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The Damp Hips of Women

Elisabeth Harvor
From:   The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring. Vehicule Press, 1997


Two weeks before
the end of the war
with Japan, I climbed
with my mother and four
of her friends up the path
from the beach, up the long
aisle of shivering poplars,
I remember spandex
and paisley

expanding, contracting
on the damp hips of the women,
but it would have had to be some other
fabric back in those edgy days of

pale sunshine and fog--not spandex
but some sort of elasticized jersey,
the air smelling of decay, effervescence,
damp birth or death of the earth,

one of the women walking
with the arms of her orange cardigan
tied into a broken-necked knot
on one hip, making her oiled back
end in an uneven and cocky orange apron
     worn backwards
its jaunty sway back and forth

and me with a river
of sand embedded in the
flowered crotch of my swimsuit
     along with a deeper
worm of wrong down in the divided
pudge between my babyish thighs;
     my body
feeling shivery, peppy, as if it
could make me want to cry out "I love you!"
     (or "I hate you!")
or suppose I had startled the world
by yelling out "Hip!" Would the women
have waited then, for two more

hips to follow?
And for the two hips
that followed to be
followed by a shy and
frail hooray? Or I might
have shamed myself utterly
by crying out breast!

At nine, I couldn't
imagine ever being anything
but a lover of women, I loved
the way they smelled of the hurtful
suction of their wet bathing caps,
their earrings

pressed to their ears
by their five tight rubber bonnets,

loved the way they kept
swinging backwards

into the river,
sinking slowly back
into deeper water

to laugh
like women in love

at the dipped

loved their yelps
of belonging laughter,

loved the slits of winter-white
skin that flashed from the tops
of their brown thighs as they sat
and smoked out on the end of the dock

and then bent over
to cry out, helplessly
caught in the adult pain
of amusement, loved
their nailpolish
and the sun-paled tan
weave of their borrowed
sandals and their bracelets'
jingles, loved their lives.


Somewhere, beyond sky
or river, they are all

still in their damp swimsuits
and still all laughing and climbing
up into the grove of excitable
poplars, mounting the path
in sprung single-file.

But no, it's before
even that,

the long afternoon
graduating itself into twilight

while the five
are still holding out
at the far end of the dock
for a final low gossip,

that last peaceful malice,
wigwammed by towels, a last cigarette.

Elisabeth Harvor's works copyright © to the author.

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