September 3, 2021

Susan Browne

STRAWBERRY

When I got my period, there wasn’t any sweetness 
in sitting on the toilet waiting for my mother 

to return from the store with the white rowboat 
I’d have to wear between my legs once a month 

for the next 38 years. It was summer, the strawberries 
ripe in the backyard where my father was sweeping the patio, 

walking over to the bathroom window to say, “Okay in there?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, shuddering in embarrassment

& lying, but who told the raw sodden biological truth?
My mother, my father, my older sister, at least one of them

might have let me in on the devastation of menstruation.
I mean, I’d heard of it like I’d heard of death—

a vague rumor or something that happened  
to anyone other than me. I wasn’t even sure yet

if I wanted to be a girl. Being female was a truth
I couldn’t escape, but that didn’t keep me from trying. 

I left the baby dolls my aunts & grandmothers gave me 
in the dirt while I tore around the neighborhood

with Carl & Doug, riding bikes with our shirts off & throwing 
Swiss Army knives at each other’s feet, seeing how close we could get. 

I disliked curlers & cooking & sewing & women 
in movies looking stupid as drool, crying when some douche 

gave them a diamond ring in a glass of champagne with a strawberry in it.
I hated strawberries. Everybody making a big deal about how good 

they tasted when I thought they were way too sugary & sticky 
& the seeds got stuck in your teeth

& now they reminded me of my period, a word I couldn’t stand,
why the hell blood dripping out of a body  

was called a punctuation mark. Oh yeah, it was something about time 
& here I was at the beginning of this cycle that would ruin every season, 

including my favorite. How could I go swimming, wear a bathing suit
was all I could think about as my mother arrived & helped me strap on 

the contraption of doom. She, to my great relief, did not say anything 
as horrifying as you’re a woman now. I would have stabbed her 

with my Swiss Army knife. She tip-toed away as I sat in my bedroom,
my insides cramping like I’d swallowed a pitchfork, the sun blaring 

in the window & blowing strawberries at me. A few years later, I was allowed
to use a tampon, but no one told me how that worked, so I jammed it in 

with the cardboard still on & hobbled out of the bathroom, my legs bowed.
When I asked my sister & her friend why it didn’t fit, they laughed so hard,

rolling around on the floor. Another soggy kind of hell while I tried 
to get it out & they left for the beach.  

When they returned, eating strawberry Frosty cones, I was reading a novel 
& recovering from PTSD. I’m lying about the cones, but let’s say 

I took a taste anyway. I’d met a boy at a dance that summer.
It was like a line drawn in blood on the grass & I slid into another world.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021

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Susan Browne: “I’ve been in love with poetry since I was twelve when my next door neighbor gave me a book of poems, Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. Archy is a cockroach and a free verse poet. Mehitabel is a cat in her ninth life with many stories to tell. Archy has to throw himself headfirst onto each typewriter key in order to write. I was inspired! Poetry is my way of being in the world. I don’t know any other way.” (web)

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