Crossing Pleasure Avenue (book excerpt)

These poems by Karen Hildebrand appear in her poetry collection, Crossing Pleasure Avenuefrom Indolent Books. More about the book below the poems. The three poems featured here are: A History of Feminism //  Sugar Suite 1, 3, and 9 // Crossing Pleasure Avenue.

A History of Feminism

I. Cowboys and Indians

The neighbor boys Kenny and Jimmy tied
me to the fence in our backyard lean-to
fort and I liked it. I was a smoke plume,
a cat’s eye plucked. I was every girl
embroidering pillowcases while perched
on a hope chest. I had no compass for my
notions, no envy for my noble brother,
his Stetson or the stallion he galloped
in his dreams. I saw magic straddling
the loins of an Argentine tango.

II. She Thinks She’s Brenda Starr

Aging sex symbol in red leggings
and ruffles. It’s a shame she hasn’t “reframed,”
like the rest of us, a band of post-posts
who weren’t rock stars. We spent our juicy years
with laundry or typewriters, a little love
in the afternoon sometimes. Her platinum
curls still bounce. Consider all the trips
to Venus and back for those peachy cheeks,
the way she puckers her brow in thought.

III. Pussy

I once had a cat who charmed everyone
she met. I was not immune. She would plop
herself indecently on her back and expose
her tender belly for stroking, her green gaze
half-mast through her lashes could cloak you
with desire even as she drew her claws
when you came too close. Look don’t touch.

IV. Bucket List

Me? I just want to be kissed. As in excavation,
the kind that will leave you sniffling, your pores
gasping even as you raise your chin for more.
I want to be kissed like I was fine bone china
watch where you put your hands, and only once.
I want to press lips so hard the bruise becomes
sentient, my what a strong gaze you have, boring
deep with one thought: survive.


Sugar Suite 1

Just look at her, leaning against the bar—
her gingerbread skin, the saucy flirt
of her icing skirt painted on like an apron.
Her over-plucked brows are cold war
spies above her Raisenette eyes.
She refuses an invitation to dance,
with the tired excuse that her feet
are like biscuits—one splays,
the other punches. It’s a miracle
that cookie can stand on her own.
Look at the way she holds out
her arms for a hug, as if the world
was not a hungry mouth, eager
to devour her in two easy bites.

Sugar Suite 3

Last night, I was a snake
and you were a lizard.
Today my skin is blooming
like a shattered windshield.
I envy your coat of armor,
the way you always blend in.
Spare me your hot breath
and the tragedy of your tail—
you’ll grow another.
No matter how often I shed,
the stains I was born with
bleed through—a passport,
every blister and slight,
stamped there, indelible.

Sugar Suite 9

It’s like having box seats inside
the head of the Lilac Fairy, where
all are kind and mostly pastel.
The swords are sheathed, costumes
laid out—pearls and silk chiffon
in shades as sweet as hay.
She squeezes into her gown,
careful not to mash the raspberries,
flounces fat as creme fraiche.
The bodice holds her like a lover—
the one she loved the way a watermelon
wears its rind. The one she thinks of
first on waking, willing the loss
to please, be a dream.


Crossing Pleasure Avenue

In Sea Isle City, signs are posted:
Take it slow for the turtles.
Every summer they cross
the pavement from bay to beach.
Like us. Even if we don’t give a whit
about turtles, we are compelled
to check our speed.

If we travel long enough
from the casino bus, Pleasure Avenue
will lead us to oldies night at Busch’s,
where we can, if we’re quick,
beat out the white haired ladies
for a place at the end of the bar
to sit with our handbags swaddled
to our chests like the babies
we never had.

It’s the best spot to sip a martini
and survey the kingdom of nothing
better to do on a Saturday night.
The dj spins tunes for women
with thickening midriffs, reclaiming
their youth on the dance floor.
We take our pleasure as we can.
When I pause just a beat too long
before saying no to the married guy
in the ballcap, the only guy
I want to dance with, who
do I think is watching?

Why do turtles lay their eggs
in the sand? God has his head
in the clouds. He flips a coin
to decide which side is the wrong
side. Watch as He sets a quarter
on the back of His thumb. Watch
the female turtles and their newborn
young take their marks along
Pleasure Avenue, the ocean side,
as the hot pavement sweats,
and once again risk everything.


Karen Hildebrand’s poetry collection, Crossing Pleasure Avenue, from Indolent Books, is available for purchase from the publisher

The poems appear with permission of Indolent Books. Copyright 2018 Karen Hildebrand.


About the Author


A third generation Colorado native, Karen Hildebrand picked up at midlife and started over in San Francisco, then New York City. Her poetry has been published in many journals, nominated for Pushcart prizes and adapted for a play, “The Old In and Out,” produced in NYC (2013). She is editor in chief of Dance Teacher magazine and chief content officer for DanceMedia Publications. She lives in Brooklyn. Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books, 2018) is her first full-length collection.


“A History of Feminism” first published in the anthology The Other Side of Violet, great weather for MEDIA.

“Crossing Pleasure Avenue” first appeared in a slightly different version in the anthology –gape–seed– (Uphook Press).

About the Book Cover Image

The photograph on the book cover is by Julio Cesar Martinez.

Appears In

Issue 2

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