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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

Mary Lambert

Feiwel & Friends


How I Learned to Love

When I was fifteen, I hated everything except for Weezer

and maybe like two people. And cereal.

One time a boy grabbed me in the music room

and kissed my neck in front of everybody.

I did not want to be kissed, but I thought I was supposed

to want to be kissed. I did not know what to do.

And so I laughed.

I knew you were supposed to laugh after things like that

The world had taught me to dress up my trauma

in short skirts and secret bathroom crying,

to protect the fragility of boys at all costs

When I was five, my father molested me

you become a strange human that way

You cannot whip yourself awake as a child

I should have been born a bird

When I turned six,

I stopped talking.

When I was twenty-five and my name was on the radio,

I asked people to write poems and send them to me

Maybe because I was starved of honest humanity

Half of the poems were about slit wrists

I do not want to know any more

about this brand of humanity.

All I know of love is hunger.

When I met you,

I planted my heart into the heavy

earth. I was scared,

But you smiled back.

Thank God I was not born a bird.

Evelyn Is Made Up

The little girl is a theater of shame and laughter.

She is eating lunch in the library again,

she tucks the desk into her ribs to feel smaller.

The hurt is ricocheting from her mother’s thighs

into the girl’s thighs. The mother’s hips are “too big”

the mother says. The silver hope can of slimfast sits

in the fridge, waits. The boys are cruel and

predictable. The girl renames herself Evelyn.

Evelyn does not cry at school, wears a ruby

cardigan, is the star. Evelyn can run so fast, she has

beautiful ribboned braids. She buys hot lunch

effortlessly—not even reduced, she pays full price.

Evelyn is made up. The girl knows this. Nothing is

real since the incest. The girl can’t breathe through

her nose because of the mold. The girl breathes

loudly, it is a good joke for everyone.


I am hurting so much this winter.

I am fucking everyone and nothing

matters, I wore braids to an award show, I started

wearing dark lipstick and crying in the shower

My sheets are beautiful, I kiss everyone I meet

The end of the world fits inside of my cocktail

I never fixed myself, I am my own arduous endeavor

I light myself on fire for everyone

I am the arsonist and the lover

All choked into one great sex bouquet

And Evelyn is here inside me, she is magnificent

and ordering room service like a pro

my mother still makes me cry from her love

& her sweet eyes & sugared compassion

the only parts I remember of my childhood

are lies I told myself to feel better


for Belltown

The girl with purple hair is sitting at my bar again.

I think she is beautiful.

But not in a way that I want to have awesome sex with her but in a way that I want to drink chocolate martinis together and go shopping for christmas vests that have tinkly bells and even maybe polar bears with hats on them.

She is having a full-body cry.

I am the worst bartender, simply because I don’t know how to counsel people without crying back at them.

She is crying about the state of women.

I know that we come from the same rotting wood, so all I do is nod.

Rape is not a man behind a bush with a knife, she laughs,

It’s kissing you on the mouth like whiskey at a nice bar.

The girl with purple hair and I are holding hands now

I only wanted an apology. An acknowledgement of what occurred.

Grappling as artists, as girls, as ships in bottles,

how do we change any of it?

I tell her I am going to write a poem.

She says no one wants to hear a rape poem, mary

Copyright © 2018 by Mary Lambert