Self-Portrait with Arithmetic
White 1, yellow 5, red 10—at school,
my daughter’s learning math with colored blocks.
She sorts and measures, measures and sorts—
How many ways to make a 10?—rewarding same
with same. On the rug, the children rush to say
that she is 5 and so is he and she and she…
all except the boy who’s 6
and wonders if he’s turned another animal.
At home, my daughter says her skin is pale—
paler than mine—but mine is
paler than Jasmin, who’s paler than Jaziyah, who’s paler
than Aniyah, who’s paler than Laray, who’s darkest of all.
I watch her adding and subtracting.
Outside some kids are kicking ball.
We hear them through the window—
the last few leaves gold on their branches,
the sky already softening towards dusk.
How many ways to make a 10.
The light comes in to us translucent, cool.
We sit here, figuring.
Self-Portrait Without Wings
They would appear in middle school,
the fifth-grade girls announced at the bus stop
one morning. But middle school girls rode a different bus,
so I couldn’t check. Sometimes we’d pass one
waiting at her stop, and I’d squint to see—
something pulling at the shoulders
of her uniform, loosening along her spine?
I was never close enough.
The milk at school tasted empty
and sharp at the edges, like the large white rectangles
of paper Ms. Kempe gave us for portraits of trees.
I only had room for the trunks.
Riding home, I’d kneel up on the green vinyl seat to watch.
There was something about the way those girls walked—
backpacks hunched, their dark blue skirts unpleating
in the wind as they leaned in toward the bells of their shadows,
listening. The white dashes on the road blurred
into a long grey stripe, and I imagined us
rising in one large flock—school sweaters
and brown buckle shoes falling
through the bare branches below.
Self-Portrait as Smaller Moon
I wasn’t looking. I watched
years of tides dismantle coasts, watched
my shadow paint its pupil on revolving blue,
watched haze, watched bird, watched icecaps
spread and shrivel, but not the line I drew above
or what flew with me. What is
belonging? I floated in my dust and ore,
collecting light like sympathy from strangers,
and, when it came, the wind felt this way too—
polite intrusion. Pay attention,
mothers say, look both ways, don’t
follow strangers. But in that turning, I forgot.
Startled by this one larger—and so close behind—
I wobbled toward her, heeling
before I knew I moved. Where
does the moon go, mama? I went
to mountains, foothills, craters,
spread myself against the dark back of this lovely other,
burrowed in, as lighter rocks slipped singly by,
pursuing their own gravity.
Anna Ross is the author of If a Storm, selected by Julianna Baggot for the 2012 Robert Dana- Anhinga Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook Hawk Weather, winner of the New Women’s Voices Prize from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry, criticism, and essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Boston Review, Memorious, Salamander, Southern Poetry Review, The American Reader, and a. bradstreet, and she is the recipient of fellowships from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Grub Street, Inc., and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She teaches in the Writing, Literature & Publishing Program at Emerson College and lives with her family in Dorchester.