Practicing

By Marie Howe b. 1950 Marie Howe
I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement
 
of somebody’s parents’ house, a hymn for what we didn’t say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each other’s mouths
 
how to move our tongues to make somebody moan. We called it practicing, and
one was the boy, and we paired off—maybe six or eight girls—and turned out
 
the lights and kissed and kissed until we were stoned on kisses, and lifted our
nightgowns or let the straps drop, and, Now you be the boy:
 
concrete floor, sleeping bag or couch, playroom, game room, train room, laundry.
Linda’s basement was like a boat with booths and portholes
 
instead of windows. Gloria’s father had a bar downstairs with stools that spun,
plush carpeting. We kissed each other’s throats.
 
We sucked each other’s breasts, and we left marks, and never spoke of it upstairs
outdoors, in daylight, not once. We did it, and it was
 
practicing, and slept, sprawled so our legs still locked or crossed, a hand still lost
in someone’s hair . . . and we grew up and hardly mentioned who
 
the first kiss really was—a girl like us, still sticky with moisturizer we’d
shared in the bathroom. I want to write a song
 
for that thick silence in the dark, and the first pure thrill of unreluctant desire,
just before we’d made ourselves stop.

Marie Howe, “Practicing” from What the Living Do. Copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: What the Living Do (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Marie Howe b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, The Body, Youth, Love, Desire, Relationships

Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse

 Marie  Howe

Biography

Born in Rochester, New York, Marie Howe attended Sacred Heart Convent School and the University of Windsor. She received an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied with Stanley Kunitz, whom she refers to as “my true teacher.”

Her first collection, The Good Thief (1988), was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Margaret Atwood, who praised Howe’s “poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.” In that . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, The Body, Youth, Love, Desire, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.