles for more than thirty years. "THE TRAPPED BIRD" was first published in her book, METAMORPHOSIS:  Who is the Maker? An Artist’s Statement (published by Bombshelter Press (http://www.bombshelterpress.com>), which includes her poetry, prose, and photographs of her sculptures. She won the 2017 Los Angeles Poet Society Poetry Month Contest. She teaches poetry and writing as part of the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective and is a member of StudioEleven, an artist-run cooperative. Her poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Cultural WeeklyServing House Journal, The Mas Tequila Review, SpectrumONTHEBUS, Poeticdiversity, FRE&D and elsewhere.


Thursday, 26 October 2017

HUNGER, HE SAID   

by Lisa Segal
                                                           

From under gray skies
on a raft somewhere
in the middle of our ocean,
from the wide Sargasso Sea
of our bed—
my body on his,
his body on mine—
he spread a net,
line by line,
of what there is to say.

He has so many
different thoughts
about us,
he said,
that it's like
he's weaving,
one line at a time,
all the threads
of this and that
and why not and what if
and who when
and what where.

But there's never
enough time,
he said,
never enough
of my flesh,
he said,
in his mouth.
           

* * * * *

Lisa Segal, a poet/writer/artist, has lived in Los Angeles for more than thirty years. Her book, METAMORPHOSIS:  Who is the Maker? An Artist’s Statement (published by Bombshelter Press <http://www.bombshelterpress.com>), includes her poetry, prose, and photographs of her sculptures. She won the 2017 Los Angeles Poet Society Poetry Month Contest. She teaches poetry and writing as part of the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective and is a member of StudioEleven, an artist-run cooperative. Her poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Cultural WeeklyServing House Journal, The Mas Tequila Review, SpectrumONTHEBUS, Poeticdiversity, FRE&D and elsewhere.           

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

                        This Is My Temple

                        by Lisa Okon


                        This is my temple
                        Here we have spent many deep slow hours
                        Becoming as one.
                        Here I was reborn
                        In this room of shadows and light

                        This is my temple
Here you became the air I breathe, filling me.
                        You are the sweat that bathes my skin
                        In the summer heat
                        You are the fresh breeze that strokes me

                        This is my temple
                        Here I have learned to see all that is around me.
                        I find your face in all faces
                        Your voice in all voices
                        And they are music

                        This is my temple
                        I have traveled over great distances to meet you
                        And many years
                        Wandering through vast desert spaces
                        Of meaninglessness

                        This is my place of peace
                        In the purr of motors, the roar of engines, the clamor of machinery
                        I can sleep in silence.
                        I open my eyes and you lead me by the hand                       
                        Into wakefulness

                        In this place of love and lust
                        You have invited me to enter you
                        And I have responded
                        Living with my obsession
                        Awake in my dream of life

                        But as they demolish the houses of our neighbors
                        Let them demolish too this temple
                        For these words are only scattered markings in the sand
                        Scratched by a baby with his stick
                        Or footprints made by bathers
                        To be washed away by the sea

              

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Crows In My Garden

by Lilian Cohen


Raucous sounds invade my study, crows I think
and go back to work but their cawing doesn’t stop.
More join in, forcing me to pause once more
annoyed by their harsh insistence, yet puzzled.
Why are they in the back instead of in the front
 scavenging where the neighbor feeds his cats?

I walk into the garden. Flowers beckon
bright in afternoon sun, but no blackbirds
sing and twitter from shrubs and trees
no warning calls accompany my steps
no young squawk their hunger from the nest:
I hear only frantic cawing along the fence
answered from somewhere in the flowerbed.

I spy it. Almost covered by nasturtiums
it hops a little and lurches to a halt,
feathers dark grey, no adult markings,
the beak, already sharp and strong
beneath the shining eye
tears at me with each pathetic cry.
A cat slinks out from spider-plants nearby  
eyes the crippled crow in passing
eyes my impotence with wily scorn.

Next morning blackbirds sing again
from the pines outside my window
their young chirp in secluded warmth,
the cat wanders sleek through my garden,
indifferent.


* * * * *


Lilian Cohen © May 2006/August 2017

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Celebration

by Lilian Cohen


Stunning in black
from top to toe
she checks in the mirror
her grooved mottled skin
the cap of red curls unevenly dyed
and now somewhat thin
rehearses her smile
to show her crowned teeth
and drapes her red scarf
to hide the wattles of age

but in her mind’s eye
she slips all her old lovers
into each artful fold
struts the tango eternal
and smolders at time
with a shiver of beads
in the moonlight


* * * * *


© Lilian Cohen 2005
Solace from Lake Superior

by Francesca West


The Great Lakes, 
on the rocky shore.

