Judith Skillman



The Spoils of Childhood


Neglect and abandonment alternate with a solicitous parent

who gives the only thing his to give—a history of his parenthood.


Sometimes chocolate bars wrapped in foil, taken by the parent

from a hiding place in the kitchen, given as a substitute for parenting.


Always the fear of wrongdoing coupled with a hard spanking—rent

in two by that smack on a bare bottom. Or, whip-punishing parent


who takes the child out in front of siblings and neighbors, intent

on showing what happens to one who transgresses parental


rules. Throw in cotton candy, a lollipop, an elephant, a parent.

Gather threads and laces, cough drops from Bubba, once a parent


herself, now in the role of grandparent, she who lists a little, parents

the child of the child with smiles and laughter. What parent


sets out to ruin her children? How mangle innocence, parent

of the infant: that speechless, vulnerable cheek who seeks to frequent


your kind glances with more of same? To reciprocate, parent,

those moments of heaven fatally wasted on you? O parent,


see what you've done to these many children by parenting

too much, too little, too well, too badly. Ah yes, I am my parents.







We did cartwheels in wet grass,

spun walkovers from front and back.


Our backbends took the sky to grass

and we peered between our feet—


necks lifted like swans on lake grasses.

Thick feathers parted, folded back,


we became angels with halos of glass

who could do no harm to grasses


parted by pas de deux, arabesques,

jetés, pirouettes, and glissades. Grass


stained our whites, we landed flat-

footed, arms spread, proud of the last


lyrical dance, met by applause

in this theater of the round, its grass


floor and incumbent summer. Grass

itched our legs and we scratched


willing flesh, breathed flower-grass,

became grand girls with pasts of grass.





Judith Skillman's recent book is Kafka's Shadow, Deerbrook Editions. Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review, Shenandoah, Zyzzyva, FIELD, and elsewhere. Awards include an Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Skillman has done collaborative translations from French, Portuguese, and Macedonian. Visit www.judithskillman.com