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September 13, 2022


Yasmine Zohdi & Sara Elkamel

            after Jamaica Kincaid

Wear the new dress with the orange flowers; sit down, let me untangle your hair; let me use a soft-bristled brush to smooth out the frizz; be still; keep your voice bent; tell me I didn’t raise a brazen girl; I know you hate your aunt’s zucchini, but you must leave nothing on your plate; don’t kiss your cousin’s cheeks—you’re almost a woman and last year, he became a man; be a woman; buy gold not rocks—for the dark days; blue deflects the evil eye; believe in fiction; did you seriously skip school to go to the movies on a Tuesday?; no, you can’t wear this black dress instead—you’re dark enough as it is; smile; don’t sit cross-legged in the presence of older people, don’t sit with your thighs so far apart in the presence of younger people; don’t read in bed, it’ll ruin your posture; never skip school; it won’t matter so much that you’re not exceptionally beautiful if you are exceptionally smart; no more ballet, no skimpy leotards in public; wear white; this is how you become your mother’s daughter; don’t go in the water; don’t go too deep in the water; don’t pick at the scabs it’ll scar you for your husband; wear white; don’t touch yourself, it will spoil you for your husband; keep the hair between your legs dense like a door; but I never skipped school and I like the water; this is how you purge your chest of April dust; this is how you read dreams; this is how you read coffee dregs; this is how to pluck your unruly eyebrows; this is how to squeeze out your blackheads without leaving a scar; this is how to remove any evidence of cleavage—a good woman hides more than she bares; this is how to hide your flat foot; this is how to lift a pen off the floor using only your toes—to deepen the arches; this is how you say no; this is how you say yes; this is how you break your heart without scarring yourself; you’ll stay at your aunt’s again tonight; make sure you pack decent pajamas—your cousin became a man last year; don’t stay up too late on the phone, they will think you’re going with a boy; don’t sleep in; help your aunt with breakfast; but I want to come home with you; this is how to hang your good clothes in the closet so they won’t crease; this is how to wash white; this is how to polish your silver jewelry so it won’t lose its luster; this is how you keep lines off your face; this is how you feed rose water to your skin; whatever you do, do not feed skin to your skin; this is how to pull the light of god towards you; this is how you paint a portrait of the future’s long long legs; this is how to outlive yourself; this is how you earn heaven—you must give of what you love; this is how you need nothing; this is how to pack an overnight bag, and don’t forget your toothbrush; but last time I woke up in the darkness and the new man’s hand was on my breast; were you wearing those pink shorts I told you not to wear?