Stephanie Burt

December 23, 2018 Burt Stephanie


(Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 7)

Based on the private messages I receive
and will continue to receive
most of you hate me and many of you want to be me.

Although I would like to be touched
more than I have been touched,
and in more places, my physicality
has amped up my confidence: I can make vampires flee me.

I remember our scramble
out of the lip of the crumbling center of Sunnydale
like a feral cat, as if the canine
demi-demogorgons in the molten and deafening hole
coming up and away and right at us had tried to tree me.

I used to be a know-it-all,
protected by dollar signs as well as by what
my set shoulders, my steady gaze, and my facade
of IDGAF could guarantee me.

Before I arrived by undignified
Greyhound in your drought-prone, sketchy California,
I hung all summer in excessively
air-conditioned, chandelier-shaped malls
in earshot of Long Island Sound,

practicing leaps off glass elevators, pretending
to stake ghosts,

expecting the unexpected adrenaline
rush of simply having enough to do,

the hustle
familiar to some of you.

It was there
that I learned to use air
quotes, and there
that I learned to imagine
my hands between whose thighs,

to move in quickly on a wide-eyed girl
by brushing
one finger over a shoulder or
a shoulder strap,

to say to her “don’t overanalyze,”

to lay one hand in her lap
and tilt back, then
push down cut-off summertime shorts,

to invent our own sports,

there that I learned when a come-on
would get us both off,
and when I was likely to be a welcome surprise.

My privilege and my tank tops work together to heighten
your suspicion of me. I have my own mission,
for which you can borrow my certainty. Me,

and my buff denim jackets, and no barrier
between my inmost thoughts
and what’s visibly me.

Who would you want at your back
or holding your hand
next time
the earth below this earth
upends its ancient self,
and liquid chaos overrules the land?
If you can’t have your first or your second choice this time
you might be grateful to get your number three: me.

Stephanie Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice from the Lights (2017), Belmont (2013), Parallel Play (2006), and Popular Music (1999). Burt’s works of criticism include The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (2016); Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Art of the Sonnet, written with David Mikics (2010); The Forms of Youth: 20th-Century Poetry and Adolescence (2007); Randall Jarrell on W.H. Auden (2005), with Hannah Brooks-Motl; and Randall Jarrell and His Age (2002).