I’m standing in the last row before my fourth grade class photo.
Underneath a banner that reads “Swimming to Success”, I shrink low.
The photographer laughs before snapping our photo, unknowing.
Wanting to vanish behind bodily rows of innocence,
The second row once familiar, at a distance, stolen like
the Pokemon game I loaned to Jose L. that sailed away.
With my turtlenecked red and black striped shirt and high ponytail,
My eyes dart around to Rosa G. and Carlos V. grinning.
Anchored in the third row, their focus is on the camera.
I crouch lower, my knees angrily shake daring exposure.
A fly lands on Ms. Haynes’ blue coffee mug unnoticed, my hero.
The day before swiftly floods my brain, serving to sink my smile.
Ms. Haynes sent a note home to my mom saying it was urgent.
Only familiar with notes on report cards boasting my success,
the tiny cream envelope was new water, making me sick.
Sad the message would not reveal itself when held up to light,
I gave my mom the note before dinner as the clock struck 5.
My mom read it and said nothing until three hours later.
Sitting me down, her words came brittle, turbulent, and foggy,
“You see, you’re becoming a woman,” her humility spoke.
And being too poor at 8 pm on a Thursday, she stopped.
Getting up, she tossed me a faded brassiere from her drawer.
“Use this now until I can get you something that fits better.”
I left the room holding the yellow fabric I’ve seen before.
This and others hand-washed, the putrid smell of Brillo lingered.
I would wear it the next two weeks before my mom’s next paycheck,
because food stamps didn’t work at Macy’s intimate section.
I found the note months later, made of black ink and flowy script.
It said boys were staring and this needed to be fixed quickly.
A ripple built of what it meant to be poor and a woman.
So there I stand small in the last row in my fourth grade photo.
Hands, a shield over my chest, for the next few years, tremble as
someone yelled cheese, and the whiff of aged Brillo swallowed me whole.
Bree Bailey (she/her) is a new mom who lives near NYC with her partner and her beautiful baby poet. Bree has written since childhood and tends to reflect on growing up, falling in/out of love, and family. Bree loves tacos, cheese, laughter, and friendship, but gets anxious and delirious if they happen at the same time. Bree’s poems are forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, Sledgehammer Lit, and All My Relations, among others.
Follow her on Instagram @breebaileypoetry or Twitter at @thebreebailey.