The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Rani Crowe

My First Love


My first love was tall.
When he picked me up and
I sat in the crook of his arm looking
Down smugly at the people usually
Looking down at me,
He promised to marry me
When I grew up.
How much did I have to grow up?
I’d negotiate the height.
He’d hold his hand while I’d stand on
Tiptoes and furniture to meet his fingers
With my forehead.
How old is grown up?
Maybe the number of fingers would be
Faster, I’d show him 5? 6? 7? 8? 9? 10?
Fingers as he’d shake his head, I never
Had enough fingers for that man.
I’d step back, fists on hips screwing my
Face to the side, wanting to grow up faster
To marry my uncle
With the wild eyes who looked like Jesus.

My cousin and I played back and forth
Between the funny house with stairs that
Went up to nowhere, where Grandma
Served me milky sweet coffee and I felt
Grown up playing Rook with the adults,
And the trailer across the miles of
Driveway that we crossed ourselves while
Grandma looked out from the window,
The trailer where my first love lived with
My aunt and my cousin where big people
Sat around drinking canned beer and
Smoking funny cigarettes, smells that lingered on
My cheek from my first love’s goodnight
Kisses before grandma tucked me into bed.

And I never got tall enough or old
Enough to hold him to his promise.
His car crashed when I was only one full
Hand of fingers, and everybody was crying
And I wasn’t cute or funny anymore so
They sent me to stay at the other
Grandma’s house where nobody would be
Crying, because nobody ever laughed.
The other grandma gave me rocks to
Paint because she didn’t have any toys for
Children and she gave me bread in milk to
Eat for breakfast because I didn’t like the
Shredded wheat that they ate without
Sugar because of Grandpa’s diabetes and
She didn’t make me coffee because
Children shouldn’t drink coffee, but she
Did have gold salt and pepper shakers
Shaped like eggs that spun like tops until
They spilled and Grandma snatched them
Away leaving me to read about the
Nutrition in their shredded wheat.

I never saw him before he died, children
Weren’t allowed in that part of the
Hospital, which didn’t make sense because
Babies came from the hospital, but they
Read me books about death and dying
When I came back and he wasn’t there
Anymore and nobody talked about him.

That was when my dad sold the house to
Buy a van that took him away for weeks
At a time selling tools,
And my mom had a baby that soon took
Up all her time and we moved into a little
Apartment where our big dog stayed in a
Little pen all day, and the other aunt
Called to ask for razor blades to slit her
Wrists, her allergies made her do it, and
My grandma moved from the funny
House with the stairs to nowhere, to a new
Funny house that looked like a trailer and
Smelled like dead fish and rotten eggs and
I got very sick every time we went
There because it was so many telephone
Poles away and Daddy never liked to stop
As often as I needed to pee because there
Weren’t enough McDonald’s so I had to
Go behind trees and in cornfields, because
He was stubborn and I was stubborn and I
Couldn’t help it if I didn’t have to go at
The last rest stop.

They left me more and more at the other
Grandma’s house where I learned to never say I
Was bored because there were always
Strawberries to pick or beans to snap or
Corn to shuck and I painted so many
Rocks that Grandma and Grandpa
Threw away my watercolors before their
Driveway disappeared.

Suddenly I felt grown up at the age of
Five, but it wasn’t what I thought it would
Be, sweeping floors and changing diapers,
Washing dishes, picking vegetables-
But I wasn’t allowed to pour my own
Milk, because it was heavy and I was
Clumsy, but my mother was too busy with
A baby to tuck me into bed and my father
Was driving the white van around the
Country trying to sell tools,
And I had to read myself to sleep and I
Had to comfort myself when I woke up in
The night sweating from being chased by
Witches and jungle beasts.

I finally saw my first love’s gravestone as
We buried the rest of my father’s family.
I cried because I never got to say goodbye.
I cried for a life that was lost so young,
And for the pain I saw in my father’s face
As his fingers stroked the edging.
But most of all I cried because I never got
To call his bluff.






RANI CROWE is a filmmaker, theater artist, and collaborative interdisciplinary artist. She teaches Screenwriting at Ball State University. Rani's short films, Beautiful Eyes, Texting: A Love Story, and Estragon’s Boot have been screened at festivals internationally.  This is her first published poem.



Previous | Next