Six Year Old, et al

Six Years Old

First pet store: armful of bunny
that it hurt my chest to love and
mother lied, said daddy was allergic,
bye bunny. Miss you.

Big book full of dog pictures
in my sister’s little lending library,
Powerpoint presentation:
Dogs are loyal, they are soft,
sister’s pointer: idea A, result B.
Daddy came home with an armful of dog
who shit on his boots in the airport,
almost died from the tranquilizers
he had to give her on the plane.

Dog tried to dig a hole in her bed:
not in the wild anymore, I whisper.
Big garden: not for dog.
Reminds me of circus, one time I went,
tiger bones too frightening,
couldn’t watch.
Six here again, hit those clowns
with my fists: tiger’s not your plaything, clown.

Now older, love my stupid dog
but I want a gator for a pet,
his smooth silky old stomach, dinosaur bones,
to hold hands (claw to hand),
to put a leash on it:
Just taking my gator for a walk, Mr. Neighbor!

Bunnies in a petstore window:
Oh, my heart,
my dinosaur bones.

Soft

My sister and I used to sleep in bunkbeds. I was bottom, so when we stayed up late
I’d hook my toes under a slat above and roll back, stay until my pajama top slid back to show fleshy rounded middle, pushing out, trying to fall in a heap to my chest below.

Becca looked 40 when she was 6, stick skinny with an affinity for skirt suits, thinwired round glasses, short straight hair. Her first word was thank you, in German even- how precocious, so small and charming.

A little less neat: pictures of me at 6 sitting in the front seat of my father’s car, hands insistent at the wheel, head whipped back defiant, eyes right into the camera; I press out a loose tooth with my thick pink tongue.

Becca thought she’d pick up the family trade and I started hating having my picture taken. My father brought his work home with him and they talked in apertures and f-stops, but Becca was her own favorite subject, took a thousand pictures of her toes and gave up on being the artist.

Around that time the baby fat started to bother me—visited my father’s set, only saw that you had to look a certain way to be in front of the camera, had nothing to say to him on the way home.

Swimming one summer I made my mother cry when she ran into the house for a camera and I yelled until she put it down. Felt so disgusted I wanted to tear from myself in handfuls. Too much, I told myself, look how Becca can cross her legs once and then again,
so small and simple.

600 calories today and I don’t deserve anymore because the camera adds 10 pounds; I lift my father’s old shirt that I sleep in sometimes checking for hips ribs heart,
so small and simple.

Sylvia

My almost-aunt Sylvia had long shiny red fingernails
which she would file while
my uncle told us excitedly how he met her in Cuba
and what a shithole he’d taken her out of,
how she was going to go to school;
she looked up when she heard her name
and smiled politely.

I never saw her pregnant so I don’t know if
she ever looked less perfect.
The next time I saw her she was
even more beautiful because she was completely electrified;
my uncle would probably
have taken her back if he saw her there
or at least remembered why
he took her in the first place;
each lovely black hair stood on end??
as she, in the middle of the street,
tried to negotiate the return of her Nana, her baby,
in the broken bits of language she had picked up.

I hope that she was surrounded by Spanish speaking attendants
and that they were sympathetic;
I have seen people get caught up in my uncle’s shit before
so I don’t like that he gets to play the victim,
even though she escaped a few months ago
and trapped his new girlfriend in the bathroom,
even though she was waiting for him when he got home
with a knife in her hand,
even though he spoils his daughter rotten now.

I like to think of her growing up in Cuba
and if a mind like hers could have been saved
if it had been allowed to stay young a little longer.
My father says: my brother never had any concept of growing up,
but it’s my father who never had a concept of being young.

I will never forgive my uncle for ruining my vision
of throwing everything away
for a world where you know nothing
but the man you love and his money.

Everyone has their own love story
but my parents were so unappealingly stable when they met;
maybe that’s why they don’t understand,
why they’re so able to point out everyone else’s bad decisions.
My father told me he likes my nails clean,
that they are healthy young nails
and I should be proud.

Louisa Ballhaus
Age 17, Grade 12
Hunter College High School
Gold Key

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