Registration for spring

Stepping out
into the hallway
at the end
of my class,
and a student
stops me to ask
could she have
a word, for next
week it is
for spring;
and am I going
to be teaching other
classes in poetry—
And she is disappointed
when I tell her yes
but not at the under-
graduate level.
She was hoping
to take more poetry
having really
this semester.
When I tell her
I am really glad,
she says she wants
to write her story,
then without
or preamble
she is talking
about her only son
and how she
loves him very much,
and I know it must
be so because
her eyes light up
and her voice
changes; then,
okay, she
has to confess
she had him
when she was 12
and that’s why
she wants so much
to write this story
and all the amazing
things she has learned.
I don’t remember
much anymore what I
might have been
thinking about
or doing at that age
—probably picking
secretly at the scabs
on my legs from being
prone to every
imaginable food
allergy; or self-
about the way
I thought everyone
in my school must be
looking at me
in disgust; 12,
probably wishing
I had normal parents
who would let me bathe
or wash my hair
more than once
a week when I
had my period,
because they
were of a generation
that believed it
unhealthy for a girl
soiling the water
with her blood.
As if blood and water
couldn’t mix, or as if
hygiene was less
an issue than a taboo.
I wound up
marrying young, too;
though not as young
as 12. I blame this
in part on our lack
of communication
about anything
the intimate— how
instead of candid talk
about questions and
anxieties, I got a book
called On Becoming
a Woman
into my hands when I
was 10, the age when
I began menstruating.
It had a cover
depicting a smiling
bride dressed in white,
surrounded by a bevy
of bridesmaids,
in front of a cottage
and a garden with masses
of flowers; and any
mention of sex
and where babies come
from was written,
it seems, almost entirely
in euphemisms. Far cry
from something like
Our Bodies, Ourselves,
which my daughters
got to read in their
own time. I don’t
get a chance to say
any of this to my student,
who is rushing off to her
next class; and I
as well have to get
to a meeting. But I do
reiterate my encouragement
of her desire to do
something more
with her writing—
even manage to tell her
of a contest run by a journal
looking for narratives
of profound changes
in a woman’s life.
Then we are off,
and the week is soon
over. I say See you
in class next week
and Don’t forget
to vote.

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