Philemaphobia or the Fear of Kissing

 I believe the impetus for this poem was a workshop where we were exploring writing about fears. I was intrigued by the list of phobias and settled on the fear of kissing as one that was easily accessible. In thinking back to my experiences as a young, pre-teen and then teen girl, there was a lot I was uneasy about when it came to the experience of kissing. How was it supposed to work? What if you’d just been eating? What came after kissing? Was kissing a door to other things and what if I didn’t want some of those other things?

I chose to use an abecedarian form for this, making it a double-abecedarian with two lines beginning with each letter. I like the way this form forces you to think about words you might not ordinarily use.

A fear of pimples, of dander, of losing my voice
around boys, of rumpled blouses, unfurling hems,

buttons missing or undone. I am afraid of
backseats. Uneasy in upswept hair, with bobby pins &

clips, the slow unrolling of curls. Scared of underarm hair,
curly, unsightly, unevenly shaved. Afraid of

dark alleys without stars. The intrusion of
deft hands beneath my shirt. Not knowing

exactly how to position my mouth. The sharp
exquisite bite of braces. The size of the pores on my

face. The feeling I get when his hand wrestles in
folds of my skirt. Because my life’s a great

galaxy of mistakes and this may be one more, his eyes
glazed over, breath stopped in his throat. Because fat

hips, wide thighs, upper arms that jiggle. Because I can’t
help thinking about garlic, tuna fish, and what might still be stuck

inside his mouth. Because I practiced in a mirror and still can’t get
it right. Because lipstick smears. Because I can barely move in tight

jeans. In my room, I tear apart my closet, grab hangers,
juggle jerseys, side-slit skirts, fuchsia & black. Afraid to sit on a boy’s

knees, feel his long bones, foreign & fragile, his fingers stiff as piano
keys, broken pieces of song. Because a pocketed bird always

longs for escape. In his throat, a tumble of germs, unnamed,
last vestige of some unnatural disease. In my mouth,

my tongue presses against the bench of my teeth. Each
morning I brush them, tie fractious hair back on my soft-shelled

neck, recite remedies for heartbreak, words without rhymes,
names of various cloud formations that signal rain.

Open your lips and next it’s your legs, your ribs, the dark
outside of your heart, and you’re spilling singed marrow on

parchment pages, leading him between fence slats, to the
puzzle of your room. I don’t know what it takes. I’ve failed quiz after

quiz in chemistry, equations tumbling in my eyes before I
quit trying, turn over the paper, pretend I have all the answers. I can’t

reveal how little there is inside—pebbles, a clutch of empty eggs,
rose stems, broken and bleeding. Because I’m afraid when he

slips his hand down my satin sleeve, he will feel the slickness of
sheets in the weave, will feel heat rising from me. I fear

trodden paths, ways already taken, footprints encased in mud,
taut mouths, and secret loves. What I believe about myself—once

undone—will spin apart, drift into nebulas of longing, the charred
underside of stars, like motes of a hymn splintered, lodged in

veins and arteries. Because my wings, in salt-tinged air,
vivid with glint of feathers, are too easily crushed. Because I

worry about how it will look, how it may lead to days,
weeks of trembling, of uncertainty. Because I

excite too easily. Afraid of needles, heights, open air,
x-rays that will expose my missing bones. If I say

yes, I open the door. I am so tired of being alone
year after year. So afraid of having my heart

zipped and bagged. Because if I enter this perilous
zone, how will I find the map, how will I chart my course?

Judy Kaber is the current Poet Laureate of Belfast, Maine. Her poems have been published in journals such as Atlanta Review, december, and Spillway. Contest credits include the Maine Postmark Poetry Contest in 2009, second place in the 2016 Muriel Craft Bailey Contest, and the Maine Poets Society Contest, 2021. Her poems also appear in the following anthologies: Enough: Poems of Resistance and Protest, Wait: Poems from the Pandemic, and Balancing Act2: An Anthology of Poems by Fifty Maine Women. She has three chapbooks: Renaming the Seasons, In Sleep We Are All the Same and A Pandemic Alphabet.



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