after Ada Limón
i don’t think i’ll ever not be one
even when the dozen grays sprouting
from my temple take hold and spread
like a sterling fungus across my scalp,
even when the skin on my hands is loose
as a duvet, draped across my knuckles,
even when i know everything there is to know
about heartbreak or envy or the mortality
of my parents, i think, even then i’ll want
to be called girl, no matter the mouth
it comes from or how they mean it,
girl, the curling smoke after a sparkler
spatters into dark, girl, sweet spoon of crystal sugar
at the bottom of my coffee, girl, whole mouth
of whipped cream at the birthday party, say girl,
i think, i’ll never die, i’ll never stop running
through sprinklers or climbing out of open windows
i’ll never pass up a jar of free dum dums
i’ll never stop ripping out the hangnail with my teeth
i’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl
girl next door sunbathing in the driveway
i wanna be them all once, i wanna be
all the girls i’ve ever loved,
mean girls, shy girls, loud girls, my girls,
all of us angry on our porches,
rolled tobacco resting on our bottom lips
our bodies are the only things we own,
leave our kids with nothing when we die
we’ll still be girls then, too, we’ll still be pretty,
still be loved, still be soft to the touch
pink lip and powdered nose in the casket
a dozen sobbing men in stiff suits
yes, even then, we are girls
especially then, we are girls
silent and dead and still
the life of the party.
If a Girl Screams in the Middle of the Night
and no one is there to hear it
here’s what happens. i’ll tell you.
if she is in the woods, it shoots
from the cannon of her throat
& smacks itself against a branch,
whips around it like a tetherball.
if she is facedown in the moss,
it seeps into the forest floor’s pores,
& every time a hiker passes through,
the days beyond her unravel,
& steps along the sponge-green floor,
a small howl will fan out from beneath his feet.
if the girl is in the city,
the scream gets lodged
in the cubby of a neighbor’s ear,
prevents him from sleeping at night
& so, naturally, he sells it to a secondhand store.
he takes it to the buying counter
in a jewelry box & says,
i don’t know who this belonged to
but i don’t want it anymore.
& though the pierced & dyed employee
is reluctant to take it, she sees the purple
bags like rotting figs under the neighbor’s eyes
so she offers store credit.
& so as not to startle customers,
a small label will be placed on the box
that says a scream & each time a person cracks
it open the girl’s rattling tongue will shake loose
into the store. this happens for months but no one
wants to buy it, to take care of it. everyone wants
to hear it once to feel something & then go back
to their quiet homes, so the store throws it
in a dumpster out back, where the garbage
truck picks it up & smashes it beneath
its hydraulic fists. the scream will get buried
in a landfill somewhere in new jersey
& later the landfill will be coated in grass,
where a wandering child will see a hill,
will throw her body against it
& shriek the whole way down.
Ghost Story for Masturbating at Sleepovers
after Melissa Lozada-Oliva
have you heard the one about the girls
in sleeping bags littered across the living room floor,
faces next to each other’s feet, bellies full on pantry food
and quiet, eyes vigilant to a black cube television?
in my version it goes like: one girl slithers out into the dark
and whispers the song of herself.
soon, they are all on their stomachs,
pushing up against long johns
with the mounds of their palms,
and no one names what is happening, both because
it will become real and because there is not a name
for it yet, only the knowledge
that whatever it is must not be said aloud.
in another version, a mother is falling into a still sleep,
certain that her daughter has not yet discovered
that what swells is not always a wound. she wakes,
hours later, to an orchestra of breath in the next room
and makes her way down the hall, hovers in the doorway,
and sees a dozen girls in white, quivering against the carpet.
for a moment, a small chaos blooms in her sternum,
cheeks erupt with blood, the dance of denial
in her stomach, and then she remembers her own
small ghosts--the curl of her best friend’s toes in a room
like this one, breath echoing from her pillow
back into her mouth again and again, like this,
until she grew tired and resolved herself into the floor.
Once, everything was a gift. Once, anything
resembling the thing we wanted was the thing
we wanted. We were not yet gangly and scowling
at the generic cereal in the cabinet
or knock-off Adidas slides with four stripes.
When we begged for a swimming pool and my father
filled trash cans with hose water, we saw
what was made for our bodies and no one else’s;
when he built a playhouse from splintered
plywood, with a metal slide, we saw a giant
silver tongue spilling into the dirt.
When the sun lifted itself to its highest point,
a proud bully, and the city became a third-degree
burn, we ignored the desert curfew and instead
heard the slide singing, One more ride,
imagined ourselves floating without burns
to the ground. So I stood at the top, naked
under my dress, and let my legs unfold in front
of me, lace parachute ballooning from my hips,
bare butt to the metal, blisters hatching
like small eggs, rising, pink yolks,
I heard the drought laughing
with its smoker’s throat:
There’s no water for you here.
the pain I don’t say
out loud, builds a home
First Grade, 1998
Dylan got busted for bringing a bullet to school & when he slipped the casing out of his pocket like a rare pill we were all certain that the hollow point would explode at any second, our bodies tense and heavy like a dozen dying suns, we imagined his hand blown to confetti but I knew he came from a family that shot big game, I knew they had a meat freezer & glass-eyed deer on every wall, so it wasn’t his fault he didn’t see bullets the way the rest of us did, something he could toss up and catch in his palm with ease & it was the same year my lips were so chapped that the red crack ran up beneath my nose & I couldn’t stop licking the wound & when I left class to hold my burning mouth against the water fountain, Frankie was passed out & bleeding from his forehead on the hallway floor & Ms. Rosemary said I might have saved his life, whether that’s true, I don’t know, what I do know is that Frankie was a redheaded soundless child & after that he wouldn’t stop talking about almost dying but never gave me credit for discovering his body & the next week Jeremy launched himself off a swing set & his forearm bone shot through his bent wrist, I saw it, anyway, I heard the word fractured in a spelling bee so when I ran to tell Ms. Amy, I was set on flaunting my new vocabulary but the hard corners jutted into my cheeks & my memory went soft & so I just stood there stuttering about the skeleton & finally, when Ms. Amy found Jeremy in the grass, the word wriggled its way into my mouth & I shouted, It’s fractured! & Ms. Amy whipped & snapped, It’s so much more than that, but I was just happy to have spoken my new language & then there was the family of baby pink mice in the reading corner & Carl, my favorite custodian, had to remove them, but rumor has it that he gathered them in a sock & smashed them under a rock in the parking lot & I couldn’t look at him the same after that, based on my understanding he was a murderer of tiny things & we were tiny things, I remember, even then, understanding the smallness of myself, of all of us & the way we had to dodge & skip through the world like rodents under the boots of men, except for once, when Miguel went on vacation to Mexico & was killed in a collapsed cave & we planted him a tree but it was just a seedling, no taller than my right knee & when we all stood in a circle to wish him goodbye, I remember looking at the struggling plant, its wiry arms & frail trunk & feeling, for the first time, big.
[my favorite pastime is watching the babysitter put her hair into a ponytail. she smooths it flat against her scalp & even when i think it must be perfect she smooths it again, gathers the overflow in her fist and removes a black elastic from her wrist, stretches and slaps till there’s no slack, splits the tail in two & yanks the arms apart, forehead skin strained taut against her skull, eyebrows pulled to an arch like a doll drawn happy.]