Wayward Girls

by Kevin Boyle

It must have been a corporal work of mercy, akin
to visiting the sick or burying the dead, our visit
to the Home for Wayward Girls, a busload of us taken
away from our thoughts of girls to girls ridiculously
uniformed in dresses their bodies made their own.
We didn’t cast lots, but I turned away from my back-
of-the-bus group to slow dance with a girl so wayward
I felt my head slip from resting against her hair and
I began to speak in tongues with her, quietly, the gist
of the holy ghost upon us, she brushing so much of her body
against mine I thought my good suit would catch fire.
“Slow down,” she repeated. “Dance like the niggers dance.”
I imitated that bend of the body, the swish of leg
into dress, the close press of my right hand sifting
dress and buttock skin through it, my chest joining
the draw of her chest, and over punch, during the two
fast songs we stood still through to find ourselves again,
she spoke of nothing but music, no hint of abandonment or abuse.
During the last dance, as the DJ said, “Last dance before
the bus leaves, before you’re back in bed,” she said,
as she lifted her lips away from my neck and its tattoo
for the morning, “You’re not half bad. Come back again.”
I looked her almost in the eye, imagined myself palming
her head and stroking her neck-long hair she said they cut
to size, and with my hands at my side said, “I’d like that.”
In the bus windows we could see ourselves, altar boys
returning to the rigors of discipline, our looks groomed
the way we edged our lawns or whipped the dogs who let
loose, and over the bad mike at the front of the bus,
the priest said, “God will bless you for your kindness.
Remember them, boys, in your prayers.”

KEVIN BOYLE’s book, A Home for Wayward Girls, won the New Issues Poetry contest and was published in 2005. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly, Colorado Review, Cottonwood, Denver Quarterly, Greensboro Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, North American Review, Northwest Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East and Virginia Quarterly Review. The Lullaby of History won the Mary Belle Campbell Poetry Chapbook Prize and was published in 2002. Originally from Philadelphia, Kevin now lives in North Carolina and teaches at Elon University.