26 October 2010
When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother
“What will I be? Will I be pretty? ”
Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?
What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich
which is almost pretty depending on where you shop.
And the pretty question infects from conception passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill of fluorescent floodlight of worry.
“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?"
But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dryad:
teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose,
face donkey-long, and pox-marked where the hormones
went finger-painting my poor mother.
“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist.” “You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! ” “You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were six, otherwise your nose would have been fine! ”
Don’t worry; we will get it all fixed she would say,
grasping my face, twisting it this way and that as if it were a cabbage
she might buy.
But, this is not about her.
Not her fault she, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset
she could bestow upon her awkward little girl
was a marketable appearance.
By sixteen I was pickled by ointments, medications, peroxides.
Teeth corralled into steel prongs, laying in a hospital bed.
Face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.
Belly gorged on two pints of my own blood I had swallowed under anesthesia,
and every convulsive twist,
like my body screaming at me from the inside out
“What did you let them do to you? ”
All the while, this never ending chorus groaning on and on
like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood.
“Will I be pretty?”
Will I be pretty like my mother,
unwrapping the gift wrap to reveal
the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her?
And now I have not seen my own face in ten years.
I have not seen my own face in ten years, but this is not about me!
This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in.
About women who will prowl thirty stores in six malls
to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue
where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy,
wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, b
eneath those two pretty syllables.
This, this is about my own some-day daughter.
When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity,
begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?,”
I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer no.
The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be,
and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.
You will be pretty intelligent,
but you will never be merely “pretty.”
Come on in, I’ve got a sale
on scratch and dent dreams,
whole cases of imperfect ambitions
stuff the idealists couldn't sell.
Yeah, I know none of its got price tags,
you decide how much its worth.
And none of its got glossy colored packaging
but it all works just fine.
I’ve got rainy day swing sets
good night kisses and stationary stars
still flying at the speed of light.
And over there out back
if you dig down through those
alabaster stoplights and those old 45’s
you’ll find a whole crate of second hand hope.
Yeah right there, that’s no chrome,
you just gotta work, polish it up a little bit.
Most folks give up too easy,
trade it in for some injection mold
and here and now.
And over there across the freeway,
you see that purple awning flappin’ in the breeze?
Well that’s Momma Genuine’s shop.
She’s older than all of us put together
but she still laughs like a house.
Now, she only sells tools but not like ya know,
she’s got saws that put back together,
drills that make whole. Mommas a cool legend to know,
and she sells duct tape too.
And down there at the end of the block
are two kids, crew cut and pig tailed
sittin’ behind abindle top table
selling peanut-butter ice-cream out of a galvanized pale,
and there’s no metaphor there its just good ice-cream.
So here’s what ya do, take a look around
pick out what reminds you of places you wanted to be
but gave up on going and jam it all in this big box called “now”.
Then go across the street to Momma Genuine’s,
ask her how she’s been , show her what I gave ya,
she’ll know exactly what you need
and then go back in the center of that freeway
and get to work making it all fit.
You wont have any directions or factory number tabs but don’t panic,
there’s a hundred ways to do it right
and none to do it wrong cause your startin’ out
with what’s already been given up upon,
you cant do any worse.
Use the tools momma gave ya,
hum a little while ya work.
Then you find yourself sproutin’ extra thumbs
Take a break.
Go around the block,
get yourself an ice cream.
Smile when they hand it to you,
tip em if you can
and when you get back it’s all gonna make sense.
You’ll see where it’s gonna fit perfect
and where the duct tape has to go.
And when you get finished,
take whatever spare parts you got at the bottom of “now”
and make yourself a little sign that says “tomorrow”,
and hang it on your masterpiece.
Then you go back down the block
to where those two kids are packing up
their peanut butter enterprise
cause somebody told them they’d fail
and I want you to hand them tomorrow.
Make sure they know how important it is.
After they’ve run off with it all elbows and smiles
y’all can come back here, we’ll do it all over again.
Now im not telling you this to make a profit,
that’s how so many good ideas go wrong.
I’m just tired of seeing every day people
screaming through these doors convinced
they’re gonna hock even their littlest hopes and dreams to fund their 401Ks.
I’m tired of seeing this whole world bet on going big
or giving up. Only handing out glory to newspaper headlines
and story book endings, ‘cause the truth is
I think we need those swing sets most on the rainy days.
I’m happy going to sleep after just a goodnight kiss,
and I believe that beauty can be as simple as two kids,
crew cut and pig tales, handing me a scoop of peanut butter ice cream
that’s so good, you’d think it was a dream.