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Harder: A poem by Mallory Pendleton

My first dick was all pen and ink. My mother sitting at our kitchen table   explaining sex, or more so, my sex, or more so, the way that my sex worked.


My mother trying to answer     a question. My mind   thinking  long

and hard  about the two men across the street who were old

and together  and loved to sit on their porch  and didn’t seem  to be going   anywhere, didn’t seem to be         parting anytime soon, didn’t seem to be   leaving each other,            didn’t seem to need    anyone else,   any women.

I understood it.


Didn’t feel I needed it              explained,        but felt this might be the time

to ask about sex.                     Something about them said    sex. Said ask,

now     is as good a time        as any.


So Mama         at our kitchen  table in August        and my chin resting

on top of          the soft           damp      wood             and her hand sketching

a dick   in pen    on the back of tomorrow’s grocery list.



I recount this experience to you    the other night. You ask me                      about my first time   and this is how I choose to answer                   instead of telling you   about the time     I was                            undressed        on   that same      kitchen table          eight or so years      later          I guess          but I tell you this instead      and      laugh               as I remember understanding

the facts                      how it worked              —the whole thing—

within just a few minutes of     my mother beginning,


but pretending not to understand.              Drilling question       after question                into        my mother                 one   after         the other                     waiting

for       her voice  to                 crack   a  little   more in every

truth.  Sadistic little daughter.               I just      wanted           something      more    than                         an explanation             like                                           my mother’s mouth

to wrap                                    around                         the words

penis,     vagina,          erection,          sperm,   orgasm,        orgasm,                         orgasm


orgasm. I’d heard them                                               before and they had made me

feel      alive and                      I wanted her                to feel                         alive   too                     I wanted her to                            give the words                         over                             to me without apology                                                             to begin to shake less                   to hold the pen steady                            to take                                              nothing                                                back

I wanted                                  to set Mommy free.



I laugh telling you this.

            silly memory :: naive daughter :: wishful girl

                              we see   nothing                 in our wake


I leave the bedroom once a night. Every time you sit up and ask whether I am okay or where I am going before I only nod my head, shut the door, and leave.


The first time I realized            I was not a woman      was also the first time

I wanted          to just lay   on the ground    out of view        and     become dirty            and    become          dirtier.


I ask my mother          about sex and     her medication    because I need opinions and the doses of each        seem inextricable  from                  one                       another


today I try to believe but nothing               I imagine us wide open and fearless but

nothing there                           is


no documenting womanhood       without cutting the body                in half

to count each widening ring                 between cunt and tongue       or

how many times                     we had to grow up

and stretch


the blood’s dried up                                                     the doctors say no

blood    no sex no             love      or feeling    no


and why

make a fuss just         pull on your pants and      feel           how easy

they come       up your hips      now          that you’ve lost           the shining curve

of want




we can all become    such beautiful enhancements of death      if we need to            unmoving                    save the smile                                     the hands


and each morning a hurt   the end of my body   both fists pressed into the soft living room floor and


this is your home                     this has always been your home     there is no leaving just the hurt

which is different than the blood          which is missing                     which is the missing which is             different                     than the leaving

just the hurt                                                     which is


my constant

Mama  still       flinching           at the kitchen table      her     staggered     throat    still        holding    on    to                        this          was              never           going            to        be         pretty


how could I do         anything                but laugh

we are    silent   breakable         things

until our chins   slide              off        the          wooden                    edge

and boom


and     what   then

but        you


asking    for                 my first

dick      and      feeling               powerful

as        I                       return to you the          paper-

thin one           sitting   in                     my mother’s

flickering                      hand


instead of me


instead of my





instead of me

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