"A boy sprawled next to me on the bus, elbows out, knee pointing sharp into my thigh.
He frowned at me when I uncrossed my legs, unfolded my hands
and splayed out like boys are taught to: all big, loose limbs.
I made sure to jab him in the side with my pretty little sharp purse.
At first he opened his mouth like I expected him to, but instead of speaking up he sat there, quiet, and took it for the whole bus ride.
Like a girl.
Once, a boy said my anger was cute, and he laughed,
and I remember thinking that I should sit there and take it,
because it isn’t ladylike to cause a scene and girls aren’t supposed to raise their voices.
But then he laughed again and all I saw
was my pretty little sharp nails digging into his cheek
before drawing back and making a horribly unladylike fist.
(my teacher informed me later that there is no ladylike way of making a fist.)
When we were both in the principal’s office twenty minutes later
him with a bloody mouth and cheek, me with skinned knuckles,
I tried to explain in words that I didn’t have yet
that I was tired of having my emotions not taken seriously
just because I’m a girl.
Girls are taught: be small, so boys can be big.
Don’t take up any more space than absolutely necessary.
Be small and smooth with soft edges
and hold in the howling when they touch you and it hurts:
the sandpaper scrape of their body hair that we would be shamed for having,
the greedy hands that press too hard and too often take without asking permission.
Girls are taught: be quiet and unimposing and oh so small
when they heckle you with their big voices from the window of a car,
because it’s rude to scream curse words back at them, and they’d just laugh anyway.
We’re taught to pin on smiles for the boys who jeer at us on the street
who see us as convenient bodies instead of people.
Girls are taught: hush, be hairless and small and soft,
so we sit there and take it and hold in the howling,
pretend to be obedient lapdogs instead of the wolves we are.
We pin pretty little sharp smiles on our faces instead of opening our mouths,
because if we do we get accused of silly women emotions
blowing everything out of proportion with our PMS, we get
condescending pet names and not-so-discreet eyerolls.
Once, I got told I punched like a girl.
I told him, Good. I hope my pretty little sharp rings leave scars."
The head of a company survived 9/11 because
His son started kindergarten.
Another fellow was alive because it was
His turn to bring donuts.
One woman was late because her
Alarm clock didn’t go off in time.
One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike
Because of an auto accident.
One of them
Missed his bus.
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take
Time to change.
Car wouldn’t start.
Get a taxi.
The one that struck me was the man
Who put on a new pair of shoes that morning,
Took the various means to get to work but before.
He got there, he developed a blister on his foot.
He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid.
That is why he is alive today..
Now when I am
Stuck in traffic,
Miss an elevator,
Turn back to answer a ringing telephone…
All the little things that annoy me,
I think to myself,
This is exactly where
I’m meant to be
At this very moment
What was she like? I’ve waited my entire life to be asked that question. God.
What was she like?
She was beautiful. She tasted like the ocean and smelled like clementines. She wore peach lipstick and brown mascara. On
Sundays she would fill the bathtub with roses and milk. When
it was spring and the air felt raw against your skin, she would
wake herself up at three in the morning and smoke cigarettes
in the balcony. When I gave her roses on some date she gave
them to a homeless man on the way to the restaurant. She wore
dirty sneakers with the words “peace” written in red sharpie and
a white dress that hugged her wide hips to my mothers 58th
birthday party. The one where ladies asked what she was
studying and she replied Art History. She was in Pre-Med at
the top university in New York City. She said things like “we don’t
open the mail on Tuesdays” and “let’s tell the barista you’ve just found out you’re cured from cancer”. When her mother would call
begging her to come to church she would send her poems about
how birds on the telephone line are her religion. She only liked
walking around the city if it rained. What was she like? She went to train stations because she thought the homeless man playing the
violin was the best concert she’d ever find. I often asked her what
she thought of me. Her laugh was like honey. When I took her to my
gallery opening she invited her taxi driver. She had the moon
tattooed on her inner thigh. She spelled the words “infinity” onto
the crook of my neck. I remember once she took a photograph
of an elderly man speaking to his wife at her gravestone.
She called me on the way home: “Well what were you doing at the cemetery?” I asked. “Robert,” She’d said, “Don’t ask such absurd
questions.” What was she like? I woke up alone some mornings.
Her suitcase would be scattered and she screamed because she
couldn’t pay the gas bill. Our lights would turn off. What was she
like? She’d light candles in every single corner of the house. She
would read these big books written by Russian authors who didn’t know the difference between love and lust. “Oh,” She once said,
"And you do?" I laughed. I was so in love with her. The curves of her hip. The smooth tint of her back. Her eyebrows. Her smile. How her
eyes were green sea’s I saw in travel brochures. What was she like? She was the type of person to write you love poetry and bake pies
and convince you that 4:50 AM was the best time of day. What is
she like? And this is the part where my throat will burn and I’ll
scratch my collar bones because how much it hurts,
“Why don’t you ask him” I’ll say. Why don’t you ask