Claudia Cortese


The Lamb Essay

5) In yoga class last week, shoulders burning with chaturanga, my hot- 
             pink mat from Lulu Lemon soured with sweat, the teacher said,

    You are not your story

                                                  and I remembered my favorite fantasy—

4) Sex for years hurt I thought it was in my head
At 25 my legs splayed in stirrups the doctor said
There’s a tear here
All the doctors through all the years
That scraped the lining of my walls, palmed cervix, circled breasts
Not one had mentioned the rip

1) I say no and mean yes and we come together. 

2) This fantasy, identical to what he did but this time I don’t freeze don’t float away. 

6)           to be the nymphet at pool’s turquoise edge
                        wavelets kissing my feet
                                                              with chlorine— 

           to flaunt my tick-size breasts the tiny hairs curling beneath polka dot spandex—
                                                 to rewrite the night that has become my story.
3) What’s strange is I felt
nothing—no pleasure or pain, to say it plain. 
I went to Andrea’s bathroom and saw red river
my legs some already dried in metallic cakes
and I looked and looked.

7)       With me he could be the boy in his woodshed
                       again toad croaking in his palms could be a row of red bicycles
           up North Mountain Avenue his boy-gang riding till sunset and his mother 

                       calls him in for lasagna and iceberg salad.
                                    To return to that lost-boy palace a girlhood must be taken
           and if you think my polka dot bikini and bone knees that made him burn has no roots 

                       in the fear of death you’re a fool. 

8) I watch Lamb with my father at the Montclair Film Festival a tale in which a man takes an 11-year-old girl to his childhood cabin in the deserts of California gives her a pale lace dress the rural romantics of Little House on the Prairie stitched into its seams walks her through firefly fields and head-high prairie grass they wade in a river fish silt from the floor let its minerals soften their fingers.

                                                after the film, my father says, 
                                                He needed her to bring him back to childhood—

                                                                                                                      The Dream of Boyhood,
       which is really
                             The Cowboy Dream The Dream of Endless Summer The Grassy Twang Dream
                             Our Myth of Muscle and Freedom. There’s a certain type of nostalgia
                                                                                                    that can justify any trauma. 

9)                                                                              In my dream of consent, 
                   we dream girls wink and proclaim
                                  It’s sexy-fun to be the victim!          —to know the hunger of the hunted.


Sad girl theory

goes something like this: I’ll collect
the important dolls of history, and by doll 

I mean architecture of holes or girl-shaped museum,
and by important I mean the sad women of white myth—

Marilyn and Saint Catherine and all of our favorite
tragedies. Marni Ludwig says that we are primarily 

the slutty parts of the mind and announces
that her . . . concerns will be historical. In other words, 

she once stood in flip-flops and polka dot
dress on the boardwalk in a beachside town 

and realized she was born into this world
with sexual power. The first myth tells how a girl

in a village tightened her bonnet against the cold.
She walked into the forest, strayed from the path

her grandmother had warned her to follow
and nailed the tale of a wolf to a tree.

The girl understood the best way to conceal
a vanishing is with fable. The second 

myth—this one my own—recounts the day Jamie
walked into class with a Marilyn Manson t-shirt, 

chain wallet clanking against her thigh, black lining each eye, 
and I snickered loud enough for all to hear, I bet she’s a cutter, 

Ohio’s sad girl fable in one snarky sentence. 
Have you ever circled your cul-de-sac in December

and looked up at the moon between branches
and remembered the sailor suit and penny loafer shoes

you sauntered into the parlor wearing on the day your grandma said
One strawberry scoop with extra sprinkles for my girl

and winked at you so you felt like a queen
in your shiny digs and pink ice cream.

The memory is sad, of course, because she’s dead
and you loved her but the sadness feels good

because it connects you to your child-self
which means your fable and also your grandma’s

who also had a grandma so the memory
takes on the quality of ritual and ancestry—

a line of grandmas with sunhats and smokes
tucked between their red lips like pageant contestants,

graceful in their age, and you look
at the stars that break through the Wal-Mart-like glare

that saturates the street—you forget you’re missing
the episode of Bachelorette on which Kaitlyn will choose her final man—

you let yourself feel sad which has power like snow
has power and cigarettes and grandmothers.


Notes: "To know the hunger of the hunted” is based on a line for Jenny Boully’s The Book of Beginnings and Endings (Sarabande Books, 2007): “I know the hunger of the hunted.” “She . . . realized she was born into this world / with sexual power” is based on a line from Eve Alexandra’s The Drowned Girl (Kent State University Press, 2004): “She came into the world like this. A child with the knowledge of her own sexual power." 


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Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. WASP QUEEN, her first full-length book, explores the privilege and pathology, trauma and brattiness of suburban girlhood (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and she is s book reviewer for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at