This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features two poems by Taneum Bambrick. These poems come from Bambrick’s forthcoming collection, Vantage, recipient of the 2019 APR / Honickman first book prize, and follow her experiences working as one of the only women on a garbage crew that operated around the reservoirs of two massive dams. 


New Hire

Real fine heifer / low class beauty / what do you call those blonde / feathering / got yourself a new work buddy / not the only / Victoria’s Secret / pulling plastic from the reeds / she walks like she / begging / I’d give my / see her bend again / please / how many colors of lace / shoe string / her strapped black / can you imagine / bleached / I’ve got a family / you might be the same / like a different breed / poor thing you / couldn’t compete / could learn a / thank God thank affirmative action / I’m reeling it in / calling my children / I’m a good / never cheated but / if you wonder why she’s not out / spearing / in the weeds she / flashed the crew lead / he said he / right in truck 43 / ten out of / after she lifted / ballooning / can you picture / all the effort / of her / how does she walk with / gathering all that weight / into her / can you imagine her / like I already know her / out of her / clothing



Lowering a window, Sara lit a cigarette. So you like girls, she said, but you used to do men? She dug a stick of glitter from her purse and pressed down on my right eyelid. I have a friend like that. She had a bad thing happen her first time at sex. Sex with men. I nodded, that can happen. My eyes ringed with purple like reversed lily pads. Sugar from a bag of gummy worms cracked in our teeth. You could be really stunning, she said, like if you lived in a city. I laughed and reached for the cigarette. Now I have your virginity, she winked. She told me that night she was going to be the girl at an all guys party in Richland. You should come. She smiled like people smile before they break something. Don’t lie to me, she said, holding out her phone with the image of the invitation. Have you ever pictured yourself at the center like that, being fucked by a group of men?



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).