Joe Cottonwood


Upward Through Bubbles

In swimsuits which means
essentially naked
the girls gather at the bridge
gasping giggling
budding bodies bouncing
as they climb over the steel rail
stand at the outside edge
hold hands

and jump
the scary plunge
to cool water, Donner Creek where
toe-touching the sandy bottom
they burst upward through bubbles
to sunlight, to air
whipping hair
with laughter, relief,
stronger now,
sweet courage
with a touch of spice.

Frog-kicking to shore
they smile
at the baggy-legged boys
who dared them
standing hands in pockets
smaller now
feigning indifference
unworthy of their loveliness.

What She Learned

We never noticed
maybe she was never here
until the police cars, the rumpled man,
actual handcuffs,
the headline that never named her
but everybody knew.

Next day she came to school,
a little girl with blond ringlets
walking as if rope held her arms to her ribs,
as if sharp teeth might seize an extended finger,
as if wild wolves might pounce when
she made one glance to the side.
She kept her head up, met no one’s eye.
She wore makeup like a grownup, only more,
maybe she always had
but we never saw.

One boy began to say “Did he actually—?”
She flinched, we stopped.
Not mercy that held us back, but fear.
Her knowledge no class would teach.
She won that day, simply by showing up.


joesheepskinbeachJoe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life.  Nights, he writes. His most recent book is 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses.


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