A guy I dated owned a t-shirt of the history
of rock and roll silk-screened in the shape of a tree,
where the great blues singers mingled at the roots
and the trunk filled, knot after knot, with drug-addled
bruisers who sang for all the highs and psychedelia of electric amps,
their wails like mermaids, their love like temper tantrums.
Then up off the branches were the lithium-takers
and the punk-fisted, their mouths only feedback and distortion.
When I wore his shirt to bed, I'd stand at his bathroom mirror,
secretly loving the whiskers in the sink bowl
and the stun-eyed Maxim warping on the toilet tank,
and I'd take stock of where my breasts fell.
Beneath the black cotton, my nipples hardened,
focused, enabled a real sense of agency, and elected their names--
one picked Joni Mitchell and the other Janis Joplin.
"Look!" I shouted to him, "Hippies!"
Later, I realized the folk singers-- my new name for them--
hung too low. They were ample, their swagger belabored.
They couldn't keep up, despite trying. Everyone stared at them
As if they hopped trains or wore peasant skirts all day.
Their voices kept best when wired shut inside a microphone.
But he loved me for singing about drunks and wanting
their ragged love in my big, roomy hearts. He said those songs
were all over my face like a streaked lipstick.
Then he'd take off the shirt, and un-name them—and kiss me,
covet my delicate un-pursing. Maybe there was Otis Redding playing.
He cupped me. I was sloping, ribbed, a thrum of myself. He detached me from words.
He'd call past me through the windows into the must of crickets
into the orangeade streetlamps, naming me for stars.