Vievee Francis

There are, after all, several ways to skin anything. My grandmother knew

most of those ways. She had been skinned herself (so to speak)

in that her skin was so often examined and found wanting.

What would one want to do with it, really? Despite the constant oiling

which left her arms soft as anyone could possibly desire,

her hands were ruins. She never hit me with them.

My grandfather took her with her hands at her sides.

Laundry water, cotton bolls, horse hide, the blood of goats.

She had to cook and I had to eat. She could skin a raccoon

in minutes. Revealing the flesh (actually a purpling pink) easy

as snapping a guinea neck. She would have given anything

to wake up in a new skin, though hers was delightful in the light.

But what did I know?

I’m not the first to ask that question. The toil took its toll

and though her face barely wrinkled, her knees and elbows darkened

into the skin I wear now. Roughened into the heels I scratch

against my husband’s calves in bed, because I don’t listen.

I refuse to wear shoes. I’m as country as she didn’t want me to be.

I loved the way she smelled. Like outdoors. Like new sheets. Hot

grease and rifle burn. Raisin pie with coffee. Front porch. Corn cob.

Her skin held all she did her best to scrub free. Scrubbed so hard

it liked to take the skin right off her.

Which was what she wanted. To have it off on her own terms,

not the eyes, all the eyes that demonized her: Unsightly. Dirty.

Unseemly. She saved for lace, for crinolines, for pretty gloves and

wide-brimmed hats to hide her skin. Mine is mottled. Stress-blemished,

but soft as hers and I know it. Easy enough to remove. As a girl I tried

to burn it off. To find the pink I was convinced lay beneath.

I’m not the first. I wore scarves she made to cover the evidence

of my curiosity. I give myself over

to the lotions of the day. Disparage the oils she did not love

but felt she needed. She’d stroke my cheek and say, “good baby”

and I’d feel good in my skin, in that moment.

I’d hold her tight some nights and whisper, “You are the prettiest,”

and she’d feel good, in hers. I want to forget, but I have my mirrors.

And there she is, shadowed, in a sun-struck field.

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