GINA KEICHER How We Grew Up in the Valley


That blue neon pretzel sign hummed
through our weeknight dreams
until we were dropped off at the mall—
aqua vinyl purses, Claire’s gift cards.
We spent parties we threw hiding in bathrooms.
Looked out the shower window.
A friend leaned a guy against the shed,
put her hand down his pants.
On basement steps, furnace arms
mummy-bandaged, I made out
with a guy who kept saying weird things
so I found Pretty Undertaker. Took a cigarette,
lit up like Olivia Newton-John in Grease
without the makeover and choreography.
We roamed in shared tops through postered rooms,
American flags on the wall. Amused guys
with mohawks and stretched ears. They told us
to flash. They told us to kiss.
They bought us cigarettes, kept two
from each pack. Took us for rides
when they passed drivers tests.
Stood us up at school dances, cafeteria tables
folded and leaned against the walls.
Waited after for a ride. Bonfire smell
seared baby hairs at the back of my neck.
Not even sixteen in my blue dress.
Waited on the front steps. Leaned
against a door to hold fire in the house.
So much more waiting than I expected.
Hair still done. Dressed in tacky finery:
silver glitter heels, a sparkling
necklace that stained my neck green,
one-dollar hose from the grocery store,
a pink novelty thong with a margarita
on the crotch from a Deb Shop.
When he showed up he pulled my hair
a little when we kissed me, he grabbed
my necklace. Maybe only ten minutes
and then he drove home. I went inside
with my stain-the-skin-green shame,
my not-real-silver necklace. I moved here
to be pastless, plotted ways to abandon
my origin story. Put that thing through a thresher
as soon as the U-Haul was unloaded.
Watched each event spark like a slapped hand
I told no. Watched events splinter out
the return chute like illegal firecrackers
from a roadside stand, all that wall-to-wall
wood paneling, cologne of possible explosions.
I adored the fire from each ember.
The breaking and being chopped up fine
by the cylinder. Chaotic light catching
men’s eyes as they lie in the bed
of a truck parked crooked, singing, I see
London, I see France at any woman
who walks by. Inside each chest, a want
to be hammer and fire, jukeboxes
who carry the same songs and wear
different lights to some sawdust-floor bar.
Dark thinned by smoke where light hangs
before dying. Barely visible shapes.
People who share their lives with everyone
but no one specific. A bar plastered
in bumper stickers, confessions, and call me’s.



Gina Keicher is the author of Wilderness Champion (Gold Wake Press, 2014) and two chapbooks—Here is My Adventure I Call it Alone (2015) and Ars Herzogica (2018)—both from Dancing Girl Press. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in New Delta Review, New South, Quarterly West, and Salt Hill.