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Cynthia Manick: a poem

When You Learn to Be a Lady

On summer mornings you crave: blackened foot heels and backyard lakes, water shrinking barrettes to an almost-paradise crown of four little knots on your head. Layers of dirt from days of playing so hard you sprawled, a dizzy starfish with five points ready to slay mongrel trees, trap dragon hide, or moonwalk with cherry blow-pop mic in hand. But then one day an older Aunt says girl you better clean those dirty feet so the devil don’t know your name. Putting a lid on thirst, you copy grace from church ladies, TV's Phylicia Rashad, and Kim Fields as best friend Tootie. Turn to bottles to smooth hair-line edge, baptised

stockings and folded lady legs. Be glossy-lipped, use Dark & Lovely until you learn to lean into the earth only in dreams.

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press) and editor of Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation (Jamii Publishing, 2019). She is the founder of the reading series Soul Sister Revue, and her work has appeared in Callaloo, Poem-A-Day, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. You can find her on


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