One set of grandparents settled
on the north side of the Cumberland,
which had bus service and a Dairy Queen,

the other was rural & plotted with pig
& chicken farms. To get from one grandparent’s
place to the other we boarded

a six-car flatbed ferry that skimmed
the turbid water like a low-flying hawk.
The farmhouse was weather-beaten & had little

natural light except in the duck-yellow kitchen
where I loved to sit and shell peas. When no one
was paying attention, I loved to sneak

through the cedar drawers and black lacquered
jewelry box in the spare bedroom. Once I found a stack
of girlie magazines — Rascal, Nugget,

Monseir — & I stole one of them. Rolled it up
mail-box style & snuck it inside the side pocket
of my pink leather overnight bag.

As we travel the night ferry back, my eight-year-old
heart knocks like a ball-peen hammer. I feel the first
pollinated bloom of sex. A thrill! But within minutes,

I believe I have sinned. I stay up past midnight,
decide to crawl out of the window screen,
gently so there’s no sound of peeling paint.

Under moonlight I will trail to the riverbank
& with the girlie rags in a black plastic bag,
I decide to dog-paddle the half-mile across the river.

I know I’ll never make it. When I’m found out, my dad
will surely whip me with his leather brush. Worse,
my big sister will make fun of me for the rest of my life.

I’ve heard stories of drowning from the Cumberland’s
undertow. My shame swirls into the muddy currents
as moonlight flickers through clouds.