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five poems for young adults

by Danni Quintos


The Girl I Want to Be



I am done being a middle schooler

but I don’t know if I’m ready to be

a teenager. I spend the summer


practicing eyeliner & reading magazines

with advice for how to be the girl

I want to be. I picture myself


in this season’s new two-piece bathing

suits. I imagine metallic eyeshadow across

my lids & picture a party scene like the movies


I watch where I look so hot that everyone

stops & stares, or I jump up on the table

and dance to Notorious BIG’s Juicy


before hitting my head on the chandelier.

I want to grow out my hair & wear contacts

so I can be the girl who transformed


over the summer, the one no one knew

was so gorgeous under those glasses.

But I don’t want to like everyone. Something


in me still wants to be feared, a little mean,

like a raspberry vine’s thorns, a sharp

surprise for anyone who tries me.









Here it’s horse country, to the point

where all the hotel rooms have paintings

or huge, blown-up photos of horses—


their velvety muscles in sharp focus.

Murals downtown, street names, iron

statues shellacked with rain & frozen


in racing action. Everyone cares about

the derby & has seen it at least through

the TV’s glass. Everyone’s been to a racetrack,


seen beers go warm in their translucent plastic

cups, forgotten. Everyone’s driven on that road

that circles town called Man-O-War & never


really thought how odd it is to name a church

after it too—Man-O-War Church of God.

After a road, after a horse.






Horse People



My parents aren’t horse people. That doesn’t mean half-horse

half-person, it means people who go to the races, who bet on them


& collect brass horse head bookends, who own paintings of horses

and twice a year head to the track in town called Keeneland


for warm spring or early fall sunshine days of sunglasses & pastel blazers,

sundresses & caramel-color dress shoes, cigar smoke billowing


across the stands. I’ve been there once with a friend when I was little

and noticed how out of place I felt, even as a kid. Her dad bought


us nachos with plasticky cheese and we watched the horses

mess up the mud with their giant hooves, we watched clean-shaven


men get too drunk and turn pink with yelling. They let me pick

two horses for my bet and they both lost. I dropped my ticket


on the wet concrete, its potential to be worth more than just paper

was gone. I couldn’t wait until it was time to go home.






Fall News



It’s the end of the summer: a dark, overcast

day like the sun didn’t bother to get out of bed.


Mom sits me down & says she’s leaving.

She’s got her hair wrapped in a towel,


she’s wearing her old pink bathrobe

like she couldn’t wait until she was dressed.


Snot fills my nose & my eyes burn.


I ask where she’s going, but she can’t

talk right now, a phone call. The next


thing, her eyes focused ahead & not

hardly towards me. I don’t remember


when her things disappeared, but

suddenly they weren’t.






My Parents Are



the kind who never volunteered for the PTA

or chaperoned field trips. Always working ‘til 5 at least


and sometimes later, longer, on call on holidays: Thanksgiving

and the phone rings and Dad has to put on his boots.


I never got to do the weekend team sports or dance classes,

the children’s theater, girl scouts. I was just a kid at home


on a Saturday, drawing pictures of dead flowers, collecting

rocks & cicada shells, reading about planets and space dust.


My parents, when they were together, never were friends with other

kids’ parents. When I was in 5th grade I got in trouble for a messy desk:


all the bulletins & announcements & sign ups meant for my parents

were shoved to the back of the desk until they became a wall, a dam,


a build-up of forgotten invitations my parents didn’t want to throw away.

Now that they’re split up it’s just Dad, busier than ever. I decide


he has enough going on trying to pay all the bills and get over

the divorce. I decide he doesn’t need to know all the questions


the school asks him, the fundraisers, the volunteer invitations. The bright

yellow sheet that says, Join the PTA! stays wrinkled & smushed

at the bottom of my backpack, next to some broken pencils

and a granola bar wrapper.


Excerpted from Mercy No Mercy, a YA novel-in-verse.


Danni Quintos is the author of the poetry collection Two Brown Dots (BOA Editions, 2022), chosen by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as winner of the Poulin Poetry Prize. A Kentuckian, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet, her work has appeared in Poetry Magazine, Cincinnati Review, Cream City Review, The Margins, Salon, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a YA novel-in-verse entitled, Mercy No Mercy. 


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