First Red Dress

Ladan Osman

It’s sleeveless, upper back bare but I’m eight

and not fleshy. Skinny and free to show skin.

I want perfect bows. I straighten

and am cowed, the knots too tight.

Try again, disappointed in the new wrinkles.

My mother’s hands smell like lemon detergent,

her palms a little moist. It’s August, my birthday month,

everyone’s necks and backs of knees slick in the afternoon.

I run to show my brother, and the-one-I-must-call-brother.

“I like it,” my brother says.

The other says, “Go out in that dress

and you’ll get split like a watermelon. Down there.”

I can twirl and balloon its full skirt.

I take full strides. How could I rip anything?

Fall on a big rock? Cut myself down there,

though it’s never happened before.

First red dress and difficult to put on, take off.

Red cotton with peacock feathers all over.

I leave the bad feeling of the boys’ room,

think of my flesh as a broken watermelon,

seeds making pupils on the feathers’ eyespots.

Pink flesh and black eyes on my flesh,

like the time I dropped a melon on the front step

after carrying it alone from the car.

Me and my mother and brother ate it anyway,

spooned into its split. Left some for the ants.

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