The Virgins Are All Trimming Their Wicks

Years ago, I lived in Hattiesburg, MS, when Hurricane Katrina ripped her way through the south. Of course, the destruction took its toll on everyone, physically and emotionally. The beginning of  fall semester was postponed. We picked up branches, donated water, and waited for the lights to come back on. When people were able to attempt their normal routines once more, I noticed a curious personal aftermath. I witnessed three marriages begin to break in half just weeks after the storm. Long-kept secrets were revealed, voluntarily and with haste. Affairs, grudges, surreptitious pregnancies were handed out like new playing cards, their recipients told to deal. It was as if the lack of electricity, that constant humming that allows us all to endlessly distract ourselves, suddenly gave way to the urgent need to purge dishonesties. Luckily, I guess, I was single at the time and did not experience any personal revelations, and aside from finishing my Ph.D. a few months before the hurricane, had not really experienced an emotionally eventful year.

I wrote the poem, “Virginity,” during the summer of 2011, a couple months after the tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL. That year had, in fact, felt like nothing but emotional events. I will spare you the details of a romantic relationship gone bad and a friend’s betrayal (insert soap opera soundtrack). As I was writing notes for my poem, I found myself interested in vulnerability. I was bothered by the fact that some people have the heart to mess with those who cannot defend themselves or are not in the shape even to know that they are being manipulated. Then, for some reason, a comedic example of such a scenario popped into my head: cow tipping! I am a city girl but did my undergraduate work at the University of California, Davis, which has a well known agricultural program. It was there that I learned about cow tipping. I was told that you just rush up to a cow and tip her over. Yeah, I know. It befuddles me to this day.

And so, I changed the tone of my poem by discussing cow tipping rather than dark, vague feelings about betrayal that I couldn’t quite articulate anyway. This poem is included in my book Sister Nun and fits into her narrative. She is pushed forward by forces that are not in her control but also rooted in a past that is gone forever.  At the end of the poem, I didn’t have the heart to let the kids knock over the cow. I just let her dream of her happy past! You’ll notice, in the second stanza, there is a reference to eastern philosophy. The idea of the lotus, in Hinduism and Buddhism, is that it floats on a muddy pond but remains pure and white. It symbolizes the idea that one can attain enlightenment but still remain in a world of darkness, without sinking into it.

That feat is easier said than done, of course, and “Virginity” explores the idea that such purity can be easily muddied, even by a group of ornery teenagers, at least in the case of this cow.

(For the audio version of this poem, click here or below.)


Virginity is a fragile
canoe. Metaphors are
fragile, too, of course.
Sister knows this but
can’t help thinking of
powdered white cleavage
and unattractive doilies.
The absence of color and
all the colors at once. The
lotus, pure and floating on a
muddy pond. But what about
cow tipping, the irresistible
urge to knock down the
innocent? Children dressed
to match the night and in love
with love, snake through the
gold grass and up to that
old girl, mother to a dozen
calves in her lifetime, and
remembers them only
by their markings.
The hush of midnight and silence
of those trying to keep silent.
She brushes her tail against
her own leg, feels the breeze on
her hooves as she drifts from
one pattern to another, brown
with white spots…black and
brown swirls…white and
grey…white and grey.
The half moon takes root and
she dreams of soft
mooing and warm milk.
Silver cars on a distant
highway. The way
things used to be.

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