Wild Child (Slight Return)
by Jennifer Perrine

There’s nothing for it like coming back
seventeen years later
to the place you lived at seventeen—
the in-between when you left home
for unknown roads, miles of city
streets after the subway closed.

I say you, but of course I mean I,
that time meant to launch a life
instead spent starving, the bones of my hips
lifting from my jeans, reaching
from beneath the coat in which I smuggled
my body with its new, hard art—

art of walking face-first
into wind, into snow,
art of f**king only men
who had wives, girlfriends,
art of passing out on trains,
coming to with my shirt undone,

a stranger over me, art of learning
to tell women I loved them, art
of hitching a ride hours in the dark
to see the ocean, art of paring
the self down to one bright,
unrepentant, unadorned

thread, art of vomiting loudly
and alone, art of waking
early, art of longing, art
of wanting to be elsewhere,
art of knowing there is no
there there, art of dancing

until exhaustion, until failure,
until you, that is I—
not confessing, but unearthing—
unbolted, flew open
and had no fear, until I called
and the word was not help, but here.

SOURCE: “Wild Child (Slight Return)” was previously published in No Confession, No Mass (University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: In this photo from my seventeenth year, I’m arriving at the Washington, DC, airport, on my way to meet then-President Bill Clinton (long story…).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was written in 2013 at the AWP conference in Boston. It was the first time I’d been back to Boston since the one terrible, wonderful year I spent there just after graduating from high school. I’m glad to say that I can now look back on my 17-year-old self with tenderness. I marvel at the strength and endurance she summoned to make it to adulthood.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Perrine is the author of No Confession, No Mass, winner of the 2016 Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Award, the 2015 Bisexual Book Award for Poetry, and the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Previous books include In the Human Zoo, recipient of the 2010 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and The Body Is No Machine, winner of the 2008 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry. Perrine lives in Portland, Oregon. For more information, visit or Goodreads.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The hair has changed, but I still wear my feminism front and center.

Author photo by Justin Huck.