~girls raised in the south
6 I find an earring in my hair,
fake-gold flakes onto my fingers,
like the swirls in Bear’s eyes—my first
dog (purchased at Mee-Maw’s house; she gave us
half price even though we’re blood).
5 How’d it wind up here?
They aren’t my favorite pair but they look
nice on me. Least that’s what you said
down in Atlanta riding roller coasters.
Your cotton-candied fingers stuck to mine.
4 It takes time to unravel metal
knots. I would’ve taken them
out last night; you didn’t leave me any time
with your breath on my neck, hand up my skirt.
3 I try patience, the virtue.
Good Southern girls don’t entertain boys
or get caught with earrings in their hair.
2 The loop: endless ringlets of stripped youth,
dirty sugar from your fingertips.
1 Snip, snip. Swaying from my lobe, your air spun grit.
Do you remember that day,
Momma? When you wore
your pretty dress cause you wanted
summer air to blow on
your sweetness. It was somewhere
near the meat market when we heard it:
one deep whistle cutting through the heat
as your skirt fluttered up over your knees.
Four, five, six low-pitched whistles—or
maybe still the first, butchering
several sticky notes.
They were calling for you.
I wanted to escape the virile Texas
sun, those men’s callings, wrap myself up
between your legs, and be born back into the place
where you sustained me. Return to the womb
that released me so I could curl up
within you longer, ignorant
in your body. Just give me
a few more moments to feel
like I am part of you again.
Perhaps I could stay here until you’re ready
to stop smiling at the whistling men, ruffling your hair—
instead claim me as your daughter. But if you won’t,
next time when you hold me,
will you cover my ears
so the whistles can’t get in? So I don’t hear
those men singing out for a way
into the home that I came from.
water heater sundays
I escape to the attic to stuff myself
in between the water heater and Mom’s
box of maternity clothes. The exposed edges
pressing into my side—I am crushed here.
Dirt stains my body—I am marked there.
I sing-song along to time I want to forget.
She wants to embarrass me again.
Like that time in the desert when she spit
boiled canteen water into my sunburned face,
the last sip, licked the drops
off my lips. My mouth like dusty coal.
Moist, clear veins drying on my cheeks.
Her face a blue flame,
like under our water heater,
softly flickering but always lit. Trying to burn away
the lost odds and broken ends in the attic—make it
turn to ash. I don’t feel the heat anymore,
even when she ignites me, her only daughter,
this girl flicking daddy long legs into the fire
off my knees into forever.
A ballet slipper with a fat, brown spider in the toe,
“Point and flex!” your bending feet.
It hurts; my foot wasn’t born that way.
I melt my little bones to make them fit,
little shoes made for babies,
ones I won’t ever be able to wear
because I kicked them at her—as babies do—
her face a blue flame.