Selected Poems by Michelle Peñaloza


The mythifying process can [alter] its object beyond recognition.
—Bernard Heuvelmans

I have had many men
profess to me
their love
of my people.

The first boy I ever let
touch me
at the difference in
our skin,
my hairlessness, my
taut brown.
His eyes wide, I felt
his white
hands spread me open
as he whispered to someone else
in the room: I knew
she would be tight.


Not exactly that
I didn’t want it. After all,
I wore a bra out
as a shirt. I snorted half a stranger’s
cocaine and ignored the cabbie
who asked my drunk ass, “You sure?
You know this guy?” Ignored
the pictures of a couple all around
what I could see
of a couple’s dark apartment.
Fumbling in the dark seemed
like the right thing
to do. His dick too
for fucking.

The next morning
not exactly that
I didn’t want it. Only,
I wasn’t really awake only
I woke
to his hands pulling down
my thong
him flipping me onto
my stomach
and I thought
it was just
to pretend the way
he did that
I wasn’t really
there to let
my body
become a moment
let his body
weigh me
my body down until
I wasn’t really
I never said
a word only
it wasn’t
what I wanted

later he gave me
his band’s t-shirt
to cover my tits on the subway ride home

later I took a burning hot shower and
went to brunch with friends and spoke
like a stranger
was what I wanted like times before only
I burned
that t-shirt and even now
I tell myself
it was not


A proud daughter of immigrants, Michelle Peñaloza was born in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan and grew up in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of two chapbooks: landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias Press, 2015) and Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes (Organic Weapon Arts, 2015). Her poems and essays have been featured in Waxwing, Poetry Northwest, Off Paper, Vinyl, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Richard Hugo House, awards from Literary Arts and Artist Trust, as well as scholarships from VONA/Voices, Vermont Studio Center, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others. Michelle lives in rural Northern California.

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