tended, tangled, and veined

i.
girl.

a small word. too small.
but girl they called her, and girl she claimed.

she practiced her girlhood with heat–stricken hair, sheared nails, scrubbed skin.
she baptized herself with fat wrung from beans and battered into butter.
she oiled her joints with poise,
scented her flesh with propriety,
and clothed herself in performance.

she practiced girlhood,
but she never quite perfected it.

ii.
rosie.

a summer name.
a girl name.

her name.

she carved it into the grit butting against mom’s garden—
(tenderly curated rows of pansies and dahlias and daisies and no roses at all)
—each letter a series of jagged–edged trenches.

maybe if she dug them deep enough the runoff would nestle into her cracks.
maybe if she scarred the earth with the summer–soft–thorn of her name,
the grit would muddy into soil and burst with blooms.

maybe rosie could grow roses
with nothing but her girl nails and her girl name.

iii.
roses never grew
but something else did.

iv.
glass.

she found it in the rain:
a tall glass thicket, tangled
and veined with every glossy color of an oil slick,
rising from the gritty–gash of her name.

it could have been an exhibit in a museum—
a budless rosebush blown beautiful by man’s hands and tools
—if not for the roots pulsing under the earth under her soles,
or how it swayed in the starched breeze and steamed away the rain.

she pressed her hand against its surface and shivered
as warmth slid along her palm’s many channels,
boring down into her meat and blood and traveling
along her bones, further,
further down and in and through,
finally nestling in her lungs so that her next breath came out spiced
with the heat of her.

v.
rosie tended her glass.

she folded pats of body butter into the soil,
spritzed the earth with rose water,
washed its surface in extra virgin olive oil.
she banished curious weeds and worms and slugs,
and swaddled the briar in fleece when the moon broke cold.

it wasn’t enough.
the glass fogged,
chilled,
wilted.

vi.
she stole one diamond earring from mom’s dresser,
slipped it into her palm (cool again, too cool).

she etched a line in the eager glass, then another, and another.
shallow cuts, straight and careful,
but they didn’t turn to letters like she planned.
no matter the purity of her strokes, or the surety of her will,
rosie did not appear.

she remembered the sight of it scratched into the earth,
the pressure of it packed under her nails,
the taste of it behind her teeth,
but she couldn’t remember the heft of her name anymore.

she searched her mouth, her throat, her stomach, her bowels,
deeper—into the secret cavern of her where rosie had always settled alongside girl,
if not comfortably, then courageously,
both puffed up like blowfish, bloated with the desire to be enough.

such small words.
too small.

she cut deeper into the glass.
long, wild gouges sliced over and over with no thought, no intent,
only the violence of too small, too big, too wrong.
scratches became gashes became canyons—
wide and deep and endless like this yawning inside her
—until she tore open a vein and oil–bright blood slicked over her stolen diamond,
her jagged nails,
her raw skin,
over and down into the earth she’d scarred and baptized.

(Editors’ Note: “tended, tangled, and veined” is read by Amal El–Mohtar on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 8A.)

Kayla Whaley

Kayla Whaley is a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and an editor at Disability in Kidlit. Her work has appeared in Uncanny MagazineThe Toast, and is forthcoming in the anthology Feminism for the Real World (Algonquin Young Readers). She lives outside Atlanta with too many books and not nearly enough cats.

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