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.
You lucky, lucky girl. You have an apartment just your size. A bathtub full of tea. A heart the size of Arizona, but not nearly so arid. Don’t wish away your cracked past, your crooked toes, your problems are papier mache puppets you made or bought because the vendor at the market was so compelling you just had to have them. You had to have him. And you did. And now you pull down the bridge between your houses, you make him call before he visits, you take a lover for granted, you take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic. Make the first bottle you consume in this place a relic. Place it on whatever altar you fashion with a knife and five cranberries. Don’t lose too much weight. Stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge. And you are not stupid. You loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand. Heart like a four-poster bed. Heart like a canvas. Heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.