baby grew up in freshman
when the two white boys
called her curry-muncher
they had gel in their hair and they
it was a joke
fresh from the playgrounds and
skidding off the jungle gym
shut up shut up
she didn’t know much yet, but
baby’s budding breast
did not want it
did not want this role in the play, no
baby grew up in PE class
when the lanky boy pointed at her legs –
he was 8. and baby was baby.
she was angry he was asking her
to be someone else
and she was angry too that he had to ask
that she hadn’t already done the long
jump for him.
so baby told the boy
“ask god!” and went home to ask
for a goddamn razor.
but mama said no so
baby grew up
grizzly grisly gorgeous.
baby grew up in the northside school library
laughing at horrid little henry
and memorizing the fairies, the winged
friendships of her imagination
these braided blonde white girls who could never eat her food
but still stayed to talk; baby took out a dictionary
to learn the word “prairie”
just so she could understand her new friends better.
she especially loved the babysitters club.
she liked it when they cried
when they solved all the problems when they
slurped up milkshakes
picking at the seams of their evenly knit existence
just for the sake of teenage beauty queen lollipop rebellion
this was such a gift
baby loved to call them in the dark
the girlish incantations of their names so
nothing like hers
like pop lyrics like
cramming candies on the diabetic tongue so
baby asked her friends
to call her Veronica
from then, wishing her real name
made a bit more sense, sung a bit more
normal, could belong in their club
or a magical book somewhere.
baby grew up at oriental plaza
the brown hard brick
complex the sprawling thing for immigrants
but baby didn’t know that word yet
the dictionary was for learning about stucco houses in some other place
like morningside? was it britain?
baby hadn’t been
she just read and ate the hot samosas there
in johannesburg they tasted like her mother could
and tiring it was at the muslim tailors’ to figure skate
her fingers across slushy velvets, scrabbling sequins, lick
flower nectar colors with her eyes
practise ballet with the fabric patterns.
baby helped her mother remember,
to pick new flavors for her body
watch her stir them up and spit
them out like a childhood language
in a salwar kurta or a churidar sometimes even
a sari – oriental
plaza had an old smell, like a house left too long
so baby wrinkled her nose
and grew up in skinny jeans.
Artwork by Alison Hoy, “Modern Woman”