One Little Good Thing About It
by Patricia Smith
We wanted shredded silk on our job-greased heads, poised
to be dramatically kinked by several versions of migration
ghost. We wanted rippling rivers on each foot, taps on our
heels, yellow scalloped Easter socks. We yearned beauteous.
Mamas bathed our wriggling sprouting selves in a sluggish
stew of dishwashing liquid and Tide to quiet the loud south
in our skin. They oiled measured rows of scalp, torched toothed
irons in the gaslight, scorched flattened crowns. The streaked
red wounding on our necks and ears branded us soldiers in
Chicago’s war and said we had so much more work to do.
Across town, Richard Speck argued with his pink pitted face
in the mirror, whetted his knives and planned to ignore us.
Lord knows our mamas tried, but we just couldn’t get clean.