Adolescence is a Disorder of the Mouth


“Your necklines are too low,” she says, and scowls at the cloud-tops of my cleavage, as she does now all through every dinner. Her dad inhales the minestrone through his nose; I blush in its steam. Like a tourist straining through veils of haze, I gawk as her breasts erupt beneath a succession of clingy tees—today in B cups but bursting through the alphabet. It’s sweet, maybe, how we stare, but the air becomes hypoxic when she pronounces on my lipstick, the key of my lullabies, the trash I watch. I agree. I am “low-brow.” My pitch is catastrophic. But it’s better when I say so. She is too perfect. A voice from a peak. No fear. No rue.

LESLEY WHEELER’s poetry collections include Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; Heathen; and the forthcoming The Receptionist and Other Tales. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Slate, AGNI, and others. Her blog, “The cave, the hive,” can be found at She is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.