Selected Poems from Secrets of My Sex
It happened on Messa Road,
at my friend, Lisa's, house.
She was the shyest girl
in our third grade class
so it was odd that we were friends.
I can't recall whether she encouraged me
or tolerated me,
but she had no problem
announcing my number to an audience
of teddy bears and dolls.
I stepped on the concrete stage
surrounded by grass
and sang Gypsy Rose Lee's
“Let Me Entertain You.”
The mini skirt came off first.
I let it fall to my feet
and then kicked it onto the wisteria bush,
where it sat like a denim hat
over purple dreadlocks. I spun around,
two braids flying as I whirled,
yanking my blouse apart,
the snaps opening all at once.
Dancing in bare feet
and my pink bikini,
I swung the blouse in figure eights,
like a ribbon gymnast
tracing intricate patterns,
and then I draped it over my head,
singing and dancing blind,
warm air on my body,
hips and shoulders swaying.
I peered out from behind my blouse
and saw a blur of boy's faces—
a real audience had gathered; still I kept going,
sensing a power I couldn't name
and didn't understand.
I tossed the eyelet blouse at a boy
who was grinning at me,
and looked back at him from over my shoulder.
Then I spun and swirled, gyrated and giggled
my way through the rest of the song.
When it was over, the boy returned my shirt.
I went to the wisteria bush and got dressed.
Lisa's older brother and his two friends
who had come outside to watch
came close to me, and the cute one said,
“I'll show you mine if you show me yours.”
I lifted my skirt and slid down my bikini bottom.
They all stared at my hairless vagina.
When it was his turn,
the boy said, “You're a filthy slut,”
and then nudged his friends.
“Let's get out of here,” he said,
and they ran inside the house laughing.
I understood then
there was nothing more intriguing
than the body,
all the sex stuff.
I don't know how my sisters heard,
but that kind of thing leaks out
and gets around the neighborhood.
They asked me how I could show my face at school.
As time passed, my sisters discovered
they only needed to utter
two words to keep me in my place.
“Messa Road.”They said it in front of our parents and friends,
laughing at the private joke that gave them power.
For a long time, shame made me forget
all of this, especially how young I was,
how beautiful and brave
to sing and dance like that,
to stand there naked that way,
eager to see
and be seen.
My therapist says the new name
and the haircut
are diversions from the real issue,
so I ask,
what is the real issue
and she says,
You—the essence of you.
I go home having no idea
what she means,
but later I consider
I've seen it in my dreams.
It's ageless, genderless,
and wrapped in a flowing white garment.
It hovers over the sea while I sit
beneath a palm tree on a pristine beach.
Its face is hidden,
but kindness and wisdom emanate
from it and my belly is satisfied in its presence,
as if I've eaten a plate of Mom's homemade pasta.
My Soul hugs me, though it has no arms.
It nurses me, though it has no nipple.
It communicates without words or eyes,
and speaks to my heart.
They are best friends.
I envision them snapping their bubble gum
and swapping character cards:
Courage, Love, Faith.
Perhaps my therapist is suggesting
I spend more time in communion
with this part of myself,
listening and allowing
that which is inside—and not outside—
to guide me. She knows my essence doesn't care
what I look like,
whether my hair is short or long,
whether I am ten pounds overweight
or ten pounds too thin.
It doesn't care what I call myself
or what I do, whether I dance or write;
it's not concerned with doing,
but with being.
The thought that I'm not good enough
would be incomprehensible
to my essence,
which is perfect—
the same love and light
that radiates from everybody else.
My essence is connected to all living things.
It is unafraid, unapologetic,
a tidal wave of permission
My essence is a child, a whore, a crone,
a priest, a parrot, and a lover.
It can't be pinned down like a butterfly
or dissected like a frog.
My essence is more knowledgeable
than my therapist,
and though I am grateful for them both,
it is my essence that knows
and helps me remember
who I am.
I am jealous
of the way he touches Angie,
stroking, patting, massaging her,
making room in his chair—
even when he’s eating.
I am jealous
of the way he fills her bowls,
and how he lets her slather his face
with her pink tongue.
He feeds her with his hands.
The last thing he fed me
was a compliment
I fished for. Has he forgotten
the foods we ate with our fingers
and other body parts?
Chocolate sauce drizzled on our thighs?
And how about the games we played:
Sticky Nipples in the Land of Milk and Honey.
Bella on the Half Shell.
Whip Cream Monopoly.
The garden offered as many delicacies as the kitchen.
Has he forgotten the rose petal treatment?
One layer softer than the next?
Can she do that for him?
I’d settle for a walk
around the block, holding hands
so when he says he’s taking her
for a hike in the canyon,
just the two of them,
I shrink inside
and remember what it was like
to be newly wed,
before I knew anything
of struggle and the distance
that comes with time.
When my daughter doesn't brush her hair
the strands clump into a knot
at the back of her head the size of a softball,
and I go hard inside,
because I've told her
a hundred times
to care for herself.
“You look like you have no Mother,” I say,
the knot in my stomach
tight as the one in her hair,
as I disappear into memories
of messy-haired girls,
and how my mother and I judged
We are late for school, but still, I brush
my daughter's hair so she can go to the assembly
and accept her citizenship award
groomed and cared for like the affluent,
only child she is. I say,
“This is your job! If you'd brush your
hair every day we wouldn't be in this mess!”
I show her again how to brush
from the bottom up, struggling to use gentle strokes,
as I seethe at every “Ouch” and “That hurts!”
I am unprepared for this,
a daughter who doesn't worry the way I do,
who would go out into the world
and expose her weakness,
her flaws, who would go out into the world
exactly the way she is.