Couches arranged 
from large stones.

Calm, tranquil water 
as far as the eye can see.

Agates color the water 
and tumble smooth and clean.

Your judgments cannot reach me here.
Your speculations stay suspended in the air.

The dusk hugs my eyes, 
and the dark waters removed of light 

reflect the limitless sky
purified of what you think,

how you live, 
and how you’ll die.

I keep you suspended up 
while I hunker down.

Lay parallel with the ground.
I see the flaws of thinking 

swirl and mix 
with the orange and pinks,

and I let my toes 
slip into the water

and seek to keep 
my spirit clean,

Pure,
free of contaminants.

To keep myself
from rising up as raindrop dust

in the clouds 
that misery inhabits.



Saturday, 21 October 2017

Please Don't Bruise the Fruit

by Francesca West


Please don't 
bruise the fruit.
Rubbing up against us.
Pushing hard into our soft spots.
Picking us off the branch prematurely.
We are meant to ripen,
Free fall, land on our own. 
Chosen by hands that attract us
To want to be eaten completely.
You throw stones in the tree.
Play a game of targeting.
Leaving nothing nourishing 
left to be seen. 
I wouldn't even want you 
to pick the bugs off me!
Just let me be!
I'm free,
When you don't bruise the fruit.
When you let me choose. 
When will you let me choose? 
Nobody would choose
To appear so bruised.


Friday, 20 October 2017

A Woman Scorned

by Devon Balwit


            “Reports that a woman was arrested after training squirrels to attack          
            her ex-boyfriend are false. No such incident occurred…” (Business2Community)

Nowhere now safe for you. If I could train
the ground itself to flinch at your step,

you would plummet to magma. The wind
would slap at you, dry leaves flensing.

Instead, I’ve recruited the small things,
the wire walkers, the nut gatherers.

Their chittering coded, they alert
the canopy: you with your new love

on a picnic blanket. Hitchcockian,
they come in phalanx, tails lifted like

pennants. Think of me with each bite,
a rancor that leaves you faceless.


* * * * *

Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.





Thursday, 19 October 2017

Half the Hurricanes

by Evie Groch


Born a female, I was handed
a manual of low expectations,
and warned to adhere to them.
A bullseye of shame on my back
marked me a target for arrows of
insults, regrets, obedience, demands.

I was offered tools of my trades,
choices they called them:
            a typewriter and steno pad
            a starched white hat and thermometer
            a blackboard and a ruler

But the manual didn’t list them all. It never warned me about
            my appearance
            my dry cleaning costs
            my ignored voice
            my few publishing options
            my diminished reproductive rights
                                                                                                                       
Here I stand and wait.

Half the hurricanes bear our names,
a step up from having them all blamed on us,
but that is where equality ends.
Resentment planted a seed in me.
It fed on bitter nourishment
and thoughts of wrongs replayed.
Justice is a victim of inequity
and vengeance is its mate.

I’m still here and waiting.

When you try to mansplain to me
the stench of double-talk rises
and wakes me out of love.
We’re overdue for new
Thou Shalts and Shalt Nots.
Laments sent up to heaven’s door
evaporated on the way.
Are you with me? Not yet?

I’m still here and waiting.

You’re being addressed.
Don’t look away.
Face me, tell me why this is,
and then tell your mothers, wives,
sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters.
Answer carefully as you squeeze out
what is left of your words from an almost
empty vocabulary tube.

But I am still here and waiting.

You know what’s coming.
A look of mortification kidnaps your face
as you reach to cover the chinks in your armor
bracing for a joust.

I am here still and waiting.

Your stale advice of “give it time,”
“it’s God’s way,” and “look how far
you’ve come” attracts sneers like
decomposing clich├ęs. It’s mean-spirited
and deserves to shrivel up like a slug in salt.

Yet I’m still here and waiting.
Are you ready yet?

Heed my words. They crescendo
from a whistle to a roar
and become deafening when unheeded.
Take them not in vain.
They are my legacy.

Stop battering me with your fists
dipped in self-righteous confidence
of knowing what’s best for me.
I invite you to stand by my side
and call me friend, sister, peer, equal,
names you would want the women
in your family called.

