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Something Quiet

ISSUE:  Autumn 1992

Faye came out of her mother too soon.
That’s why her skin was pale
as the high moon,
arms and legs spider-thin,
one eye off-center.
I wondered if she saw two
of everything, or if half
of her world tilted.
My mother said not to ask,
to just play something quiet
like dolls around the house,
no spying, nothing wild.
She braided my hair tighter:
Now don’t ask about Faye’s father.

Faye talked to me through the screen.
Her mother was ironing,
ash from her cigarette sprinkling the clothes.
I had never seen a woman smoke before.
Sheer black ladies’ underwear
hung where anyone could see.
Newspapers stacked in a corner
smelled of damp.
I guess she needed a husband.
She called Faye pal,
sang along with the radio:

He’s got high-in-the-sky, apple-pie hopes.
We drank grape Kool-aid walking around.
Faye let me choose which Lennon Sister
paper doll I wanted: their clothes shone,
clung like magic.
They don’t have a mother or a father.
Faye’s voice flat as an ironing board
said she was going to get an operation one day.
I asked if they would take her eye out
and turn it or give her a new one?
She didn’t know.
Her mom gave us gum, said, I’m off.
Faye acted like nothing.
When her mother opened the door,
perfume lolled in the air.
You smile just like your daddy.
Tell him Kitty says hi, OK?
She winked. Green eyelids.


Gloria, plump and freckled,
wanted to be a boy.
They can pee standing up.
I had two brothers and didn’t see
the charm. She posed me
in her diamond tiara
and flashed her new Brownie.
She turned out all the lights
and took crayons off a shelf.
I’ll show you how to make yourself
have a boy’s thing.
She chose flesh and pulled down her undies
just as her mother stepped in
from the lighted hall
like an angel flooded:
What on earth are you girls
doing in the dark?
She drew out the word dark.
My throat clenched, but Gloria lied
smooth and bland as vanilla pudding.
Her mother left the door ajar,
enough light for me to see
Gloria grinning at me sidelong.
She stretched out easy under the sheets.
I felt queasy thinking
Gloria was smarter than her own mother.
You’re my best friend, she whispered.


Faye was already at Gloria’s,
sticking locust husks on her shirt.
Gloria made me get her hula hoop from the cellar.
The door slanted open.
I stepped down, almost knowing
it a trap:
a shadow, then slam into blindness.
Gloria shouted, When locusts shed
their shells, they go down there.
If one bites you on the throat you’ll die.
I called to Faye, my father, Jesus,
cried until I was woozy and nearly asleep.
Then I listened hard:
just the scat of blackbirds.
Finally the door creaked.
Gloria’s mother, backlit,
shook her head:
No need to worry your mother about this.
She walked me home, said,
Sensitive little thing, isn’t she?
My mother agreed, sent me to rest.
From the window I saw Faye
pulling Gloria in a wagon,
Gloria calling, mush, mush.
Sunlight glanced off the tiara,
burning her red hair I hoped.
I lay down to magpies
rasping in the mulberries,
Faye’s mother calling her home.
Gloria’s footsteps on the stairs,
at my side: You’re not asleep.
Want to wear my tiara?
I said, Those aren’t real diamonds.
She shrugged. Faye doesn’t know
how to play Monopoly.
Her voice, the heat, such heaviness,
I could have been underwater.
A fly left off buzzing.
The curtains brushed my face
like a whisper, and Gloria blew out
like bad air. She left the tiara.
I opened my eyes and took it
hot and shining in my hands.


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