Back then it seemed that wherever a girl took off her
clothes the police would find her—
in the backs of cars or beside the dark night ponds,
opening like a new leaf across
some boy’s knees, the skin so white and taut beneath the
moor it was almost too terrible,
too beautiful to look at, a tinderbox, though she did not
know. But the men who came
beating the night rushes with their flashlights and
thighs—they knew. About Helen.
about how a body could cause the fall of Troy and the
death of a perfectly good king.
So they would read the boy his rights and shove him spread-
legged against the car
while the girl hopped barefoot on the still-hot asphalt, cloaked in
a wool rescue blanket.
Sometimes girls would flee so their fathers wouldn’t hit
them, their white legs flashing as they ran.
And the boys were handcuffed just until their wrists had
welts and were let off half a block from home.
God for how many years did I believe there were truly
laws against such things,
laws of adulthood: no yelling out of cars in traffic tunnels,
no walking without shoes,
no singing any foolish songs in public places. Or else they
could lock you up in jail
or, as good as condemning you to death, tell both your
lower and upper case Catholic fathers.
And out of all the crimes, unveiling the body was of
course the worst, as though something
about the skin’s phosphorescence, its surface as velvet as
a deer’s new horn,
could drive not only men but civilization mad, could lead
us to unspeakable cruelties.
There were elders who from experience understood these
things much better than we.
And it’s true: remembering I had that kind of skin does
drive me half-crazy with loss.
Skin that to me now so much resembles a broad white lily on the first
morning it unfurls.