Bit by bit, Mom taught me to be polite

Say please and thank you

excuse me   I’m sorry   pardon me

ma’am   sir   miss

Take off your hat, feet off chairs

elbows off tables

Wipe your shoes

She trained me

with all the trappings of a time when

these habits meant status,

elevated birth

Today this polite trellis

she wound my wild briar will around

comes in handy still: each

excuse me

could you please

yields a golden ticket to high society, social mobility

(allows me to walk neighborhoods full

of boutiques and organic raw restaurants while

wearing Target boots and secondhand clothes)

Mom gave me the magic words

pardon me  open sesame

could I please speak with you for a moment

quietly, enunciating as carefully

as I shape each hand-written thank you note

I send

If only she knew

all these golden word-cages can’t keep

my vocabulary as clean as this neighborhood’s streets;

all the politeness in the world can’t

make me a good girl

Watch me

scratch this gilded language with my thorns

bend it to my will—sharpen these words

til they break the bubble

shake and scream

and we all fall down

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