plain china: best undergraduate writing

Volume One : Issue One

Pulled Muscle


by Mary Terrier

underwater #1 by erin mulvehill

This composition aches—the back
bone, the joint pockets and hinges, the touched
skin, stung. Before your body made muscle,
before life coiled through your mother,
you were already street gutters and honky-tonks, the tired
line of Persephone’s waist, the thin knot of hair.

Your mother’s hair
was a long oil slick down her back.
You were already the tired
fingers of every hand that yanked, tangled, touched
it. You were your father’s hesitation, your mother’s
abandon. You didn’t know it, but you were the muscle

she pulled making love. She slurped mussels
from shells, drank watery beer, put her hair
up, wore her mother’s
lace. On the dance floor, she stumbled back
and forth; in that crowded bar, no one touched
her. The damp hem of her dress fell tired,

fell limp. Remember that tired
feeling of crawling home with a pulled muscle,
skin asking for skin? Your foot will touch
the city grid, and you will cut your hair.
You will be tempted back
beneath the earth, away from your mother.

She will weep and paw, but your mother
cannot turn the earth, she cannot send the tired
leaves, from the tight grip of their branches, back
up. Still, you are the thick muscle
of your mother’s arm, Keats’ Autumn and Samson’s hair.
You are every face your father touched,

and everyone who forgot to touch
him. Your mother’s
face is not your own, but maybe her hair
is. Maybe her tired
walk is a thin wire in your muscle,
the way you swing your arms, arch your back.

Glance back to the first mother,
the tired ache of her touch
that wove the muscle, then combed the hair.

About the Author


Mary Terrier

Bennington College

Mary Terrier '10 is from Austin, Texas, and will graduate this spring from Bennington College, where she studies literature.