The worst didn’t happen
when I was young, even when, at just ten,
that first-shed red smear came away
on my hand—
some mercy contained me,
kept pristine my bright acid-
The house still full of my brothers.
I had to speak that blood
into the consciousness of others.
My mother sighed. Said, Show me.
She was the age I am now,
sweating out hot flashes
while her husband and kids slept sound,
now standing in the dim bathroom—
after dinner, her shirt dishes-wet,
day not done, too tired to hold in
her scowl. Gazing
on the start of her daughter’s
fearing, too, what a young
grandmother bears. She couldn’t
offer me the fragile, symbolic flowers
I’d heard of from other girls.
She gave me something
I wanted more anyhow—
the stack of lilac pads I’d been
waiting for, afternoons alone,
cross-legged on the olive shag floor,
smoothing the creases from the half-gloss,
flesh-pink pamphlet. A diagram
of a woman inside-out.
Just waiting. Caressing it
like a picture of a friend.
No one told me what a mess you’re made
at the end. Not even my mother, who,
as if looking back on one long,
terrible vacation, bless her,
remembers mostly the hot weather
she couldn’t acclimate to.
I didn’t anticipate the vague shake
of my doctor’s head, as he turned away
toward the corridor
and more fruitful matters.
Meanwhile, she’s grown tired,
of all I planned or didn’t plan.
Tired of quietly carrying things for me.
And so, in front of fine company
after a very fine meal, where I’ve
been charming, barely betraying
my forgetfulness or my sweat
or my rage,
she leaves her last abundant burden
on the crushed seafoam velvet
of someone’s chaise.