TBH

by Nancy Jo Cullen

Nancy Jo Cullen’s stories have appeared in The Puritan, Prairie Fire, Grain, Plenitude, filling Station, The New Quarterly, This Magazine and The Journey Prize 24 and 26. She has published three collections of poetry with Frontenac House Press. Her most recent book, the short story collection Canary, is the winner of 2012 Metcalf-Rooke Award. She is the 2010 winner of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBT Writers.

1.

Teenagers are pulling their braces off with their bare hands
Illuminating the unlit valley of adolescence with their exposed midriffs
Subjecting mothers to the Sacrament of Contempt
Mothers are crying into their cold-pressed, non-gmo organic juice
The mothers of the mothers have had too much sun
Fragile little snowbirds, their bones are disintegrating
Such extremely low thresholds for enduring discomfort
They can’t even; they just can’t
Nobody asks to be born
Not to mention all that plastic accumulating in the landfill
When they said crisis response planning they meant anti-wrinkle cream
Accustom yourself to plaintive disregard
Nobody asks to be a YouTube instructional video gone wrong
Not to mention all that human trash accumulating in the belly of the whale

 

 

 

2.

Not to mention all that human trash accumulating in the belly of the whale
Nor the invisible doctrine of the invisible hand and its invisible backers
Nor the offshore holdings of the Father and the Son & Sons
Currently in a loss position for tax purposes
Devastating, that feeling we failed ourselves in the land of opportunity
The uncertain sickly appetite to please[1]
Think of something meaningful to say to the kids:
TBH, freedom for the pike is death for the minnows
The body keeps the score, our long history of anxiety
In the province of ongoing extirpation
Still, there is the miracle of the softening mud and dog shit, flagrant
Uproar of the Hermit Thrush, the White Throated Sparrow
The Brown Creeper, the Earth turning again toward warm days
The wonder of the Body, TBH, is Its capacity for punishment

 

 

3.

The wonder of the body, TBH, is its capacity for punishment
We told our daughters, do not walk through that park; we said
You are a public space & it will not soon end
You are open for business 24/7, sweetheart
That age-old Madonna/“she has no respect for herself” divide
The need to think critically about a safe space
Say yes, say yes to the dress; say no
Say sorry, say my fault; say please
Anyway, what she can or can’t eat is practically all she will think
About, a nuanced dance of tactics and selection
And the Instagram effect now that nature isn’t natural
Confession of our faults is the next thing to innocence
Follow the thought of envy
The rich live, the rich live longer everywhere

 

 

 

4.

The rich live, the rich live longer everywhere
The rich think, the rich think about think-pieces
By think-piece they mean hip & knee replacement surgery
By hip and knee replacement surgery they mean inheritance
By inheritance they mean embrace sincerity
By embrace sincerity they mean deposit the proceeds of social conditioning
They mean to say, efficiency algorithms are their jam
They mean welcome to the so-called sharing economy
We push the walk button; we push the walk button again
We push the walk button again; we are on fire at the intersection
Our bones consumed in the noise, the weather
Some girls imagine they feel worse than they do
They get into a dither just by thinking too much about themselves[2]

 

 

5.

They get into a dither just by thinking too much about themselves
Their informational appliances are always at their fingertips
Their fingertips are always on the receiving end
Of the global supply chain, always on the receiving end
Of stand-out online dating profile photos
Always on the receiving end of palatable versions of
Demographically segmented market variables
Always on the receiving end of the body in trouble
Brought on by an insufficiency of imagination & upcycled
Dresses; brought on by the absence of absence
And the plastic particulate matter of a bifurcated heart
Your continued participation serves as express consent
Bring your noise cancelling headphones
The Lord helps those who help themselves

 

 

 

6.

Because the Lord helps those who help themselves
Because all the cats want to dance with the natural mutation
Because of the heat trapping nature of sweet little sixteen
Because of the inability to recall the sequence of traumatic events
Because of the tendency of attention to be affected by recurring thoughts
Because of record breaking high temperatures
Because of mitigation and adaptation
Because of benzodiazepine
Because of twenty-one words used to describe only women
Because of sharks, dogs, mountains, elevators and mosquitoes
Because of black legged ticks and American presidential elections
Because of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
Because of smiley face emoticons
Because of clinical levels of acquisitiveness

 

 

 

7.

Because of clinical levels of acquisitiveness
And all the angels & saints in their “spiritual gangster” t-shirts
All the latest patrons of leisure, style, and taste
All the latest patrons of teenaged girls, angular and hungry
Feeling their supreme moment of destiny
Teenaged girls waiting to spring into time
And by time they mean take their husband’s name
And by all the angels & saints they mean reality TV stars
They mean they have no sense of their over-determined circumstances
This poem is bitter; this poem has gone to fat
This poem is crushing the dreams of teenaged girls
It tells them they are still unloved
But those girls are laughing and this poem is an old bitch
And, teenagers are pulling their braces off with their bare hands

 

 

[1] Sonnet 147

[2] You’re a Young Lady Now, 1961

 


Nancy Jo Cullen’s stories have appeared in The Puritan, Prairie Fire, Grain, Plenitude, filling Station, The New Quarterly, This Magazine and The Journey Prize 24 and 26. She has published three collections of poetry with Frontenac House Press. Her most recent book, the short story collection Canary, is the winner of 2012 Metcalf-Rooke Award. She is the 2010 winner of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBT Writers.

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