Both of us were small, though she,

compliant, soft as white bread,

spent two years in Beginner Swim

for fear of ducking under water.

I’d bike downhill past her house,

where she nestled among four sisters

and brothers, my hands raised

from the handlebars, showing off.

That summer, I sheared Sharon’s

dishwater blond hair at her house,

though outside, away from May,

her harried mother who’d hustle

in seconds from basement to back

yard clothesline, from kitchen to

car port. My plan: to make Sharon’s

bowl cut chic, sleek.


Feeling professional, mature,

I used a spray bottle for styling,

finished with children’s scissors.

I still see Sharon seated on a chair

in her driveway, me standing

above her, both hidden behind

her father’s black Ford truck,

beige tufts sprouting from her head

like clumps of damp hamster fur.

I cried, though we both knew Sharon

would be fine. I was confined to

our house and yard, punished behind

an invisible fence, watched May fly

by in her station wagon, her kids waving

popsicle-sticky hands out the windows,

returning from the community pool.

It was not just my aloneness, my shame.

I felt my plans for summer, plans for

a brave, expansive life, each day

cut shorter.


VA Smith

VA Smith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in dozens of literary journals and anthologies, among them: Southern Review, Calyx, Crab Creek Review, West Trade Review, and Quartet. Kelsay Books published her first and second poetry collections, Biking Through the Stone Age, 2022, and American Daughters 2023. Her manuscript, Adaptations, is slated for publication in 2025. Her poetry has been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes. A former Liberal Arts Excellence in Teaching Faculty member at Penn State University, she is currently a staff member at River Heron Review, writing, practicing yoga, and home chefing. Learn more about Virginia’s work at, or on Instagram and YouTube @vasmithpoetry.

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