The first time we met I was seven years old.
You were my mother’s, before
I stole you, tiptoed with you
rolled into my favourite washcloth, a secret
ill-gotten beauty pageant award. You accompanied me
into the bath where I introduced you to my limbs.
That morning at school I had met their dark
forest for the first time.
All day their thick veil was all I could see.
You swooped in to the rescue,
my companion in de-shaming. Together
we rid my legs and arms of their embarrassing thicket,
left them a mannequin
of beauty instead. I kept you close from then.
When I didn’t have time to visit you,
I chose cotton over flesh, wore shorts to the pool.
At ten, you met my toes, after their free sprouting
had been pointed out at the school athletics day.
At twelve, a boy in my swimming team told me he could see
the shadow of my underarms, and again I turned to you,
the only one who could encourage me back into the pool.
At thirteen I replaced you with your sharp-toothed cousin,
ripped my shames out at the root, one by one.
That pain marked the years, rings in the tree of my growing up.
At twenty I left you to gather dust through the winter,
until a male friend noticed my jeans rise up to expose
the undergrowth of my legs, destroying the poster
of womanhood he kept pinned up in his mind.
In defiance I left you untouched for another month.
The feminist in me wants to believe I don’t need you
at all, yet before putting on shorts or dresses to model
myself as woman in public spaces, I still find myself drawn
to your sleek elegance. You are still the first one I turn to
when I need reminding that I am attractive. My self confidence
reliant on your smooth compliments.
I can live without you, but only when
the parts of me you know best are hidden.
Melissa Sussens (she/her) is a queer veterinarian and poet. Her work has appeared in Capsule Stories and Anti-Heroin Chic, among others. She placed 2nd in the New Contrast National Poetry Prize and lives in Cape Town with her fiancé and their dogs. Find her on Instagram @melissasussens and Twitter @girlstillwrites.