Three Poems by Julie Rouse

Poetry: Julie Rouse

The Direst

I’ve been the same bad dream since I was eight.
Still the body its interlocutors.
Pierce my ear and listen to the crunch.
Stick a needle underneath my thumb.
Listen to mom and dad in the next room.
Listen to the Bangles Egyptian.
Piss in the corner, old enough to know.
Dippy puppies hump each other for fun.
Out in the yard in green tornado light.
A kiss with scratchy cheek and smoke and beer.
Smoke in the alley a cinder in my eye.
Kiss me once and twice is old but golden.
Asked to drop the towel in a sinister way.
Taught to fix my bike I can ride faster.
Gina, Jenny, and I in a beanbag chair.
George Michael wants my sex the hottest dream.
My alter-ego from The Amityville Horror.
Mom’s a stoic at the can redemption.
Dad’s a tosser when he jacks us all.
Launches the cat, a pan, a doctor look.
Buried in the garden, a future project.
Articulation of the skeleton puts him right.
Writhing on the unspeakable I’m a target.
Hairless as the girls in magazines.
Every man I see wants my pubescence.
Pissing down my leg’ll get you nowhere.
In the decade of Vietnam vet fathers,
the city of Duran Duran means you’re a fag,
the corner of bad neighborhood and flood.
Look me up pen pal, won’t write you back.
Nobody wants the truth so I learn language.
Taught to make a fist with untucked thumb.
They want to see me eat an ice cream sandwich.


The Ballad of Scab and Scar


A desert mouse stops its scrying,
sits back on haunches and opens
its berry mouth to let a whistle
spool into heat. The tire rut
canyons and scream becomes
coyote howl and home.
Mouse lives in my heart,
crickets in my ears’ permanent
buzz. Regina, I left you
somewhere lodged between
mattress and headboard. Someone
new fondles you without shame.
I lose mine in hotel rooms.
All the egress men and boys
made in the dim day and in the dark
places happened. I don’t know.
What is this body made of? Fish scales
spray from under my father’s
scaler, diamond-like.
You can kill a fish with a priest
or a well-aimed rock to its
gasping head.


There’s a way to kill a girl, too,
who won’t be noticed. All
the worry that caused my parents
to examine candy for razors,
I thought the danger lay in the sweet
alone. There was a neighborhood
man. Always left a bowl of candy
on his kitchen counter, door
unlocked. The encounter. Followed
home from school by prowling car
I lost and hid under the churchyard
van, nerves laced to pavement.
A young man shook his soft
pink dick at our gaggle of middle
school girls. A boy rubbed my thigh
and showed me his hunting
knife on the Greyhound. Frotteur
on the El brushed the side
of my head with his damp
crotch unzipped. Date rape in a dirty college
apartment left my asshole
sore for days. I’m not supposed
to feel the victim. Fuck that,
truly. I been raped worse.


Kids are looping downtown
past the garage where a local
little brother leapt from the fifth
floor. I wish we could stay longer.
How I love the red-violet-orange
sunset, insect burr, clover in the fields,
because I have nowhere else.
Jody Huisentruit is buried within
2 counties of where Jonny Gosch
and Eugene Martin never returned
from their paper routes. Who
entered me as a child. Jane
Doe, I’m in the hotel window
seat, second floor, flashing some
cunt at the cars passing below just
writing in what I sleep in.
Where are you going? Where
did you go? Every copse of trees
we may be hidden within.
So we cross the dangerous path:

automobiles pierce our dying
downtown and burnt-out
department store. I come from,
it must be this parking lot.
A little blood, a little blood trail,
an armful of woo-girls lurch
along the sidewalk. Soft animals
tonight are killing it.

I Want to Lick the Salt Off of You

Children with water wings. Dogs. Umbrellas.
A very tan woman and a pale man. A boy
with a beautiful afro, all signifiers. White
terns with black hoods we agree to call
executioner birds executing aerial
maneuvers on sandwiches. Your father
died last week. We don’t speak of it
much. I’m letting you unravel it, your love
a little, as if you could a Gorgon knot.

We’re in South Carolina. Your family is
nice and racist. Casual remarks cut
at the Magnolia cemetery.
Southern crosses everywhere on open
graves, the dead crawling out to move
their mouths—maw maw maw—
no words, no tongues. Below us

soldiers asphyxiate in the iron maiden
of the Hunley submarine trying to run
the Union blockade.

There they are, the dolphins again.
Sharks bite families swimming too close
to the pier. A jellyfish stings your ankle.
A television fascist speaks of making
America safe again and we know who
he’s talking about. But who can keep us safe
from the terns, the flags, the rebel cause?

I’m so angry at our death, or I’m mad
at life for fooling us a little.
He can’t say they are coming for us
when we are doing ourselves in. The ocean
doesn’t care. There is a word for every motion,
flow with it, drift towards me, let me spit
in your mouth, let me piss on your wound.
I swear to you it will only hurt.

Julie Rouse is a poet and visual artist living in Des Moines, Iowa. She is the author of a chapbook, Boy, published by dancing girl press. Her work is forthcoming in an anthology, Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance, published by Spuyten Devil Press, and has appeared in Arsenic Lobster, Denver Quarterly, and decomP, among others. She received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Montana and teaches a creative writing workshop for people experiencing homelessness.

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