21/365: I Fail and Stay In the Picture

They wanted me to be lovely and
to put my hair in curlers or under a hot iron and
to maybe wear a dress that showed off my bosom, but not too much, and
to laugh without showing too many teeth and
to eat without ever licking my fingers or leaving grease marks on the glass.
They wanted me to pray before eating and
to please cover up the body I almost learned to love, and
to stay away from Catholic boys, because they only wanted one thing,
even if I also wanted that thing,
because passion was an unprincipled route to ruin.
I imagined myself smiling with lipstick on my lips and
a fake mole painted on with makeup to mark the corner of my mouth and
wearing hosiery and heels and
making polite conversation tailored to no one in particular and
touching men's arms when speaking to show them deference:
quieter, smaller, patronizing, guilelessly lovely
for the enjoyment of a good man.
I imagined that I never ran,
I cooked well,
I knew how to hand stitch a blind hem,
I dusted, and
I was a perfect servant to some yet absent but inevitable husband’s needs.
I imagined it, but it always ended without me in the picture.
All of me faded away in that forecasted life,
and I see that this is what was asked of me when I was child,
and this is the expectation that still filters who I am.
I fail at being sweet.
I fail at being good.
I fail at loving well.
I am a bad wife.
I am a bad person.
I am a side effect, a weak-willed child.
Defiance is bold and delicious and mighty —
I taught myself this early and well to survive —
but always I sit with this judgement,
lit by the unmet expectations born the minute of my delivery:
I broke everything, and
I broke everything on purpose to make it right, make it fit,
but the new boundaries don’t fit the old piece,
the only piece that was ever described to me by those I loved,
one prescribed to me at birth by ham-fisted patriarchs
who couldn’t know.
And so I fail,
and I am sometimes bad,
but I stay in the picture.

I am writing one poem every day in 2016, and I am using the hashtag #365poems to document my progress.