“Summer Girls in Pale Chiffon” by William Childress

When I was twelve, I lost my heart
to lovely girls as sweet as art.
Their womanhood did almost shine,
but still, with innocence and time,
and new to lipsticks and ribands,
they kept virginity in their minds.

I did not know what power hexed me,
only that its surges vexed me;
day and night perplexing dreams
wrapped me in the dear perfumes
of soap and scents I wanted close,
and skinny limbs miraculous.

In my backwoods country shire,
when spring released its vernal fire
and drove young animals to play,
I did watch those dear girls fly
like blossoms through the swinging door
of Tom McCaffree’s ten cent store.

God to me was very good
on windy days. From where I stood,
I saw their legs, the little fawns,
through clouds of billowing chiffon.
How instinctive their retrieve
of yellow fabric, soft as dreams.

Many a girl I’ve courted since,
and some liked plum and some liked quince,
and some liked anything I brought
that raised the beating of their hearts.
But no one’s ever matched the charms
of the summer girls in pale chiffon.


Twice-nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, William Childress is an ex-paratrooper, Korean War veteran, and former National Geographic editor-writer. He has an MFA from the University of Iowa. His 15-year newspaper column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch resulted in a regional bestseller, Out of the Ozarks. In a 51-year career, he has published five books, 5000 magazine articles, 7000 photos, 350 poems, approximately 30 short stories, and a chapbook called Bumblebee Wars.

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