paint poem

there’s summer’s pale breath in the softness of your shins
shiny smooth and I’m three, at your feet
transfixed by your hair shorn short like a little boy’s
and little me, I think I wanted to touch it
I know I was tall enough to reach it when you sat
instead though I stood and picked at your hot burnt shoulders and you shrieked
you were just trying to
cool down
I’m sorry I was too little to know not to peel away the dead parts,
to at least ask if you were ready to let them go

in a different form of our lives
I’m five, a squished face and short sobs as you pick apart my curls
on the bed in the guestroom
your last bedroom in that frame of a family home
looking ahead, we’re a mirror
your scowl a backwards evolution of my miniature frown
I wondered again at the shaggy shortness of your own hair while your patience wore on mine
a nest you couldn’t sort
the foreignness of twisted curls, the turns of a French braid a sudden and humbling humiliation
the magazine made it look so easy, still
you flipped through glossy pages and taught me motherfuck instead

grown now I fail to recall
the measure and might of my own shortcomings, like when
you painted the living room ceiling, I was fifteen and for weeks
red-brown patches stuck to the wrinkles of your elbows
and your salted pepper strands, blotches like earned badges
after I refused to help you,
or wasn’t around to speak the quiet parts
softly, that
love is slow moving moments, small changes
and forgetting

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