Throwback Saturday with "to tear them away" from issue 295.2

Jeffrey Ethan Lee

wicked games stigliani

Jeffrey Lee's poem "to tear them away" earned an honorable mention in the 2010 James Hearst Poetry Prize. The poem appears in issue 295.2 of the North American Review.

to tear them away

It was just like her to leap across the street
from her friends’ car at the red light
and throw herself on me
in just her tangerine bikini
aglow in the headlights
jamming the street—
panting and pressing her chest through mine,
her too wet mouth kissing too long,
rasping “I had to say goodbye.”
Happy to block the cars,
happy to spur Hurry up! cries
from idling drivers,
happy to inspire
an emergency
in me,
she turned her thigh out
rising against mine,
her left toe tracing a line up my leg.
But she’d left
her car door dangling—
the honks and roars grew raucous,
and even then I sensed
what mattered most to her
were the guys honking not to GO
but to go-go, go-go,
the gawkers who couldn’t tear themselves away—
I wanted to tear them away,
to lift her bare feet above
dirty concrete, to cover her,
but she wanted them
to stay.

This poem was inspired by a dancer that I knew. We had been driving around Philadelphia with some of her friends, and they had just dropped me off near the train station east of City Hall. The moment she jumped out of the car to say goodbye to me surprised me a lot because she was only wearing a bikini. It was a weekend crowd downtown, and it was pretty late, so some of the guys around were probably a little drunk, drunk, or very drunk. We were both very young then. I cared about her, but I had a feeling that she was on a certain kind of path that wasn't auspicious, and the truth of this would break out into the open sometimes. It would come to me at unexpected moments, and this was one of those moments of a kind of an awakening.

Jeffrey Ethan Lee’s dramatic poetry book, identity papers (Ghost Road Press, 2006), was a 2006 Colorado Book Award finalist. His first full-length poetry book was invisible sister (Many Mountains Moving Press, 2004). He won the 2002 Sow’s Ear Poetry Chapbook prize for The Sylf (2003), and towards euphoria was the co-winner of the editor’s poetry chapbook prize from Seven Kitchens Press (2012). He created identity papers (audio CD) for Drimala Records, published Strangers in a Homeland (chapbook with Ashland Poetry Press, 2001), and poems, stories and essays in the North American Review, Xconnect, Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Many Mountains Moving, Crosscurrents, and American Poetry Review. He has a PhD in British Romanticism and an MFA from NYU. He teaches humanities at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Illustration by Claire Stigliani, a drawer and painter known for her works inspired by paintings, photographs, magazines, posters, YouTube clips, literature, performance, and plays. These works explore the act of watching and being watched and blur fiction with reality. Her recent shows include The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, (WI), The Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, (WI), Russell/Projects, Richmond (VA), and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery (NY). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and Photography in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.