Family Values

Motherhood

When I was younger you used to take me to Chinatown
and as we ate fried noodles
you taught me how to use words like
man
and
woman
you taught me how to use the girl side of my brain
the one that tells me when winter has ended
and that tells me when someone means it when they
(say you are beautiful)
you told me i was a goose egg-
pure until cracked open
When I let a boy touch me for the first time
in freshman year
I guess I cracked my exterior
because by that time you were out the door,
a suitcase in your hand
and a takeout menu in the other

Because

they say you are who you are when no one’s watching
but how do i know what that is
if even i am blind
susceptible to the dark risky
ways i get people (to follow me)
i think i might be a bad person
but there’s no way to tell
my mother said i was when she found the never-used
lipstick i stole from Rite-Aid
i have laughed in a
stranger’s bathtub
alley
mother’s bedroom
does it mean i’m a bad person
that i didn’t care when my mother said
“i don’t know how to love you anymore”
it was so long ago that i can’t remember
if it was because i don’t care what she thinks
or i didn’t hear her
didn’t understand what she had said until i was in my room
half an hour later
doing bio homework and suddenly saying
“oh”
i think i am who i am when she’s not watching
was the purest version of myself
when i put on red lipstick
lit my first cigarette with a stove burner
but how can i be the purest version of myself
when i was born impure?
pure is blank, clean, but i am a scribbled mess
a surface too rough to scrub raw
the last time i was completely alone
i was sitting on the floor
of my mother’s bedroom
reading her diary
the page began with
“why”

Sisterhood

when i was twelve and you were fifteen
you taught me how to kiss
head bucked back
my warmth became yours
you told me you would be the girl
what does that make me?
i could feel the imprint of my blood in the skin grazing mine
the serendipity we share in our veins
so aware of the fact that i am just
your imperfect copy
salty and sharp, blushing into infinity

Eleanor Mammen, Age 14, Grade 9, Hunter College High School, Gold Key

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