July 19, 2002 09:23 AM

It used to be summer when I played in a tiny pool, jumping off picnic tables and lawn chairs over charcoal-grilling smells on the radio. It used to be a leg in a bag and no bus to girl scout camp, instead silky slips rejected from mothers' closets.

It was a bad haircut and a big hole in the bottom of my foot on cool wood sandal bottoms. It was snoop dogging the Jane Goodall gear and lots of khaki brown, sand brown. Wet brown skin.

I remember, the year I went to camp,
I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks
somebody put their finger in the president's ears
it wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's Wax

This is the tone and language of my girl memories. It's one sense leaping over another.

It's you and me in our Chuck Taylors splashing in the lake with the mists rising at dusk in Avalon. It's the chill of sunrise and the struggle to keep eyes open all night in Denny's reading newspaper like it actually interests. Newspapers are not for the young summer; they're for metaphorical bonfires and three girls called April.

Chinese people were fighting in the park
we tried to help them fight, no one appreciated that
Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms
ten years later they were sharing the same cell

It's the magic of beach roadtrips at all hours. Summer is sand, not hot sand, but the cool sand of late nights. Sand that hears the secrets told staying up all night and sees the boys you kissed under umbrellas. Summer melts sand into little glass animals, made for collecting. A tiny porcelain worm without that parental bottle of tequila.

It's things between toes. Your shoes and the sand in them, soft-blasted feet.

It's why adults call childhood best, forgetting their powerlessness in the glass of time as a moldable thing. Time as wet earth in your hands.

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