A little girl
With golden hair reaching her tan
Told me, tongue to one side, half-licked lips
I don’t like you.
Afterward I asked
A disinterested person
Who was paid to iron my dad’s shirts and begrudgingly
Watch me until he returned
Why would someone not like me?
I hadn’t said this with some inflated belief that I deserved universal liking
But rather, an innocent question
That first time
Branding with the word knife
The girl with flax hair
Didn’t include me in hopscotch or skip rope
Ring a ring a roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tissue, a-tissue, they all fall down
She was the most popular and they chose her for Mary in the school play
Whilst I played a donkey, braying when gift bearing wise men arrived
The local woman who ironed my dad’s shirts
Begrudged making me a canned supper
I was a nuisance, playing in her dour house until 6pm every day
Throwing dirt on drab paving stones, pretending to be invisible
I don’t know why
She crossly replied
Her forehead wrinkled with steam
Curly hair rising, sleeves rolled up, sweat stains coloring
Maybe you’re a nasty little girl.
The next day when my father dropped me off on his bike
At the school gates
I walked the other way
I have been ever since
Learning to salvage myself
From unexpected spite.
If I met the peach-kneed Danish girl today
She’d likely have track-marks and bruised eyes
Turned out she was beaten beneath her starched frocks
Turning the wickedness back into the world
Isn’t that what hurt children do?
Perhaps it’s not wise to always listen to your elders
I’d warn the five-year old me
Playing with empty hands on the stoop of someone else’s street.
As an adult, when someone doesn’t like me
Which happens like storms and rain in May
Their voice reminds me of that first loneliness.
Children who stop believing in a kind world
Feeling sharp thorned scorn
Grow into adults who keep themselves sheltered
From the humans in wolf skin, prowling outside
Like castaway cries of surprise
When we think we are safe and
Still, we trip and fall.