The first time my mother stood up
to my father, she got her hair permed.
He had told her not to, said it was
a waste of my hard-earned money.
My father tells me this story while crying.
He is softer now, a treadless tire.
My mother came home from the salon,
and I’ll be damned, if it didn’t look terrible.
It killed me, Sierra, I swear to God.
The perm, this first mutter
in a soundless room, the first swing of the bat
only to find the pinata is a real dog. My mother
cried for hours, didn’t speak for a week.
Now, thirty years later, I am a poet
and I am telling this story as if it were mine.
I am harvesting this splinter.
This embarrassing toothache.
I am making my father drag his temper out of storage
by the wrist. I am making my mother drive home
from the salon over and over and over.
The twins who found the dead body in the river
stopped coming to school for the last weeks of 5th grade.
We rode our bicycles to the pay phone,
dialed their number, swore we smelled their father’s
cigar smoke through the receiver. They never came out. By July,
they became a ghost story we told the younger children;
how the river swallowed their voices, dulled
their eyes into two dry stones. All summer,
we swam in pools, reveled in the clear chlorine.
The twins returned for the first day of sixth grade
as if back from the dead. Their breasts had unwrapped
themselves from under their skin. Their legs: no longer
childish planks. We tried not to stare, to whisper.
They sat alone at lunch and we gossiped of what happens to girls
who looked like women. That night, one by one,
we snuck out of our homes, unplanned, to swim naked
in the river, to baptize the closed rosebuds of our nipples,
to float amongst corpses, to drown the child in us.
Inevitably, my father will cry at my wedding.
He will be dressed in his only suit coat
which he wears as naturally as a cardboard box.
His jeans, his tie mechanically hung like tinsel.
Not one for formal events, he tends to shift
in his seat, impatient as a hand saw.
When he cries, and he always cries,
the way only a father of three women does,
his chest is a tired buoy. It sighs and rises
and everything in his face sinks
as if someone tossed a rock into the pond
and the ripples expand forever and it
is the most beautiful drowning.