in front of the fruits there stands a girl of sixteen, maybe less.
she’s in a pretty blue dress and shiny black boots
and she feels like the loveliest thing in the world.
powder and ruffles curled, soft sky, buttons shy on pale skin,
hair of velvet cream and a pin brooch from grandmother’s
glass jewelry bin. sleeves of dream’s crêpe, high collar
above champagne silver locket, hung with frail chain.
she wonders, standing in the supermarket city,
if mother will let her borrow rose blossom blush again.
she thinks perhaps she likes this feeling of looking pretty.
but she does not like how they stare,
eyes of oil and grease and old, proud privilege
crawl up her tights and cling to her neck. she remembers
during the nights alone, dark and unknown, the feeling of that gaze.
slipping, seizing, unwanted under the folds of her skirt slit
and straps of the bra she is barely big enough to fit.
their voices follow their eyes, call and claw after fast walking feet,
cling like death, sick and sweet, to red ears and shaky breath.
she does not like boys. she especially does not like
their eyes and their hands and their lips filled with arrogant noise.
because they seem to think the pretty blue dress and shiny black boots
are just for them. along with everything else, the gum in her mouth
and the white-sparkle of a fake gem. it’s theirs to own,
overpower, lay unpleasant claim, frame their shallow, shameful
escapades and justify their freedom of unsought speech.
preacher and choir of their own arousal, as if a little laugh
is equal to mutual desire, they stare and reach out
to comb cold hands rough through fair hair and bare arms.
vile, vicious eyes tireless roam, and with a stinging
throat of bile and a scared, frozen smile, she runs home.
in front of the mirror, in the walls where they cannot reach,
there stands a girl of fourteen. no more, no less.
she takes off her pretty blue dress and shiny black boots
and hangs them up, neat and next to mother’s moth-balled suits
in the closet. here, they can stay in the security deposit
of safe, hidden fear, among the storybooks and queer love
she already keeps there. she thinks now she will wear trousers
and too big t-shirts, a jacket of brown canvas and a low,
pulled-down hem. that should stop their eyes, their hands,
their lips. she thinks. that should stop them.
This poem by Kayla Wilford is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition