Fall/Winter 2020 Issue

We Are Cheerleaders

Kelly McMahan


I know you can always tell

If someone used to be a cheerleader.


 My goodness, you beautiful, growing thing

Tell us: how is that 5 foot view

right before you plummet down

and break your little legs?


And this one lady used to be a cheerleader,

because this self-aware self-theater

might otherwise disappear…

And her greatest loss yet

–even above gimmick wishes and pebble cleats

that she gently ground into the invisible leg hairs of her blonde friend–

(which soon became the purple-light-district indie kids in her bedroom 

who closed their eyes

and waved their arms above their heads)

Is that she’ll never again

find the warm amusement

that swells from being unknown

Whose absence forms her spirit of yelling and the viciousness that harbors

deep oils from the pores of her greatest foes.


But she came to me, a while ago

In the form of banal teenage muses who were now both clean and bruised.

I heard her say, “Be Vibrant!”

But now I know that she actually said:

“be quiet.”

(I realized that fact on my own.)


My goodness dear, your lushed-out non-absolutes

Could nevertheless be true!

But when you put your posthumous on display for all the intimate world…

That’s how all of us could tell.

You were just a cheerleader, too.

“Figure Skates”
Emily Cai