V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





Following the dirt path again
beyond the No Trespassing sign,
sidestepping puddles from yesterday's
rainstorm, early raspberries puckering
the insides of our cheeks, I hear
summer's perennial question
through the opening in the trees:

How naked is too naked?

By the time I spy a space
to sprawl among the others, by the time
I finally shed all my clothes,
the Down East sun burning my back wants to know,
the horsefly biting my shoulder,
the quarry water admitting me icily,

the minnow swirl between my full dimpled thighs.

My first summer I spent
as an outcast in a black bathing suit
that clung like angst to my 
floury breasts, midriff, and buttocks.
Would not look.  Could not
help but look.  Downright stared
when no one else was looking.
Don't we all have a second nature

we eventually slip into like nakedness?

Their father stripped lying belly-up
on the warm flat rocks next to them,
my grown stepdaughters (who’ve skinny-
dipped here since they were children) always
undress so unflinchingly down to nothing.
One by one, they dive off the highest ledge,
swim out to the floating log to meet a pair
of equally unadorned men their age waiting
to compete as the three sisters hoist bare

asses over then stand up on sparkling legs.

Slowly, all five begin a steady roll that gathers
speed each time they turn their bodies in unison, 
facing us one moment, their backs to us the next, 
—or stalls, whenever someone tries to reverse
the log's direction, then resumes momentum—
streaks of hair dripping light on skin, fifty toes
gripping wet wood spinning until everyone
slips sideways, flops forward, or backflips
in clownish tandem but the middle daughter
whose perfect balance over the years
makes her Queen of the Log.  Applause
from above sends shivers as the fallen
climb back on to start the cycle over.

How naked is too naked?

When you lie down beside your brother-in-law
and his two girls?  Your future son-in-law?
Your neighbor recently divorced from his third wife?
The white-haired lobsterman who's sired dozens
but stayed single all his life?  The housepainter
and his pubescent boy?  It's an island tradition

to disrobe at St. John's Quarry—where locals

join in with the summer jerks: a pair
of Scandinavian nudists, shrinks 
from New York City, a lawyer
from Camden, a sculptor from New Orleans
and his fashion-model cousin, families
that have vacationed here since the 70s,
a group of guys with pierced penises
who've taken the ferry over from the mainland
to spend an afternoon—where everybody
joins in the collective wave to the occasional

small aircraft hovering low as an osprey. . .

To sin as a child was to peek
at my stepfather
through the venetian blind
of my own hand
as he hobbled from bed to bathroom

Don't look, don't look, don't look!

or through the crack in the door 
while he stood at the sink and shaved
—the burgundy birthmark mapped 
across his back a foreign continent
the same forbidden shade
as that sack of bruised plums
dangling from the peninsula
between his legs.  At seventy-four 
my mother still hugs herself 
each morning on the scale 
in the privacy of her boudoir
as if chilled by the pallor 
of her own stark moonflesh 
and the tidal dark.  If only 

I could surrender at will the final 

garment of self-
consciousness, peel
guilt down to the ankles
like a girdle and silk
stockings from an earlier

century swept clean as cathedral granite.

© by Kate Sontag


Contributor's note
Next page
Table of contents
VPR home page