Alice Friman

When Miss Garvey preached
about the importance of washing
beneath our breasts, we were barely
fourteen. We of the pert and perky,
the new sproutings of last spring.
We of the rose-tipped sundae.
We of the smart-aleck mouth:
what’s this “beneath” business?
There was no beneath. We were up-
standing in duplicate and up to date—
saucy, sassy, and more relevant
than we knew. We were upright,
up-and-coming, immortal as summer,
flushed as the cherry in our cheeks.

The only beneath that counted
was beneath a sweater, pointing
to the endless possibilities of
where we thought we were headed.
When we stood firm in our straps,
weren’t we, for the first time, armed
with power? The lure of I-dare-you
under the do-not-touch of delicious?

To Miss Garvey—object of our
seventh grade derision—I apologize,
for now from the high hill of my age,
I have indeed developed an under,
a beneath. Sometimes I hear
her muffled voice lecturing from
my own dark crease where she lives,
hunkered down, grousing like
the troll under the bridge and wagging
her finger in perpetual admonition—
Hygiene, hygiene. Oh for the days
before underwire and under performance,
each morning cup tilted fresh and sweet.

Alice Friman published her seventh poetry collection, Blood Weather, with LSU Press in 2019. New poems have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, the Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. Professor Emerita of English and creative writing at the University of Indianapolis, she now lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is poet-in-residence at Georgia College. 

Hygiene appears in our Autumn 2019 issue.