In fifth grade, the year after our school
became co-ed, when I stood up for recess
I left a smear of blood on my seat.
The teacher took me to the faculty office,
found me a pad and helped me wipe the dark
spot from my navy blue skirt.
Then when we returned to class she made me
the morning’s science lesson, never
realizing how deeply I flushed
from shame. At home, surrendering my soiled
uniform and undergarments to my mother,
I was lectured on chastity and virtue, not quite
understanding yet what they had to do
with this body so newly perforated
from inside, from an unseen wound.
She went and bought a copy of a book
with a bride all gloved and veiled on the cover
amid a retinue of bridesmaids—
On Becoming a Woman— and thrust it
into my hands, not knowing how else
to talk about it. The rest
I was supposed to figure out myself, along with
how to manage the mess, the cramping, the stale-
sour smell that floated as if just beneath
the surface of the skin. The only out-
ward rules: too dangerous to start holding hands
or kissing any boys. No eating musky fruit. No bathing.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.