Poetry: “Satanic Panic” by Jessica Hammack

“These ghosts / gave everything to us, two girls from West Virginia / who were starving for closeness, dead or alive.”

Jessica Hammack delivers a poem that makes us want to hold our breath as we weave through the nuances of adolescence, sexuality, and the inherent yearning to be desired.

Satanic Panic

Chrissy drew a pentagram on the pizza box
and slipped her electric, cucumber-melon-scented
hand in mine. I loved her house, its shag

carpet, its smell of nag champa and overripe
fruit, the way her mom was never home
and we were alone to do what we wanted,

like prank call kids we met at church camp,
or take bracing sips from an ancient bottle
of crème de menthe, or watch softcore pornography

we could rent underage from the video store
because Chrissy knew the dude who worked there,
pornography that contained a sexual energy

akin to a robin flying into a picture window
over and over and over again, pornography
we would watch, knees a whisper apart,

breath screwed into our chests as the aerobics instructor
moaned and writhed on the floor of the studio,
pornography that we would, eventually, recognize

as a blueprint for our future selves, but not then.
Everything felt possible those stoned afternoons–
the wood paneling separating us from other worlds

so soft and open, and often we would light candles,
whisper a few Latin-adjacent phrases, join hands,
and the dead would part the mortal curtain

and speak to us in modern tongues–
Ashley L. is totally a lesbian, it is written
our lives, and their pedestrian dramas,

the center of their universe. These ghosts
gave everything to us, two girls from West Virginia
who were starving for closeness, dead or alive.

When we summoned Kurt Cobain, he said
through Chrissy’s perfect mouth:
I’m not gay, I just come off that way sometimes.

Jessica Hammack

Jessica Hammack is from Morgantown, West Virginia. Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, The Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from the University of Florida and has worked as a bartender, convenience store clerk, daycare teacher, and, most recently, as a reference librarian at a small college in Maryland.

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