My Busy 17th Year
by Marion Deutsche Cohen


I didn’t want to kiss Conrad.
I didn’t like those cold slippery lips.
I didn’t know I wasn’t in love.
He should not have been my first kiss.
Once he took me to a concert and then while he was kissing me goodnight I
began humming that Beethoven.
“Hey, you’re singing again,” he said.
Like, you’re crying again.
The trees were swaying and the porch steps were still.
The moon was somewhere in between.


He was shorter than me and I didn’t want that to be the reason. I wanted him to be not so nice or not so considerate or believe in capital punishment.

I didn’t want to not want to talk about him to the girls at school and they’d ask What does he look like?

I didn’t want to be worried when he asked me out dancing.

My mother said this was a mature affair, based on common interests. I didn’t want it to be a mature affair based on common interests. I wanted it to be an immature affair based on no common interests, no music, no art, no deep thoughts, just soft, soft feeling, nothing but relief from the past two years.

I didn’t want his love letter to me to cross in the mail with my un-love letter to him.

“I have been saving certain words to say to the one and only woman in my life. They
are new, untarnished, and thus far unused. I hope to be able to say them to you.”

I still wonder what those certain words would have been.


I wasn’t as concerned as I wanted to be about Caryl Chessman‘s scheduled execution at 3:00 PM. And I wasn’t as unconcerned as I wanted to be about whether Jeff Cohen would phone and ask me on another date.

Would Chessman be pardoned again at the last minute? Would he be allowed to go back to his cell and write more books and prove his innocence? I tried so hard to spend the whole day asking Chessman-type rather than Jeff-type questions.

When you’re waiting for something bad, like a medical procedure, you don’t know whether to urge time forward. If you do, that bad thing is essentially already happening. If you doh’t, that bad thing won’t ever be over. But waiting to be executed is different. You hold on tight to every second because you know you won’t be feeling relieved when it’s over. Or maybe you’d rather start not feeling right away. I tried to spend the day thinking thoughts like that.

Oh yes I tried. I try did try. But it was no use. I was doomed from the start. Every person is herself. Her very own self. every person is in that self. And she can’t get out.

IMAGE: “Young Woman on the Shore” by Edvard Munch (1896).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Some of this poem comes from my diary, which I’ve been keeping since age 11, while other parts are purely from the way I remember it. I was a writer then but I think I’m more of a writer now. For the record, Jeff Cohen did in fact phone, and in fact he became my first husband.


Marion Deutsche Cohen
’s latest poetry collections are Closer to Dying (WordTech Editions) and What I’m Wearing Today (dancing girl press – about thrift-shopping!). Her books total 27, including two memoirs about spousal chronic illness and including Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View Press – about the experience of mathematics). She teaches math and writing at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, where she has developed the course Mathematics in Literature. A poetry chapbook about the interaction among students and teacher in that course is currently in press (WordTech Editions). Her website is