Laurel Benjamin

Oracle for Normalites

In the almost dark basement of my friend’s house
we all positioned our fingertips
like playing the piano
on the Ouija board
the table
and rose
a woman
light as clouds
with a veil fliting down.
A ghost sang from the screened past—
my aunt Julie whispered to us
a cadence of two syllable words
a man’s name
a pain in his heart—
she was asking the questions
“where” and “how”
all the way from Panama.

We did not mean to
erect the dead
had no gates of hell
over our shoulders
our brothers not old enough for Nam
or the Summer of Love
and my mother had her finger
on the pulse of opera
not news or pop culture.
We were Normalites
did not need an oracle to digest
Julie’s mother’s curry chicken and plantains
we inherited vaccines
grew up with bussing
did not need the world of spirits
to instruct
yet we heard the message
when the table rose
as high as our shoulders
our ears full attention
we were not uninnocent.


The whalebone corset and the bustle

have faded, yet the crook in the neck remains substantial.
While driving, a puffed landscape sweeps through

the open window, settles into the brassiere, veins
pulsing in time with hub caps’ twirl,

crushed blue without a wire cage. Once,
in high school sewing an errant pin

attached itself to the hot iron like a magnet
and all the girls ironing pattern pieces stopped as steam

spoiled to the ceiling. I counted burn marks on tan fabric
with acorns and leaves, all the time spent adjusting

the bust down to nothing. And the teacher, emissary
for past and future women, shook her head.

Was she acknowledging the error or agreeing
with the breathing-out sound? We’ve made it

past the Flapper era of flatness at the dinner table, thin
straps holding pounds of flesh, along with the underside

of women who washed and dried
a twelve-hour wag. At eighteen, I wondered when

my breasts would form, dragged to the underwear section
of the local department store. The smallest size,

as if my wheels would tread close to a highway
faster suited in this structure. Years later,

a student gifted me a Wonder Woman toy.
I laughed, thanking her. She must have decided

the plastic figure represented the way I taught her,
surely not the hair as it spurted out of the doll’s rigid head,

and that outfit, red and yellow, tight,
never the way I’d wear it.


Laurel Benjamin is a San Francisco Bay Area native, where she invented a secret language with her brother. She has work in Lily Poetry Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, Sky Island Journal, Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry, among others. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and Ekphrastic Writers, she holds an MFA from Mills College. She is a reader for Common Ground Review and has featured in the Lily Poetry Review Salon. She was nominated for Best of the Net by Flapper Press in fall 2022.