I’m still here and waiting. 
I’ll come round again whether
you are ready or not,
like the hurricanes which bear our names




Wednesday, 18 October 2017

ROCK ’N ROLL IS HERE TO STAY
by Mary J. Breen

            When I’m old and demented and someone thinks to make me a Music and Memory playlist, I know exactly what I want—the same music I listened to as a teenager, and the same music I listen to now on long car trips: Rock ’n Roll, Gospel, and Motown, plus a few Mozart symphonies to show I’m not completely unsophisticated. I will want to hear the music I loved as a kid, the music that helped shape me, the music I still feel connected to all these years later.
            Now at 71, when I look back at how I got hooked on that music, I picture myself in Grade 9 in 1958. I see a cautious, much-too-tall girl with thick glasses and dreary clothes at the edges of a school dance. And, since I know her well, I know she has three more strikes against her: she’s new to town; she’s a top student, and she’s the daughter of one of the school’s more forbidding teachers. It’s no wonder she’s there with the other ‘wallflowers’ as we’d already learned to call ourselves: the unfit, the unchosen, the unwanted, marooned on the sidelines of a smelly gym and pretending not to mind.
            School dances were very popular. We all seemed to accept without question the premise that if you were a real teenager, you went to school dances. A big part of the appeal of these dances was the chance to be immersed in the music of the day. In those dim and distant days before we could carry 1000 songs of our choice on our cellphones, it wasn’t easy to get to hear the songs we wanted to hear. My parents’ radio buzzed with static, and its small dial made precise tuning almost impossible. If I did find a station I wanted, it would usually fade in and out, whistling and hissing and swooshing like ocean surf in the movies until another station drowned it out, and on the rare occasions when I did find a station that was clear for a while, I was never allowed to leave it on for long. The radio stood on the bookcase in the living room, and my parents weren’t having it playing any kind of music, especially rock ‘n roll, when they wanted to read or watch TV.
            Then in my first year in high school, I won a radio in a fund-raising contest for selling the most magazine subscriptions—an easy win because, besides the several subscriptions my parents already ordered every year for themselves, they gave subscriptions as Christmas gifts to most of their friends and relatives: Reader’s Digest or Time for the men, and Chatelaine or Ladies Home Journal for the women. First prize was a little transistor radio. Everyone was impressed with how small and portable it was, but in truth, its sound was tinny and its reception undependable except late at night when, under the covers, it could pick up a station in Buffalo that played really good music. The only reliable radios I knew of were in cars, and a few years later, after my friends and I turned sixteen and were able to drive, we would borrow someone’s parents’ car and drive around, with no particular place to go, just waiting, hoping, listening, almost praying for our favourite song to be played on one of the Hit Parade shows.
            None of my friends had enough money to buy records regularly—my friend’s solitary Chuck Berry album got a lot of play on her portable record player—but we could always go and hear music at the restaurant where we gathered on Saturdays to drink lime-Cokes and eat French fries. They had a juke box, one of those classic Wurlitzers the size of a small fridge, round on top with flashing lights, little mirrors, and bubble tubes, the kind where you could watch the little 45s being pulled out and set spinning before the needle dropped. Every booth had its selector box with lists on little metal cards you could flip through, and buttons to push for your choice. This was all good, but it cost money—something none of us had much of—and the latest hits took several weeks to arrive and be slotted in, and if you did find the one you were dying to hear again, there might be ten songs lined up ahead of yours.
            My most important source of music was American Bandstand. Every chance I got in Grades Eight and Nine, I’d dash home to watch it after school on our brand-new-though-sometimes-fuzzy, black-and-white TV with finicky bunny ears on top. Later we got a rotor that sat on the TV and was used to aim the antenna as much as possible towards the origin of the TV station, in this case, Rochester NY, directly south across the lake. As I lay on the couch and drank ginger ale I didn’t just watch the show: I studied it: the girls’ smooth hair styles, and their cool American clothes: plaid pleated skirts and long straight skirts, white blouses with Peter Pan collars, pullovers and cardigans, thick white bobby socks and white bucks, saddle shoes, or T-straps. I memorized the lyrics and melodies of the songs—I still know most of them—and I studied and practised the new jive steps, especially the Stroll and the Twist, that the kids performed in their sober, unsmiling way. I learned the names of the performers so I’d be in the know, but I paid almost no attention to their musical skills, never even noticing that they lip-synched their “live” appearances. Except for Elvis whom we’d seen on Ed Sullivan and who was irresistible because of his voice and his smile and his hair and his “gyrations,” I didn’t care about any other pop stars. I didn’t send off for signed photographs, and I didn’t read about their favourite milk shakes at their favourite “malt shop” in teen magazines; I just wanted their music.
