My grandmother serves a banquet of rotisserie chicken, carrots and peas mixed with neon green beans that look impossible to grow. In the yard there are bikes, the Rainbow Brite doll I carried under my arm, barbies naked for anyone to claim, little women dappling the driveway in hot sun. My grandmother yells for their bodies to be clothed, made decent while the men watch baseball between bites, so we take them their dresses, push each stiff arm into its Velcro tomb. This is where we learn which bodies can be free, exposed without harm. How my grandmother tells us to clench our fists right, walk with purpose & never ask a stranger for help. Help, we say, when our bathing suits get stuck, hands clamped above our heads, her fingers pinching at the hair beneath our arms. She tells us to shave it off, make ourselves as little dolls, hairless cats that men will want to pet. Tell me how we learned both: to live for a man’s open mouth, to fear when he approaches us too fast.
About the Author
Christen Noel Kauffman is author of the lyric essay chapbook Notes to a Mother God (2021), which was a winner of the Paper Nautilus Debut Chapbook Series. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays(University of Nebraska Press), Nimrod International Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Willow Springs, DIAGRAM, Booth, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and The Normal School, among others