Ode to Seventh Grade Girls

by Jessica Poli

They could have left me there
trying clumsily to cover up the stain by myself,
angling my book bag behind me until I made it
to the nurse’s wood-paneled office to call my mom
and ask her for a change of clothes.
But they didn’t blink—just shuffled me out of that room
and through the halls, parting the crowds like dolphins
in a school of herring, making themselves late for lunch,
or algebra, or gym class where they’d chip their neon nail polish
and spray clouds of Calgon to cover up the warm rubber smell
of dodgeballs and sweat. O girls made of gristle
and glitter, born carrying small funerals in their bellies—
who all knew that one day the evidence might smear itself
across a yellow plastic chair, which a boy might see and forever after
make gagging noises with his friends when she passed by
or entered a room. O girls with their purses full of silver eyeshadow
and tampons, who traded notes through the openings
of lockers, who bought lip-shaped lollipops for each other
on Valentine’s Day from the table selling them at lunch.
I want to kiss the lips now of every girl who used her body
as a shield around mine, who glared cool eyes
at anyone who looked at me, who, when someone asked
why I was wearing different clothes, told some stunning
and beautiful lie that no one even thought to question.

Jessica Poli is the author of four chapbooks, most recently Canyons (BatCat Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, and Meridian, among others. She is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, founder and editor of Birdfeast, and assistant poetry editor at Prairie Schooner. She can be found online at www.jessicapoli.com.