            We craved this music, but we knew very little about it. I didn’t know about its black roots in jazz and blues. Ours was such a white world that I never noticed that there were no black kids on Bandstand and very few performers were black. The only ones I’d ever seen were Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong on Ed Sullivan. I’d never met one in person.
            I loved the music so much I thought maybe I could learn to play it too. At that time, I was preparing for my Grade Eight Royal Conservatory piano exam, and I knew my mother had played dance hits in her dance band in the ’30s but of course I had no idea how to sound anything like Fats Domino or Jerry Lee Lewis. I mastered In The Mood—anyone could—but I did not at all master Bumble Boogie, even though I’d spent good money on the sheet music. It was soon apparent that there was no point in trying to play my pathetic version of rock ’n roll all by myself, especially with my father radiating disapproval of the music in the background, and both of my parents radiating disapproval of my taking time away from my arpeggios.
            At school dances, however, good music was guaranteed. A few boys had dreams of putting together a band, as teenage boys seem wont to do, but they couldn’t compete with the music of real pop stars played by a “disk jockey” up on stage. I don’t know who those records belonged to, but they were loaned to the school for these events, so we got to hear stars like Neil Sedaka, Dion and the Belmonts, The Marcels, Leslie Gore, Bill Haley, and Elvis singing The Wanderer, Blue Moon, Calendar Girl, It’s My Party, Walk Don’t Run, Rock Around the Clock, It’s Now or Never, Strangers on the Shore, Save the Last Dance for Me, and Jailhouse Rock. We didn’t care that the lyrics were terrible: Who put the bomp In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp or We're gonna have some fun when the clock strikes one, and we didn’t care about the sentiment behind I kiss 'em and I love 'em 'cause to me they're all the same.
            These dances, often mysteriously called Tea Dances, started right after school, and went only until about seven, probably so they wouldn’t delay the country school buses any longer. And riotous events these were not: the only food or drink available was milk, white or chocolate, sold to us by our cautious and perhaps unimaginative Student Council. Besides both fast dances and slow, there were Spot Dances: special secret places on the dance floor that earned a prize for whomever was closest to one when the music stopped. Sometimes the dances were called Sock Hops, but we weren’t obliged to protect the gym floor by dancing “in sock feet” because our mothers would have killed us for coming home with filthy socks. We also had Hard Times dances where we were expected to wear torn or grubby clothes, and a yearly Sadie Hawkins’ Dances—a chance for the girls to invite the boys—although hardly a blow struck for equality of the genders. Sadie was a character in the Li’l Abner comic strip, a woman too toothsome, warty, and homely to ever get a man, so on one day a year, in the world of Dogpatch, she was allowed to try to hog-tie one of the town’s bachelors and drag him across a finishing line before sundown. If she succeeded, he had to marry her. Ha, ha, ha. These dances just made for further humiliation for any girl desperate enough to ask a boy.
            One thing I soon figured out was that unless you came with a date, we girls were expected to lurk along the far wall and unattached boys along the opposite one. When a song began, we could make no forays from our side to theirs, but some of the braver boys would make the long trek across the floor in our direction. I wonder how long it took me to learn not to watch as they headed towards us, but rather to stare straight ahead or to appear to be paying rapt attention to whatever a friend was telling me. If ever a boy asked me to dance, I worried about what I was supposed to do when it ended: say thanks? . . . or say thanks and wait to see if they wanted another? . . . or say thanks and scurry back to the wall of woebegones and let him escape in the other direction? If—or much more often when—no one asked us to dance, we younger girls would dance with each other, getting to spin around, making our wide skirts spin too, and perfecting our dancing steps at the same time. We all became much better dancers than the boys.
            The teachers took turns being chaperones. Presumably, their job was to keep the peace, and to keep kids from dancing too close, although Dirty Dancing hadn’t arrived at our little school anyway. Only a few of them bothered to patrol in the gloom. At least they didn’t go about with a ruler getting kids to dance far enough apart to “make room for the Holy Ghost” as my friends at Catholic schools had to endure. I don’t know why our teachers weren’t aware—or weren’t concerned—about those boys who drank stronger drink than milk outside the back door. I assume they didn’t realize that the liquor was sometimes provided by an entrepreneurial school employee.
~
            Even though I was seldom asked to dance, and even though I was keenly aware of how many strikes I had against me, and even though I knew I couldn’t compete with girls who were prettier and had better clothes and probably gave off less of an aura of desperation, I still went to most of those dances, carrying with me a little glimmer of excitement, optimist that I am, and more than a little dread, realist that I am. It would have been so much easier to stay home and eat popcorn and watch Highway Patrol and Peter Gunn and M Squad with my mother.
