Poetry: SKIN OFF MY BACK by Bayley Sprowl

Bayley Sprowl’s visceral “SKIN OFF MY BACK” sings the song of the body—its dirge, its elastic melancholy and trembling want of other. The poem seeks to understand: such want in the end, and in the beginning, may only ever be the want of self-destruction.




We spend our whole lives in skin.
Lips on tits and foreheads, necks.
We cross knees over knees,

fingers through fingers,
fingers in noses, around necks,
spread in suns to tickle knees.

We learn bodies in song from our
heads to our toes—what is what,
how to touch, what skin feels like.



My family’s touch left me untouched. Mother’s body
a sediment, husk and I was corn. Sister too close beside me
from the day that I was born. Yes I can hit my big brother,
but he hits back ten times harder. Father a one-armed hug
if prompted—the looseness left me hungry. My mother’s feet
on mine though fed me nightly.



I catalog friends in terms of contact:

  • Michele hugs with hips forward.
  • Dan pulls hard when he wants a body.
  • Matt hardly grazes my hands when he takes hold.
  • Reina is not a toucher. (I hug her in the doorway and try again when she leaves.)
  • Casey set his forehead on my leg, reclined with sadness.
  • I thumbed David’s temple in a wasted act of fondness.

And each of them I’ve wanted between my teeth.



Men don’t touch in our house, but men in the world do touch.



A man in the world

  • kisses my forehead more tenderly than my father ever has
  • grabs my tits as we pass on a city sidewalk
    • He’s second to ever touch them
    • I’m fifteen
  • dumps his cum on my stomach
    • Unconscious, my
      • spine arches over the couch’s arm
      • neck dangles backward
    • When I wake,
        • sticky heat in my belly button
        • he tells me to clean myself off
        • I wipe it with a washcloth
        • I’m not a virgin anymore



Raw skin after bicycle crash,
rainbow down my left side
from a too-high leap into lake.
Swollen tenderness of hangnail,
sharp and wet. My pinky blistered
when I set it on the stove.



I want me jammed-split-tossed, gnawed red at the collarbone,
pried into hard and fast so I can feel it. I dream in my bruised
palette of mustards, blues, and mosses that grow between
my temples until I’m hushed. Kaleidoscoped with contact,
muraled to feel the skin hold. I demolish my structure
to prove the structure’s there.



Taught by my skin how things feel, what to touch.
When touched, I have learned not to feel.



Bayley Sprowl

Bayley Sprowl will get rid of your ghosts. Her work appears in Pioneertown Lit and her first collection is forthcoming in 2020. Loosely based in LA, she's a resident poet in that she's writing in your yard. Bayley believes in chemistry and favors the elements: soil, water, breath, and heat. If you'd like to get in touch, check the closest ocean or your local farmers' market where you'll find her making mountains out of molehills and vice versa. Rare bird. Plays the fool. Preoccupied with stars. Bayley's got a lot of layers—don't be surprised if her jacket ends up in your car. (Keep track of her work on Instagram at @sweetbaysil)

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