Growing Up

You are bright and young and new
And always falling apart – your tooth is loose,
The left front incisor, and you never seem to be at peace
Unless you return home in the evening with your clothes tattered.
You perch at the apex of the jungle gym, your feral smile
Wild and blissful as you leap over the edge.

You are as you’ve always been: a girl on the edge,
Standing on the precipice of something new.
The promise of womanhood elicits a knowing smile
From your mother, who pulls your blood-stained bedsheets loose
With a quiet pride. You ball your fists, emotions in tatters,
And screech at your unsuspecting brother to leave you in peace.

You’ve fought so hard with yourself to find peace
With your own body; you stop his fingers feel along the edge
Of your skirt, and you think of romance-novel heroines, bodices tattered,
Making love to their men with reckless abandon. But this is all new,
Frightening; one day, perhaps, you will be able to let loose.
Until then, you try in vain to soothe his ego with an apologetic smile.

Too numb to cry, you explain again that it was only a smile,
A simple, reflexive gesture meant only to keep the peace –
He was your brother’s friend, and who told him you were loose,
Who had the goddamn nerve? And even then, sitting on the edge
Of the bed, you said no, you cried, “no.” Downstairs, the year was new,
And people sang along to “Auld Lang Sine” as your faith in men was tattered.

Sure, the hand-me-down curtains were a little tattered,
But at least your bed was warm, and never empty. He smiles.
The apartment is drafty and old, but he, he is wonderful and new,
And wherever you are, if he is there, you are likewise at peace.
True, you can never really forget the past, but you push it to memory’s edge –
You are a little girl, your heart a baloon you’re afraid to let loose.

Your mother swears, when she stands in profile, when her hair is loose,
She could be you – arms a criss-cross of cuts and scrapes, jeans tattered,
Eyes defiant. Your husband watches her, perched on the swing’s edge,
Draws a tight breath as she flies off, only releasing it when she finally stands and smiles.
Through the cloud of dust she’s kicked up, she sees you, flashes you a sign: “peace,”
Like an old hippy, and skips off, hair flying behind her, to someting new.

In your dreams now, she weilds needle and thread; you are a tattered ragdoll,
Your threads loose and your edges frayed. In your daughters careful hands, you feel at peace.
She cuts the thread with her teeth and smiles, and you awake each morning, brand new.