Dangerous Life

I quit med school when I found out the stiff they gave me
had book 9 of Paradise Lost and the lyrics
to “Louie Louie” tattooed on her thighs.
That morning as the wind was mowing
little ladies on a street below, I touched a Bunsen burner
to the Girl Scout sash whose badges were the measure of my worth:
Careers . . .
Cookery, Seamstress . . .
and Baby Maker. . . all gone up in smoke.
But I kept the merit badge marked Dangerous Life,
for which, if you remember, the girls were taken to the woods
and taught the mechanics of fire,
around which they had us dance with pointed sticks
lashed into crucifixes that we’d wrapped with yarn and wore
on lanyards round our necks, calling them our “Eyes of God.”
Now my mother calls the pay phone outside my walk-up, raving
about what people think of a woman—thirty, unsettled,
living on food stamps, coin-op Laundromats & public clinics.
Some nights I take my lanyards from their shoebox, practice baying
those old camp songs to the moon. And remember how they told us
that a smart girl could find her way out of anywhere, alive.

Lucia Perillo, "Dangerous Life" from Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones. Copyright © 2016 by Lucia Perillo.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
More Poems by Lucia Perillo