Nebraska Center for Writers

by Sarah McKinstry-Brown

Like silence,
Like prom night,
Like sugar,
Like butter,
Like sleeping in on a Sunday morning,

Is a luxury.

At 13, I followed suit like every young lady,
Wanted to widow my own body:
Ask any woman and she'll tell you,
There's only a two — letter difference between
"Emaciated" and "emancipated,"

I thought I had to buy the farm,
So to speak,
Slit the river's throat
If I wanted to feel the breeze and sail the boat.

At 16, I was so bored of standing my ground,
Grave stone or tulip but not dangerously a live woman,
Tired of boys names in my mouth like hooks
Always fishing for compliments;
I swallowed gills and grew prayers and threw myself over board:
Sylvia Plath,
Only woman willing to pickpocket god,
With her veins steady as German night trains
Taught me
How to stick my tongue out at death,
Graze on the water's breath
Until I could get back to the shore and stand amazed
Wearing gazes like
Car crashes.

And eventually Miss Dickinson —
Emily — gave me my own morose
Code to follow. Alone and quiet
Maybe was altogether better than crowded by
A man and his violence.
I imagined her with
Her lover he saying,
"Darling, do you find me dashing?"
All the while her pulse stuttering,
He bows, "How do you do?"
She replies,
Heart crashing like a flock of birds against a glass sky.

By 21, I had French kissed socialists and communists and
I was the only witness as each man I met
Kissed the forehead of my dreams,
Unfastened their yellowed wings,
I crossed myself as they doused them with gasoline.
I kept dying my hair red,
Calling my mother collect,
Trying to build fire escapes with my tears.

I spent all my young years coo coo cooing with pigeons
Out on the ledge,
So there was never a whole lot of room for holy things like
Dancing and
What I failed to understand
Is that the craving for breath must always come before death.
What Sylvia failed to pass on to me,
What Emily maybe meant to say before she was cut off,
What at 25 my gut tells me
Is this:
A lady must pick her tragedies like her flowers,
Tie yourself up in the walls of your room,
Go half cocked at the nearest moon,
Paint your silly toes,
Pick the wrong man
Yawn in the face of a perfect dawn,
Wallpaper the basement
With monarch wings,
Wear white dresses while eating spaghetti,
But don't
Leave your sisters

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2004
by Sarah McKinstry-Brown

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Nebraska Center for Writers