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4 poems by Holly Pelesky

My Sex Ed.

When “masticate” was a vocabulary word,

the whole class snickered; everyone, but me.

“To chew,” I announced, the only raised hand.

When I first wore a sanitary pad, I wore two

taped against my legs at a soccer game

the day I forgot my shin guards.

When at eighteen, I still hadn’t menstruated,

mom sent me to the doctor to know if I could

one day have babies. I drank

the 32 ounces of water before

my ultrasound, repositioning my legs again and

again in the waiting room until I cried

so I wouldn’t piss myself.

When a girl in my dorm explained how sex works,

she said the penis goes inside your vagina,

not between your lower lips like a hot dog in a bun.

“Ouch!” my friend and I squealed in

unison or what felt like unison.  

When I thought I was ready to “do it,” I spent

an hour at the public library with

sex books hidden inside encyclopedias,

trying to catch up on all I had missed,

blushing, laying my elbow

across the page

whenever someone walked by.


when I lost

my virginity,

I knew better

than to look for it

under the bed.  


Sex, a Place

With tangled legs and intertwined fingers

we build a fort, make sex a place.

Our hands roam up legs, stomachs; down necks, breasts.

Our fingers grip sheets, skin, hair in fistfuls.

Our tongues thrust into warm spaces: lick lips, ridges, valleys.

We play, naked: clothes heaped on the ground.

We flood our senses: fingers moaning for more

to trace, grip, graze, tongues clutching up flavors,

mouths listening, warm, hungry. Soft light shadowing

hipbones, skin shivering at the taste of touch.  

The sheets smell like us, the moist between our legs.

We pack our place with us, carry it; our reprieve

we pitch against trees, in backseats, behind doors.

Between the gym and the dentist, or early morning,

or in the dark of night when the dew is settling in,

we return, gaping again, to this place only we can make.


Breathing Still

The first time I slept next to a body that wasn’t my sister’s,

I didn’t take off my coat. My gray wool coat, so long

it covered my ass because that’s how you manage through

winters here in Nebraska. I was sweating an unholy amount

at my first boyfriend’s house on his bed without

a headboard or footboard that wasn’t against a wall, just

drifting in the middle of the room like a wayward raft.

When his body was next to mine, I listened

to his breathing, waited for it to thicken so I

could stop worrying that he would touch me.

“You can take your coat off,” he said

and I said, “I’m fine. I’m not even hot,” although

no doubt he smelled my armpits through the wool.  

I listened to a clock tick in the other room and worried

his roommate with the shiny shirt and the samurai sword would

walk in and make lewd eyes and ask if we had banged yet and

worried, mostly, about what my mother would say if she ever

found out. I lay there, still as a corpse, cursing myself

for this knack I had of putting myself at the mercy of a man,

daring not to move until I thought he was asleep.

Then I pushed my thick sleeves up to my elbow, hoping

he wouldn’t wake at the sound and touch me at

dreaded last, that I could stay

cocooned in this coat a while longer, breathing still.


Some days

the sad beats

out the sex and then we lie

in bed silently, touching

vaguely, distractedly: an

arm over a stomach maybe,

a toe resting against a foot.

We stare at our arms or the ceiling,

anything but each other, afraid of

what we are without our bodies.


Holly Pelesky is a lover of spreadsheets, giant sandwiches, and handwritten letters. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. She cobbles together gigs to get by, refusing to give up this writing life. She lives in Nebraska with her two sons.

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