by Mari Nichols

A woman’s outline was painted urgently onto the body of a girl
in slashing red brush strokes.
She didn’t notice then: the adults observing,
deconstructing meaning in thoughtful stage whispers.
It wouldn’t have mattered.
She had no appreciation for art or animus
and no patience for the obscure.
Yet she believed all abstraction was obscure.

Girls mature faster…
A vague warning when she first heard it,
but by then she knew it as a vile lie.
Already the boys wanted mature things
with an urgent curiosity once kept hidden behind oak trees.
Now it slithered up their legs, tangled in their hair,
and marked them with its musk.

The girl?

She wanted only to know
how pigment gave art life,
and why the woman was so frantic to escape
that she rained in long, sad droplets from from the girl’s pores.
She wondered why a vine grew from nowhere
binding her innards before emerging through her throat.
In retrospect, she will note the moment
and call herself ma’am.

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