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February 29, 1992

ISSUE:  Winter 1994


Above the kitchen table where my children color,
their big calendar frames a drawing—
blue African elephant, endangered species,
in whose large mother belly
floats a baby elephant,
fully formed and smiling,
a red valentine
pulsing in its center.
Below is the usual grid of numbers
including this one, leap day,
taunt to time,
reminder that physics
makes its own music.

Twenty years ago, another February—
I was walking to school
after months spent trying to starve myself
back to a self before self-consciousness
and the heavy confusions.
Fourteen years old,
all seventy pounds of me trekked
the stretch of ice and mud
behind our neighborhood.
At a corner of the brick building,
wind tore me
for a split second
from the ground.
A specter at the lockers,
butt of jokes, snickers,
horrified stares,
I turned the dial, studied my combination,
the way I was still trying to figure out
how to be me in a body
with its own insistencies.
Outside, on the way home,
I felt something
in the restive hedges, their stark
gray lines turning into something new,
like my pencil drawings,
stacks of them: young women
with thickets of hair,
full, soft breasts, complex faces.
Their rooted legs held gowns blown
by bracing but benevolent winds.

Today, from the kitchen table,
my 4-year-old turns from the picture
she’s drawing—Rapunzel
with a bristling kingdom of hair,
bows, legs that curve up—no problem—
in a “J” where the page bottom happens
to end too soon.
And now she spins out
into the room, dancing, grabbing underpants
from the laundry basket for a crown,
her own live hair spouting out
through the leg holes.
Though she sings and twirls to the taped music
from a kids’ pop movie—
“I want much more
than this provincial life!”—
I know she’s still happy in her world,
in her body, flying
by her own volition,
defying the motion of time
that takes away instead of giving back.
And not hearing, either, the pure cry
of loss that escapes my mouth,
into which the knowledge of my own,
full life finally leaps.


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