GENTLE (CALLING YOUR NAME)
by Nandi Comer
Next door, Kenetha the early bloomer
is on her porch shaking her sixteen year old bottom
to Luke Skyywalker. Her gold hearted
necklace pops with her breast. I am fourteen.
I do not yet know how my body will curve itself
into a desire, or why at first sight, some boys
make me look down at my hands or
at the ground or at them again. Kevin is coming over
and I am wearing my favorite red overall shorts
with one strap unfastened. I fixed my ponytail
to that same side because I know this makes me look cute.
Kenetha, who’s from Alabama and wears fake hair
and fake nails, tells me I should learn to switch.
She says hips and thighs are what guys like. She’s got
a lot of hips and thighs and I’m so thin. Kevin says
he likes them thin. Kenetha is loud and men always slow
their cars when we walk to the corner store. Last summer
her mother brought her to live with her father
and his wife. Kenetha says she came to grow up
with her sisters, but they’re all grown, with their own kids.
My mama says they didn’t need a new sister. We listen
to KISS FM all day. I do not understand what two people
might do to make the cops come knocking or how
honey can be love, but everybody’s singing about it.
Kenetha and I like to listen to requests. Sometimes
I wish someone would request a song for me.
Her father does not like her talking
to the neighborhood boys. He doesn’t allow her
to leave their porch. Now “Come and Talk to Me” blares
out of Kenetha’s small staticky radio. I want to ask her
about my outfit, but Kevin is on his way.
He’s Kenetha’s boyfriend’s friend. She gave him my number
and when he called his voice sounded like he might be fine
or light-skinned so I called him back. Sometimes he lays
his receiver on his speakers. His songs are always older
like Donny Hathaway or Marvin Gaye. We have been talking
for three months now. Today my mother is gone working.
Kevin is taking the bus an hour across town so when he comes I
can’t be just standing on the street. I want him to wait
for me to open the door. I want to welcome him.
I don’t know what I will say, but I hope I sound
like how Kenetha talks to her man. Soft. Slow.
NANDI COMER has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Cave Canem, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Arts. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project (Wayne State University Press, 2014), Detroit Anthology (Rust Belt Chic Press, 2014), Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Pluck!, Prairie Schooner, and Southern Indiana Review. She is a 2016 recipient of a Detroit Write A House Permanent Residency in Detroit award.
“There is something about songs that can bring you back to a certain time you in your life. I wanted to write a poem that returned me to that awkward and anxious age of adolescence in the 1990s that makes me so nostalgic. It was right before everyone had cell phones and Facebook. Everything and everyone was on fire and unknown. I felt like all the girls around me knew how to manage their bodies—and boys—in a much more skilled way than I could ever learn. This poem is my way of praising the music and all the young hormonal rituals of the 90s.”