Quinceañera

My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.
Judith Ortíz Cofer, "Quinceañera" from Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. Copyright © 1991 by Judith Ortíz Cofer.  Reprinted by permission of Arte Público Press.
Source: Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (Arte Público Press, 1991)
More Poems by Judith Ortiz Cofer