Julie Brooks Barbour
Girl Flips the Sounds of Profane Words on Her Tongue
I didn't know the meanings but recited them until an adult shamed me.
What arrived: the shaky spinning sense that I committed an act so treacherous I could never again enter a public space.
Heat ran through my face and ears, my torso and bowels. I ran to the nearest tree where its hanging leaves enfolded me.
When nervous I spoke quickly or overflowed, never ripened my words or waited for the right moment.
My father jangled keys against coins in his pockets, impatient. Was my voice impatient for the next thing, or terrified? What spell might have released me?
I swore to never creak my mouth open again.
Girl at the Dinner Table
Across the table are female cousins I barely know, visiting for a few days from another state. They're tanned with beautiful hair and wear the latest high top sneakers and neon sweatshirts. I'm wearing my favorite outfit, an oversized purple sweater and acid washed jeans, but it's not as cool. They joke with one another that I'm so skinny they're surprised I menstruate. I smile to show I'm a good sport while my stomach clenches. Beside them my aunt laughs and suggests that I eat another dinner roll so I don't drift away in the next strong wind.
Seated beside me, Grandma takes small bites of sweet potato and collards slowly. She finishes her food at her own pace and no one pays attention. It's as if she's eating alone and I want this. Her fingers gently rest on my arm for a moment. We share a glance I don't understand.
At the edge of the conversation, Grandpa chimes in: I should pull my hair back with barrettes so people can see my face. I worked on my hair for an hour before dinner: set my bangs with hairspray and nearly burned my forehead with the curling iron. But these people want me to look like the girls at the mall whose mothers buy them a new wardrobe of clothes each season and send them to tanning beds. The girls who don't have to tame a head of curly hair every morning before school. I push my food to the edges of my plate and wait for the seats to empty, but no one moves. My aunt coaxes me to eat a deviled egg or two but the sulfur smell makes me ill so I ask to be excused. Maybe I'm coming down with something, my father speculates.
I don't return until the dining room is vacant, the table cleared. My empty stomach leads me to the kitchen. I keep my steps soft. When I touch the refrigerator door, my mother suddenly appears. She asks why I'm still hungry. She warns me I'll gain weight if I don't gain some control.
Julie Brooks Barbour
is the author of two collections, Haunted City (2017) and Small Chimes (2014), both from Kelsay Books, and three chapbooks, including Beautifully Whole (Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2015) and Earth Lust (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in South Dakota Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Whale Road Review, Escape Into Life, Moon City Review, Menacing Hedge, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry and Prose
. She teaches writing at Lake Superior State University where she co-edits the journal, Border Crossing
. Visit her website (linked).