I’m just “back” from my first residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts. “Back” in quotes because the entire 10 days of panels, lectures, and workshops was virtual — but still magical! Focusing on the craft of writing for was the creative food I’d been craving.
One of the first events was a panel called, “The Creative S-T-R-E-T-C-H,” with author/faculty members Louise Hawes, Liz Garton Scanlon, Corey Ann Haydu, Linda Urban. This was all about letting go of your comfort zone as a writer and stretching “beyond your own expectations.” Stretch became a theme for the entire residency.
Today, I’m sharing a poem that made me stretch into a painful, honest memory.
I have two pieces in Sarah J. Donovan’s important anthology Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes. [I’m giving away a copy of Rhyme & Rhythm. Leave a comment to enter!]
One is a poem I originally wrote for my wrestling book, Takedown, and then revised for this anthology. The other, “Running Stairs,” is my stretch piece.
This poem is a stretch because it’s fully autobiographical. “Running Stairs” offers a tiny window on one of the most difficult times of my life. Sophomore year of high school: I was struggling as a student, with friends, with my first serious boyfriend. I developed school refusal, staying home for days at a time.
But somewhere in there, I decided to join the fencing team. And for a little while, it made me feel strong.
By Laura Shovan
At the start of practice we run stairs—
a pack of girls thundering
up and down the stairwell.
Doors closed. Windows foggy
with our heat. We’re laughing.
Boom, boom, boom.
I drip in my dad’s old sweatshirt
from Round Up Ranch.
The fleece is thin, perfectly broken in.
Thighs burning, stronger with each stair.
I watch our captain, legs thick with muscle—
a fencer’s true weapon. “Sprints!” she calls,
and we spill into the almost-empty senior hall.
He is there with a friend. I sprint closer,
part of the stampede, but he singles me out,
eyes on my sweatshirt. “Round Cup Ranch!”
he points. His friend doubles over, laughing.
“Jerk,” one of my teammates mumbles.
We disappear down the stairwell,
where I feel every bounce
of my too-large breasts, feel out of breath,
stop running, stop wearing
Dad’s comfortable old sweatshirt,
stop showing up for practice,
avoid stairwells, forget I was training
to be a girl with a weapon in her grasp.
Special thanks to Sarah J. Donovan for including this poem in Rhyme & Rhythm. Would you like to win a copy of the book? Leave a comment below to be entered in a random drawing. U.S. only please.