The Helms Man

By Kathryn Jordan

Featured Art: Creative Abundance Flower by Wendy Minor Viny

The Helms Man, we called him. I mean the man in white

baker’s trousers who drove the Helms Bakery van

around our bright California cul-de-sacs and streets —

coastal hills carved to asphalt, tract, and pink ice

plant that we broke open to write on sidewalks.

He drove slowly down our block, stopping to open

wide temptation’s door, inviting adolescent girls in

to view his wares:  jelly and glazed doughnuts,

cinnamon twists, sparkling crystal sugar.  We ponied

up quarters for paper bags of treats, to be consumed

out of sight of perfect mothers, lying out in lawn chairs,

all Coppertone and Tab gleam, who gave us Teen Magazine,

left us to banana and milk diets, vertical stripes, and scales.


Left us to ripe womanhood and the gaze of men,

to shape and flavor we could never taste ourselves. 

To motherhood and stretching of skin, joint loosening,

the joy of being food.  Then cronehood with arroyo

of wrinkle, slump of breast, lump of belly.


Each one alone now sees herself in hollow mirror,

flattened chest, belly bulge assessed, while outside

the window, teenage girls parade in short cutoffs,

long legs supple and smooth.  And our long-gone

mothers watch us watch them.  We, who still hear

the van coming and run, hurry, to be ready, radiant

and thin for the helmsman, just turning the corner.

After studying for her MA with Robert Hass, Kathryn Jordan taught English and music. She devised and taught a curriculum that combined music theory, creative writing, singing, and history to share with middle schoolers the story of African American music and its impact on American life. Jordan is the 2016 winner of the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference Prize for Poetry and her poems are published or are forthcoming in The Comstock Review, Birdland, Panoplyzine, and The Sun, among others. Her book is Riding Waves (Finishing Line Press), and her new manuscript is a finalist for the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Contest. She is also a finalist for the 2020 Tucson Festival of the Book Literary Prize. She loves to hike the East Bay Hills in search of the elusive Allen’s Hummingbird.

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