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all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom

by Marlin M. Jenkins

          after N.E.R.D.’s “Everyone Nose”

all the wholesome messages written on the stall walls:
you are valid, you deserve to take up space.
all the toasts so eager we spill the brown liquid
on our nice shirts. all the alcohol
we decided not to drink. all the present
fathers, hand-painting benches on porches.
all the parents out on picnics, fingertips wet
on plastic champagne flutes. all the ants
too busy in their tunnels to notice anything
but their bustling siblings. all the basketball
games played in the driveway with the rim
nailed to the garage. all the men nailed to the club
wall scouting, replace them with men
there with friends, bothering no one. all the girls
safe. all the boys accountable. all the bathrooms
with working sinks, our small efforts
to keep clean, to prepare to return
to the world when we’re done in these small rooms.
all the lights. all the murals ornamenting the un-gardened
district with flowers. all the bees zipping
to the melted juice of snow cones
next to garbage cans and not into black children’s hair.
all the roly-polies in the crevice under
the garage door stirring with the light
as the door lifts. it took me too long to learn
not to touch them. to let them be. turns out
the rolling into a ball, the thing we know them for
is a response to fear. to threat. all the fathers
teaching their sons what to do with their hands,
which is to say what not to do
with them. all the hands in pockets, or popping
pimples in the mirror, or posing
for silly selfies, or planting new trees: letting them
grow at their own pace and build
their fresh buds, their un-interrupted roots.

When N.E.R.D.’s song “Everyone Nose” dropped in 2008, I was immediately struck by the hook because of its rhythm and the decision to just repeat a single image—“all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom”—for the hook's entirety. While I had no clue at the time that the song is about women in a club snorting cocaine (and the poem isn’t invested in this fact), I felt at once entranced and uncomfortable—I couldn’t help but think this premise of a group of men commenting on a line of women in a club felt troubling, perhaps predatory. The lines “You got something boys can’t deny / (here’s a hint) it’s like apple pie / cut you open and you’re just wired” in the first verse also caught my attention; even though the cutting open is obviously figurative, the language felt to me violent. That’s what I was thinking about when writing this poem: building from the song’s rhythms and focus on evocation through image while also questioning and troubling its themes.

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and is the author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020). A graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA in poetry, his work has found homes with Indiana ReviewThe Rumpus, Waxwing, and Iowa Review, among others.