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Three Poems by Kathleen Flenniken | Word Riot

June 14, 2010      

Three Poems by Kathleen Flenniken

You only get this haircut

from the barber who sleeps with you.
It’s the endless attention to your ears

and eyebrows. It’s the wrestling moves.
I wield shears, talk brusquely with my hands,

cut off your curls with your head braced
between my breasts as you sit almost

calmly. Your bald spot is the view
from a glass-bottom boat. No sign of me

down there. Once on a beach vacation
you and I watched a wife with scissors

move across her husband’s scalp
in a sarong. It ought to have been private

the way she shaved his neck and sideburns.
If I pinch with the electric razor

or pull your hair, you’ll grab my wrist
and tear the table cloth off your shoulders

like a bull fighter. If I’m careful,
you’ll accept your haircut with a nod.

This is intimacy. What was I pining for?


A series of Tarzans. Of loin cloths and loins.
Patterns in chest hair, scratches and scars,
each body’s story of arrows and slippery vines.
Of chimpanzee mothers. Of Janes. Rivers
of veins down muscular biceps and thighs. Wide
open gazes and limpid black pupils, an olla podrida
of waterfalls, ferns, and restorative pools, a succession
of tropical evenings and stars. Indigenous swings.
Technical prowess and god-given talents:
the classical dive, loop de loop, native groove
and that hip grinding thing. And their calls—
man’s inhumanity, Gloria Patria,
little-boy heartbreaking, salt-in-the-wound.
Marathon screenings now playing near you.


In those days, we liked our ranks,
our neat columns and rows of desks,
or we didn’t know not to, we little girls
in plaid and sashes, we little boys
with pocket slingshots,

turning to our reading in a classroom
circumscribed by shoebox dioramas
and the number line, we little boys
running in recess packs, we little girls
collecting hop-scotch chains,

who fogged the small-paned windows
on orange afternoons
to write our names, then
a birthday party after school, a pinwheel
thumb-tacked on a pencil to take home,

and rarely, maybe once a year,
boys and girls, someone brought
a coconut to share, say a souvenir
of David G.’s uncle’s trip
across an ocean—

hairy husk hammered open,
woody crescents divvied up,
oily milk from a tiny Dixie-cup—

though we didn’t like the taste
and we complained
as the world began impinging
on our world with its satellites,
its news reports, and something in us knew

it shouldn’t, yet. Because it was enough
to lie in the dark and wait for sleep,

we little girls decoding voices
from another room, we little boys
alert for squealing tires and police.

About the author:

Kathleen Flenniken’s first book, Famous (University of Nebraska Press, 2006), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the ALA and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, Poetry, and The Iowa Review, and she is a recipient of fellowships from the NEA and Artist Trust. She teaches with Writers in the Schools in Seattle and other arts agencies, and is an editor with Floating Bridge Press, a non-profit poetry press.

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