I feel your eyes like
red hot approval
dancing down my spine.
I feel you draw upon my strength like
a cool drink of water
on a day when the sun’s rays
absorb your energies and attentions.
I feel you chew my words and
suck the life from them to set your heart pounding
and the thought makes me
like the moon
pregnant and full-bellied and hanging so low
or else like worms
deep beneath the soul of the earth, the soil,
shining for no one but themselves.
I exude confidence like
like brightly colored frogs sweat
like warmth from a brick wall
that’s been basking in the sun.
I square my jaw like
I smile but
inside I scream.
I am no fantastic dream
of feminism and a positive body image.
My face remains unpainted
because I am afraid the effort will go unnoticed,
because the first
time I ever dressed myself for a boy like
preening my feathers, like
the way the flowers open up for the sky
he cut me down to size
Because I am terrified
if I let myself be weak,
if I let myself act uneasy,
if I look too long at my reflection
without a mask of vanity
I will crumble like
cinnamon cookies, like
bodies after too much time has passed.
I am made of opaque glass
that I swear if you
scrubbed too hard,
you could see straight through.
But I cannot let you,
because the months I hated myself,
the moths I threw up in bathroom stalls
and cried like
that never promised anything -
the months I asked too many guided questions like
scholars and philosophers
who have no idea what they’re searching for,
I needed someone like me.
Someone who called themselves beautiful
and not with timid and stale repetition like
and the words “I love you”
and birthday cards.
I watched with too-wide eyes at
perfect girls who still hated mirrors
and my mother staring critically at herself,
eyes burning like
slick with tears and dust’s sting,
I couldn’t see
me for the saltwater seas.
I realized that no one existed comfortably in their skin
and that was enough justification for me.
I fell to my knees like
prostitutes in dirty street corners
and I felt dirty
until my meals amounted to nothing -
until my binge-purge cycle on repeat
left me empty and clean like
gleaming garbage cans.
So I pretend like
dancing for aristocracy.
I carve a smile into my face
until it is convincing
and when I need to cry I excuse myself
I leave like
and I hope that if you never see me break
you will have no cause to allow yourself to
and you will never
have to square your jaw
by the perpetual grinding of your teeth.
And you will call yourself pretty.
And you will be speaking the truth.