Those big-boned, black-haired country boys – Pauletta Hansel

who sat in back rows of the yellow bus—exhaust stink, switchback
turns, rattle of torn-up benches—who tattooed their arms
like carving sticks of wood with ink pens and red pocket knives
that coal camp year before my father gave in to my sister’s tears
at the indignity of busses, and drove us in his hatchback Datsun
to the school in town where we belonged, not up some holler road,
where runoff from the mine smelled like mayonnaise
in the creek my brother liked to wade till we came home.

What am I saying? That place was not home.
But when my father got a college job again,
and us a town with sidewalks,
those big-boned, black-haired country boys
went with me in my mind. Their arms like ropes
they threw around each other’s shoulders.
Their downturned eyes.

Boys like that, they never even looked at me
until they did, two years gone by,
boys like them at half-time in the county high school gym,
the Bobcats down by six—
            I am 13,
            the lift and curve of flesh around my bones.
            Boys call me and I turn.
            My father’s hand against my nape
            guides me back to way up in the bleachers.
            Boys follow with their country eyes.

My mother would have told me, had she seen,
“You don’t know what it is you’re wanting.”
And it is true, the other way as well,
I had not known I wanted
what I did not know,
until I did.

Pauletta HanselPauletta Hansel’s books include Friend, Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for Appalachian poetry. Heartbreak Tree is forthcoming from Madville Publishing. Her writing was featured in Oxford American, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate and past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel