Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Girlhood: In Cantos

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Girlhood: In Cantos

Article excerpt

For Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

I

The bedroom faced both patio and street

in an apartment on the second floor.

Imagine a city in New Jersey.

Sunset lured flurries of furry moths

to the lampposts, wings igniting

under bulbs that burnt white

then yellowed, by comparison with the stars.

My mother departed for the swing shift

an hour before bedtime. In winter,

her wooden heels made against new snow

the sound of cornstarch pinched

from the body's crevices and rubbed

between Angers.

After bolting the door

my grandfather squinted in a corner,

his pupils clouded with cataracts and worry.

His hairline had receded to a vampiric point

dyed the color of an agate amulet

worn for decades to rob evil eyes of their lenses.

Catching the whites of mine in his bifocals,

he opened the refrigerator,

scanned the gallons for a telltale picture

of the herds who were my wet nurses,

and boiled two pints with grains

of Grenadian cocoa dust.

II

Swabbing the hives abloom on my collarbone,

a doctor at the clinic gestured

that so long on the bottle was enough.

I became intolerant while cutting teeth,

my canines drippings of paraffin

from the five sallow candles

screwed onto a birthday flan.

To wean me from rubber nipples,

Mami traded a pamphlet of green stamps

for cobalt tumblers, setting one on the nightstand each night

beside a can of soursop pulp for me to sip.

Abuelo had not minded me

since falling from the front steps onto asphalt,

drubbing his breast with a numb, arthritic fist.

I watched him now on the sofa bed, swaddled

in calico sheets, asleep yet blind to dreams

and deaf to the clamor of garbagemen,

or so his prognosis was translated.

III

The year I erased my fingerprints

lighting drugstore candles

I stopped reading the novenas

screen-printed onto the votives.

As flames quavered behind the swarthy martyrs,

Latin articles and honorifics dribbled

over the letters of Yorúbá epithets.

Joan of Arc, meet Changó.

In school, nobody recited poems

about the Dahomean warrior women

whose recruits plated their scalps with plaits

in the hundreds and fastened the tips with ribbons

for the strangling of their sovereign's assassins. …

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