Finishing School

Emma Bolden

from Havens




Couldn’t sugar. Couldn’t sweet right. Couldn’t rat-
comb, couldn’t tease the boys with a belt and a bra, Madonna


coned. Couldn’t talk lady. Couldn’t coo. Couldn’t bless


the heart of Jesus till he bleached down to Southern, blonde.
That season slick and sudden, every man was gold and greened


unringed women into rot. I watched fat diamonds dew


the girls’ fingers. Then they floated. Chiffoned, sherbet.
Loving like their mamas, like a good pack of bones.


Dogged Virginia slim in the bottom of my pocketbook.


Couldn’t magnolia, moon. Couldn’t sheath dress. A’blossomed
beneath the sick of shower and sweet each m’am said


would woman us. Couldn’t honey the tongue. Couldn’t sponge


with syrup the acid of a sentence held up for the savior’d
to sip on. Crossed them traintrackers. Sweat in the skirts.


I hung around till babies borrowed their bodies. Blued,


they hung by their tulles, a ring of bad roses throwing
flat notes into a dumpster. Sixteen satin’d. Twenty-one


a glove. No matter the norths or souths I prayed no


fine boy picked my back for his bullet, but I wasn’t a lady
in waiting. For what? Beer breath. Buckshot. Pissed


vinegar, chained the table on which I offered my wants


to the chair. Cornmealed. I toughed grits. Growled
moonshine. Catalogued the ladies like a Sears. Bought


myself a little square of green and squatted, toothed


and rifled. Rocked the porch till every nail
shook loose. I never walked their plank.


Emma Bolden is the author of three full-length collections of poetry — House Is An Enigma (Southeast Missouri State University Press), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press) and Maleficae (GenPop Books) – and four chapbooks. She received a 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A Barthelme Prize and Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize winner, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best Small Fictions, and Poetry Daily as well as such journals as the Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, New Madrid, TriQuarterly, Conduit, the Indiana Review, Shenandoah, the Greensboro Review, Feminist Studies, Monkeybicycle, The Pinch, and Guernica. She currently serves as Associate Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly.

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