Poems on Adolescence


Barbara Crooker


Barbara Crooker lives in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania. She is a six-time nominee for the Pushcart
Prize, and the recipient of numerous poetry awards and fellowships. She has written ten
chapbooks of poetry, including Ordinary Life (ByLine Press, 2000), from which the following
poem is taken. She is the mother of two daughters and a son. You can access her website
at http://www.barbaracrooker.com.


Listening to Her Practice: My Middle Daughter, on the Edge of Adolescence, Learns to
Play the Saxophone


For Rebecca


Her hair, that halo of red gold curls,
has thickened, coarsened,
lost its baby fineness,
and the sweet smell of childhood
that clung to her clothes
has just about vanished.
Now she's getting moody,
moaning about her hair,
clothes that aren't the right brands,
boys that tease.
She clicks over the saxophone keys
with gritty fingernails polished in pink pearl,
grass stains on the knees
of her sister's old designer jeans.
She's gone from sounding like the smoke detector
through Old MacDonald and Jingle Bells.
Soon she'll master these keys,
turn notes into liquid gold,
wail that reedy brass.
Soon, she'll be a woman.
She's gonna learn to play the blues.



Audre Lorde


Audre Geraldine Lorde (1934-1992) was a multi-talented writer, educator and activist. She
described herself as a "black lesbian, mother, warrior poet." She was born in New York City
to West Indian parents. She earned a B.A. from Hunter College in New York City and an
M.A. in library science from Columbia University. In addition to numerous volumes of poetry,
Lorde published four volumes of prose. In the 1980s, she and writer Barbara Smith founded
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. Lorde was Poet Laureate of New York from 1991-92.
She died of cancer in 1992 after a 14-year struggle. The poem that follows was published in
The Black Unicorn (1978).




Hanging Fire


I am fourteen

and my skin has betrayed me

the boy I cannot live without

still sucks his thumb

in secret

how come my knees are

always so ashy

what if I die

before the morning comes

and momma's in the bedroom

with the door closed.


I have to learn how to dance

in time for the next party

my room is too small for me

suppose I die before graduation

they will sing sad melodies

but finally

tell the truth about me

There is nothing I want to do

and too much

that has to be done

and momma's in the bedroom

with the door closed.


Nobody even stops to think

about my side of it

I should have been on Math Team

my marks were better than his

why do I have to be

the one

wearing braces

I have nothing to wear tomorrow

will I live long enough

to grow up

and momma's in the bedroom

with the door closed.



Rita Dove


Rita Dove (1952-  ) was born in Akron, Ohio. She has won numerous awards for her poetry,
including the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Thomas and Beulah. She served as Poet Laureate of the
United States from 1993 to 1995. In 2004 she was named Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth
of Virginia, and she is currently Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. The poems that follow appeared in The Yellow House on
the Corner


Adolescence - I


In water-heavy nights behind grandmother's porch
We knelt in the tickling grass and whispered:
Linda's face hung before us, pale as a pecan,
And it grew wise as she said:
     "A boy's lips are soft,
     As soft as baby's skin."
The air closed over her words.
A firefly whirred in the air, and in the distance
I could hear streetlamps ping
Into miniature suns
Against a feathery sky.


Adolescence - II

Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting.
Sweat prickles behind my knees, the baby-breasts are alert.
Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.

Then they come, the three seal men with eyes as round

As dinner plates and eyelashes like sharpened tines.
They bring the scent of licorice. One sits in the washbowl,

One on the bathtub edge; one leans against the door.
"Can you feel it yet?" they whisper.
I don't know what to say, again. They chuckle,

Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.
"Well, maybe next time." And they rise,

Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,

And vanish. I clutch at the ragged holes
They leave behind, here at the edge of darkness.

Night rests like a ball of fur on my tongue.


Adolescence - III


With Dad gone, Mom and I worked

The dusky rows of tomatoes.

As they glowed orange in sunlight

And rotted in shadows, I too

Grew orange and softer, swelling out

Starched cotton slips.


The texture of twilight made me think of

Lengths of Dotted Swiss.  In my room

I wrapped scarred knees in dresses

That once went to big-band dances;

I baptized my earlobes with rosewater.

Along the window-sill, the lipstick stubs

Glittered in their steel shells.


Looking out at the rows of clay

And chicken manure, I dreamed how it would happen;

He would meet me by the blue spruce,

A carnation over his heart, saying,

"I have come for you, Madam;

I have loved you in my dreams."

At his touch, the scabs would fall away.

Over his shoulder, I see my father coming toward us:

He carries his tears in a bowl,

And blood hangs in the pine-soaked air.



Eavan Boland


Eavan Boland (1944 -  ) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was educated there as well as in
London and New York. She has taught at a number of universities and is currently the director of
the creative writing program at Stanford University. Boland is the author of nine books of poetry
and a collection of essays. Her poetry is known both for its political and personal voice. The
poem that follows appeared in A Time of Violence (Norton, 1994).


The Pomegranate


The only legend I have ever loved is
The story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
A city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
An exiled child in the crackling dusk of
The underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
Searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
To make any bargain to keep her.

I carried her back past whitebeams
And wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
Winter was in store for every leaf
On every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.

It is winter

and the stars are hidden.

I climb the stairs and stand where I can see

My child asleep beside her teen magazines,

Her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.

The pomegranate! How did I forget it?

She could have come home and been safe

And ended the story and all

Our heart-broken searching but she reached
Out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down

The French sound for apple and

The noise of stone and the proof

That even in the place of death,

At the heart of legend, in the midst

Of rocks full of unshed tears

Ready to be diamonds by the time

The story was told, a child can be

Hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.

The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.

The suburb has cars and cable television.

The veiled stars are above ground.

It is another world. But what else

Can a mother give her daughter but such

Beautiful rifts in time?

If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.

The legend will be hers as well as mine.

She will enter it. As I have.

She will wake up. She will hold

the papery flushed skin in her hand.

And to her lips. I will say nothing.