blood blisters

a week ago i wrote a poem about a girl turned woman –
the daughter of a friend –
who tugged my hair into neat little rows,
made a 10 year old girl happy because
i didn’t have to wash or brush it for a week.
the pin pricks on my scalp every time she folded
another strand into the braid was a victory,
my striped head the trophy.
some times there were dots like blood blisters
in clusters on her arms,
other times i saw her teeth when she smiled.

five days ago girl turned woman turned corpse.
i pull my own hair to try and remember.
it doesn’t work.
i make one big braid instead of a dozen little ones.
it looks slick with grease, does not save me
a week of washing.

a clot small enough to rest on the end
of my finger stuck in the softness
in her skull, her mother finds her nested
in summer sheets, no dots like blood blisters,
but a baby cradled in the crook of her arm.

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Cornrows

the day before they found her baby tucked
into the crawlspace beneath her home for safekeeping,
I sat on the floor in front of her:
knobbed bones of her knees dimpling my back
while she tugged my hair into cornrows,
racing stripes down my little girl skull.
I gnawed my nails to nothing
trying to keep silent with the ouch in my scalp.
sometimes it overflowed out of my mouth.
she laughed like the sound of a coke can cracking,
told me it shouldn’t hurt – she has a daughter,
and mothers understand gentleness.

her body as novel

  1. find her by reference number. or author’s last name. or just run your fingers down each shelf until a cover, color, texture feels familiar. do not open her yet, save the excitement for later. you are the “best for last” type. check her out.
  2. take her to your favorite cafe. lay her across your lap, spread her open – the sound paper touching itself like a note left on your nightstand. don’t talk back. don’t ruin it.
  3. read her parentheticals. search for words you’d find beneath your pillow or on a bottle of red wine. ignore the misplaced commas, smudged ink from hands wet with coffee or sweat.
  4. crease her corners. gently at first, hesitantly – you are scared to bend her in ways you cannot iron out. then, until she is thin to tearing. leave her folded to mark your precious parts. you have many favorites. explain: this is what it feels like to be well loved.
  5. crack her spine. split her down the center, seams unweaving, glue melting from forgotten umbrella. you shove her under you to keep her safe that way. when that fails, leave her beneath the desk lamp to dry. watch her warp with rain and heat.
  6. she is overdue. try to find someone who will take her off your hands: full of lines deeper than your palms, pages wavy with wet, underlined words like “full-bodied” and “unbound.”

James madison park on a saturday

april warmth settles on the lake like an oil spill,
finger-clouds like two small hands covering
six p.m. sun, a game of peekaboo.

the round calved legs of children
making rings in the water –
the world smoothed down to two blocks of lakefront.

either a child’s plaything – a football, maybe –
or a dead duck – body hard against the water’s little licks –
floating an unretrievable distance from shore

only

i pretend it is only his body that did it.
only his body that flattened her,
ironed her thighs wrinkle-free,
sliced her down the middle, a mortician’s cut.
his own hips: tracing the smooth wave
of a hasty suture.

only his guitar calloused fingers digging
making little circles inside her
like a child searching
through a pile of buttons.

only his mouth pressing down over her eyes
so that she could not even tell she is awake,
but she hopes she is not.

i pretend that it will still feel safe
to laugh around him, to find his
shoulder blades with my hands mid-hug.

i imagine folding his white
body like a dishtowel.