The Garden of the Fugitives (Texas Review Press, 2014). Originally published in Iris (Fall/Winter 2004).
It’s for a good cause, they say,
which is enough for me at seven,
a tomboy aiming for the missionary life,
to endure the pink yank of curlers,
caged thorns of crinoline,
white gloves, ankle socks, martyrdom
for the Jaycees’ seasonal pageant
in the Raines High School Gymnasium.
The air is stale from last night’s game,
the stage gritty beneath mirror-slick Mary Janes
that blister. The grown-ups have sacrificed
my Saturday to this spot-lit night.
My schoolfriends, too public in their mother’s lipstick,
are hollow-eyed as the dead big-bowed girls
in our grandmothers’ musty albums.
I trust that I am feeding starving children.
Teeth set, back straight, for them,
I remember what the others forget:
to curtsy at the edge of the stage
where white-hot footlights put out our eyes.
I pray to be passed over.
Not me, Lord.
But I am plucked: The Adorable One,
Littlest Christmas Angel.
All eyes follow as a sweating man
takes my cotton hand and draws me center stage
for a kiss and a twenty-dollar savings bond.
Polite applause. I freeze.
Smile, he whispers. Come on, Sweetheart, smile.
He shoves the crown down, killing my curls—
tin foil crinkled over cardboard.
It scratches like thorns. And stays put.