by Kristene Brown
Hot summer and birds pillage garbage cans,
squabbling for scraps.
With ripped jeans and knotted hair, I follow
the unpaved road to town.
Today I’m eager to forget the hand-me-down
hem stitched and switch whipped home,
now ten blocks back, now small and blurred.
The smell of burnt meat pipes out
the smokestacks of a passing pork and beef
Like a blanket wrapped around
my own dumb pig-fate,
that smell clings to my skin and my clothes.
In my pocket I have two dollars.
In my pocket I have one
long stretched afternoon
alone. I smile at nothing. I smile at everything.
I want candy. I want smudge pots of lip gloss.
I want something new. A car of boys,
with crisp button ups and clean faces, brakes
to look at me.
I’m young enough to believe
that the sheer white cotton clouds cupped
beneath the arched-back sky
and the humidity and sweat hummed
into the legs and hips of insects
is just for me.
Thirteen and my only sin is stupidity.
When I look up at the sun and then close
that gold ring mirage shrinks to a single black
like a stain that knows its place.
That’s me. I want to be the un-washable dirt
on the knees,
the spike driven spigot in the mud,
the tongue learning to trace the grim grit
and scum rub
of a body scraping up against a different kind
of shame, a shame
separate from the shame already corkscrewed
deep in the bone-pulse of my blood.
Soon, I’ll stand in the weedy ditch
where mosquitos breed
and cattle fumes rise in a high noon heat,
a heat that leaves my skin feeling loose.
Soon, I will go back the way I came,
trailing that narrow road of smoke
in the slow moments after, but not yet.
This is the before. The before where—
I turn. I smile. I wave.