Rite of passage

by MEG REYNOLDS

Between spine-stubborn roots, pine needles are dry hair
crackling indigo and slate. Around the rim of the lake
sloshes alcohol and starlight. Even if I hold
the night-black bark in my fists like a skirt
in the wind, we won’t stop. In the trail, my grandmother
carves two long tracks in the curve of a girl.

My hair is braided to my grandmother’s.
Lock over lock, she’s knotted and holds
as close as a sunfish holds lake
water. There were times when I was a girl
that the essence of pleasure was to have my hair
brushed and braided at the hem of her skirt.

But what do I know of pleasure? The house lifts its skirts
as a boy wrests me toward it. My grandmother
stumbles and thuds behind me, her hair
snapping like frozen power lines against the hold
of messy tangles and his engine legs. I’m your girl!
Don’t leave me!
I scream at the lake.

The moon noses my underwear on the lake,
oil-black and mirrored. I ask, Who shucked off my skirt?
What kind of person wants to get inside a girl
with a grandmother tied to her head?
My grandmother
says she would rather be thawing steak tips, asks to hold
a blanket over me or at least wrap a towel around my hair.

Inside, he forces his hand, his tongue, my girl-
tongue flares back with love. I taste wet hair
and lake water and my grandmother.
As I slide, naked and drunk, into a lake
of fire, he runs a cold shower. She cries, Your skirt!
Where is it? Be a lady. Don’t you let him take hold
.

But he has me now. He stands to hold
my head down. I am no longer a girl
but a mouth. My grandmother crouches like a skirt
at my waist. He can’t feel her through my hair.
I’m the wet catch, silver he got out of the lake.
He’ll soften if he hears the voice of my grandmother.

And though he can’t see her, my grandmother
sees him and goes quiet for a second and ink-heavy as the lake.
Then she says, Look what he’s done. Look what he’s done to your hair.

Meg Reynolds is a poet, artist, and teacher living in Vermont. She holds her MFA from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Her work has been published in The Missing Slate, Prelude, Mid-American Review, Southern Quarterly, and the anthology Monster Verse: Poems Human and Inhuman. She is the co-director of writinginsideVT, a program that offers supportive writing instruction at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. She hosts and organizes the Lit Club Poetry Series at Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, VT.