WE WERE THE ENGINE

It was a sleepover
& she’d never
put her hair up
in a high ponytail
before. We’d been
best friends for years,
bought cheap necklaces
that split hearts
into even best
friend pieces,
but tonight
we were all
sick of her: how
she thought
the lyrics
to TLC’s Unpretty
were Damn! I’m pretty!
how she cried
mascara-blue tears
because if we got
redistricted she’d
have to break up
with her boyfriend
and now, we were all
talking seriously
about which song
to make a dance
routine to
& where was she?
Her face almost
touching the mirror
as she looked in,
never breaking
self-eye-contact
& bobbing her head
to make the high
ponytail bounce.
Mary Lynn?
we asked her,
she didn’t care.
She made us
go around the room
& say what
we didn’t like
about ourselves.
She’d always
go first, turn
her complaints
into bragging:
My eyelashes
are too long, so
you can’t tell
when I’m
wearing mascara!
or My boobs
are bouncy and boys
look at them! always
in a fake whining voice.
This game was supposed
to get us to palm
her knees & say, No
they’re not Mary Lynn,
you’re perfect.
We were all eleven,
a never-ending list
of the awkward
ways our bodies
were changing:
we wished our boobs
were real boobs & not
these nubs, wished
we were taller,
skinnier, had
our periods, had
hair in the right
places, had a smaller
nose, bigger
eyes, lighter hair,
the right clothes,
the right makeup.
Her response
was always,
There’s surgery
for that
when you turn 18!
or TRUE! blurted
without looking up
from her Teen People.
In a few years
a rumor spread
about her, so gross
it would have to be
at least part true.
Something about
a boy fingering Mary Lynn
on a playground,
hitting the wrong button
& she pooped
in his hand.
Didn’t we all grin
when we heard?
Were we the engine
behind this story,
embellishing
as we passed it on:
the floral skirt
she dirtied, the smear
on the slide, & never
the boy whose hand
misfired. And didn’t
we all want to
believe it? Our own
bodies safe & hidden
in our clothes.

Danni Quintos is a Kentuckian and an Affrilachian Poet. She received her MFA in Poetry from Indiana University, where she taught Creative Writing and served as an Associate Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her poems have appeared in Day One, Pluck!, Anthropoid, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Best New Poets 2015 and elsewhere. Rumor has it, she is knitting a cocoon, from which she will emerge when her first book manuscript is finished.

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