            And now, fifty-five years later, I do wonder why I kept going to those dances, though of course teenagers do things for tangled, overlapping reasons, reasons both complicated and simple, critical and shallow, and most of all, for reasons deeply unclear to themselves. Back then, wanting to be in a certain place at a certain time with certain people felt like it had life-or-death consequences. So, yes, I felt I had to keep going to those dances.
            I went for the music, but not just for the music. Like most teenagers, I very much wanted to belong within the world of the teenager—something easier said than done. In the Lutheran/Mennonite town we’d just moved from I’d been a misfit because my parents were Catholic outsiders who ran the unwholesome movie theatre. Now my father had been transformed into a proper citizen, someone who taught right here at our high school, and this, I hoped, might make me more acceptable. That hope was fading, however, when I discovered that he was so strict that everyone was afraid of him, and so, I figured, no one would ever visit me for fear of encountering him.
            I also went because I saw school dances as a necessary though painful step towards becoming a real live teenager, which meant I was partway to becoming a real live adult, which meant I’d soon be an independent person who could buy herself a ticket out of Dodge. I was certain life happened somewhere other than small towns, and I was very keen to go to the only city I knew, Toronto, where I’d go to university and be very, very sophisticated and very, very suave. And escape my mother.
            It wasn’t hormones compelling me either, since I was a late bloomer, and I didn’t have a crush on any of the Grade 9 boys—mere children that they were. I did think some of the older boys were cute, but I knew they wouldn’t have noticed me if I’d shown up wearing nothing but feathers. Even though, in those days, all girls were expected to marry (and pitied if they couldn’t catch a man), I never thought I would. I hadn’t grown up with fantasies of white dresses and flower girls as my mother had made me aware of my many fatal flaws. Besides, my parents’ unspoken but loudly declared wish was that I become a nun. My mother also repeatedly told me that if some boy or man ever paid me attention, I must exercise great caution and reserve, and assume it was just a phase that would soon pass. She very much wanted me to know that she and my father were living proof of the wisdom of waiting to be sure since they didn’t marry until 16 years after they’d met! Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Even so, I think I was still child enough to hope for a kind of Cinderella miracle, the Ugly Duckling girl who, after her super makeover, is discovered and rescued by Prince Charming—and at a ball. Teenagers are caught in a strange transitional time somewhere between the make believe world of childhood and the dreary realities ahead that they’d often rather not face.
            What I really knew deep down was that these dances mattered a lot, and mattered in an intense way that I had no words for. I didn’t know that an awful lot of people throughout the ages have felt that dancing mattered an awful lot because dancing is part of the mating game: the stylized practices of displaying, judging, choosing, touching, and pairing—and rhythm. I suppose I knew dancing was about sex—mysterious subject that that was—but if, at fourteen, I’d heard George Bernard Shaw’s clever words that dancing was "The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music,” I wouldn’t have even known what he meant.
            When people asked young people the late ‘50s and early ‘60s what they loved about the music they always gave the exact same answer as the adults gave when they were asked why they so disapproved of it: “the beat.” And it was the true answer; I, and a few million other teenagers, felt it and loved and craved its physical, driving energy. Even though there is nothing new about singing the blues, we too were drawn to the narrative of loss and heartbreak in those songs. They made us feel very grown-up; we thought we already knew about broken promises and unrequited crushes and forbidden loves and the pain of being ignored at a dance by the very boy you had helped with his homework every day after school. And then there was the intoxicating certainty that this powerful music was our music—not our parents’. They could still listen to that stupid How much is that doggy in the window?, but we had You ain’t nothing but a hound dog. And the more the adults—priests, teachers, politicians, and parents—declared the music decadent, vulgar, full of Communist influences, and certain to make delinquents of all of us—the more we defiantly adored it.

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“Rock ‘N Roll Is Here To Stay” was first published as “School Dances, Sadie Hawkins, and Rock ‘N Roll: Looking Back” in The Toast. April 2016.
Mary J. Breen is the author of two books about women's health. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in national newspapers, essay collections, travel magazines, health journals, and literary magazines including Brick, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston Literary MagazineThe National Post, and JAMA Cardiology. She was a regular contributor to The Toast. She lives in Peterborough Ontario Canada where, among other things, she teaches writing.