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What I Would Have Missed
by Gillian Nevers

That boy will come to no good in the end. Maybe, but
he was good in the beginning. Exuding this James Dean
persona, he was irresistible. He didn’t talk much, but
I didn’t want talk. It was enough to lean into him, press
my face against his back, feel his nipples harden
under my palms. The wind and full-throttle throb
of his bike blocked all admonishments.

It didn’t matter that he had a girlfriend. That night
on the golf course, the air thick with insect sound, the
sky sprayed with stars and us, folding and unfolding
into each other convinced me he would leave her.

I ran wild that summer: staggered into work late,
hung-over with love; broke curfew; just about broke
Mama’s heart. Some would say I lost my bearings.
That’s what you’re supposed to do at seventeen.
Otherwise, wouldn’t life be like always eating the olive,
but never drinking the martini?

SOURCE: “What I Would Have Missed” first appeared in Pirenes Fountain (October 2009).

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo was taken in April 1961, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It was my junior year in high school, and I had just turned 17. I was appearing in the Spring play Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Several years ago, I was invited to write a poem in response to a work of art in “Poems for the Wicked,” an exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. I spent a Sunday afternoon strolling through the exhibition, looking for just the right work to inspire a poem. Earlier in the week, my writing teacher had given the class a prompt to take a cliché and turn it into something new and “fresh.” Several clichés were running through my head as I moved through the galleries, but when I came upon “Sin With Olive” (1970), a lithograph by the artist Ed Ruscha, one cliché popped out “like a flashlight in the dark.” *  —  That boy will come to no good in the end. This is something my mother used to say about some of the boys I went out with. Or, wanted to go out with, but was forbidden to. I was also forbidden to ride on motorcycles. Images of “Sin With Olive” can be found on the Web. Like many of my poems, “What I Would Have Missed” a combination of fact and fiction.  There was a boy with a motorcycle, and I was forbidden to ride on motorcycles. My mother never knew I rode on motorcycles, because I didn’t tell her. And, I really didn’t run wild enough, so as to break her heart.  There was a night, with a boy who had a girlfriend, on a golf course many, many years later, but it wasn’t the same boy.  It’s a composite. So, I guess it’s fiction influenced by fact!  In today’s parlance it could called “alternative facts.”

* Part of a note, from Ed Ruscha, in response to my sending him a copy of the poem.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gillian Nevers’
poems have appeared in Silk Road, Miller’s Pond, Wisconsin People and Ideas, Pearl, Pirenes Fountain, Verse Wisconsin, Oak Bend Review, Right Hand Pointing, Architrave Press, Merida Review, and several other print and online literary magazines and anthologies. She won second prize in the 2008 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters statewide poetry contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011. Gillian teaches writing to adults as part of a team of teachers with the Road Scholar “Exploring the Writer in You” program. She also writes poetry with third and fourth graders in a local elementary school and is a guest poet/instructor at The Greater Madison Writing Project’s summer camp. Gillian lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Dan.