She whispers “bastard” in my ear, her hands cupped tight,
breath hot, forbidden. I know a few swear words
and this one feels hollow, blank, but when mom says
“That’s not a nice name to call someone,” I know it’s a bad one,
it’s got weight. I keep it in my pocket for later when a boy
snakes his hand up my dress. For when a man presses too close
in the elevator. Say it in someone’s dark garage in high school.
Say it in the basement of the library. Say it to my husband.
Angelina has had it in her pocket a long time: embedded
in her hip bone, a quick-draw curse for her father,
her brother, her brother’s friends, her friend’s brothers,
and the men who blew up the hair salon
where her best friend sat, spinning in a chair,
hair curled for communion.
Later, after the world has lifted its skirt to me and bared
its dark weapons, I will see a photo of her and her daughter.
She is still a baby, toothless and clean, and words slip
off her skin smooth as milk. She may never need to say it.
But for now, we will say the word over and over.
It tastes like smoke, spice, smells like Angelina’s breath
when it is close to my face in my bedroom in the dark
where the night falls down around us like so much
pipe bomb shrapnel, a girl’s soft hair,