1.

My back aches right in the middle

beneath my bra clasp

It’s been hurting since

I was about thirteen and then

BOOM! I had boobs bigger

than my older sister’s.  Nowadays

I have to spend at least half an hour

stretching and contorting in

yoga positions like the Downward Dog

and Pissed-Off Cat, just to sleep

without aching.  Maybe I oughta just

chop them off and have done with it

like the Amazons in Greek mythology

who did amateur masectomies

so they could draw bows

and kick ass better.  But then again

that would probably create

another ache in a different place.

2.

There’s a hollow feeling sometimes

behind my sternum when I see

a pair of hands holding each other

as a couple walks past me. It’s not

as rare that they’re both women

in this liberal town with its gay mayor

as it was in the red-blooded river city

I grew up in.  But some rainy nights–

the ones just made for staying in, watching

a movie, eating absurd amounts of ice cream

and curling up in your own bed around

someone who smells warm

and loved–those nights I know what

empty means, on the inside.

3.

Then there are the short grey-cloud days when

my bones and teeth hold a deep cold ache

and my skin pulls tight,

dreams of summer and the kind of humidity

you walk into like a greenhouse, but

instead it’s called July in Louisiana.

The live oak trees groan

beneath the weight of green leaves, vines

and epiphytes–you’d think the earth herself

would sink under all the squirming

living beings on her skin, ache

from within at the way we’ve come to treat

her, us ungrateful children.

4.

In quiet places like librairies and museums,

empty cathedrals, I hear

history whispering to me, dust-covered voices

calling out in moans: this is what

really happened, listen and I’ll tell you,

nobody ever heard–she died

I suffered–please, they never let me

I’m here, yes, though I’m young

my soul wears your aches like bruises

upon it.  I hear you, now,

I remember your heartbreak and

the hot summer sun–Evangeline,

they called you, Harriet, Boudicaa, Zenobia

my ear burns from your harsh

whispered words as I

press my feet into the heavy red ground,

stand tall, hold my back straight despite

the memories of pain.

5.

Enough of this aching now,

I may be a woman

but that doesn’t mean I’m broken

My heart beats steady as I please

tears seldom leak from these

keen eyes and I believe

I can grow strong like a tree,

tough like the old oak trees that

survive despite the Louisiana heat

despite the storms that rage; with

these stories behind me, I–no, we–will

breathe out this aching and

be free.

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