Melissa Frederick


1. On the difference between
Lego Houses and Lego Skyscrapers:

At six, I was happy constructing
enclosures of plastic white,
spines full of pegs

overlapping          like my
My foundations

were sturdy, but I only attempted
a Synthetic Cottage plan. I could
never stack
a tower

than the point of collapse.
This was not enough for me.

I didn't realize I was growing
into a world of skyscrapers:
Empire State, World Trade Center,
Sears Tower that collects clouds
like a coronal, a ring
that won't push past
the first knuckle; ionic columns,
blue glass, New York
from a window seat,
a map in gray relief,
spears of grass
that will not bend.

2. The Problem with Women

is the truth behind that old saying:
Seeing is believing.
Right before your very eyes,
the graven image. Curtains part,
catching your long, filmy hair,
but no one can see your wares
if the blind are leading the blind.

In the country of the blind, the man
with one red eye is king. Don't blink
or you'll miss this important
digital byte: star of the silver
screen, her polyester hair curling dead
in the breeze, cleavage like saltwater,
sand and palm trees waving
a friendly hello. As the bronze
hero plucks her from danger,
the crowd cheers. They recognize
Old Faithful spouts more drama
than Crater Lake.

                               Of course,
he looks before he leaps
over that crevasse underground,
dank and deep, smelling of moss,
Mother’s attic, spider mold.
He leaves the dark hole far behind
to step into the light, that tunnel,
warm as stiff wooden matches.
He is reborn stronger than before.

3. On Chromosomes

X marks the spot: terra
incognita; four limbs,

two up, two down,
spread-eagled, a singularity

for a waist. You can't blame
a soul for trying

to keep a body
small. Scarlett clings

to the bedpost for that extra
inch Mammy's dark hands

reap. 20, 15...and under her wheat-
colored tape lies a secret,

curled like a naked
cat, a corridor

reception where someone
waits, tallying

new cells as they divide,
ignoring the radio's

strained symphonies, the urgent
treble of veins.


This piece was inspired by a hazily remembered conversation I had in college, probably at about 3:00 am in someone's closet-sized, cinder-block-lined dorm room. During this conversation, a friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that there weren't enough poems out there about female "plumbing." A few years later, I decided to have a poetic go at exploring Feminine Anatomy, that dark and mysterious realm carefully euphemized in countless tampon commercials and sixth-grade filmstrips. Ironically, in writing "Minor Distinctions," I found I had to tackle those polite phrases and images that overlay women's (and men's) bodies before I could even think about the plumbing bit.