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A Blue Water Bottle with the Word “Cheerleader” in White Letters

“Don’t use that. Someone might slip drugs in your water

because they don’t like cheerleaders,” my mother says

while I pack for cheer camp, shove tiny shorts and tanks 

into a duffle, snag a mylar pom fray in the teeth of the zipper,

flash her the bottom of my eyeballs.  For three days 

between asinine spirit fingers and sore throats, 

my squad mates will moon each other with our tits,

take polls on whether to kiss the guy after he licks your clit,

and, using the spirit stick as a stand in, give lessons on getting

him off. To be my mother’s daughter I must only swallow

the divine. She worries a boy will take without asking,

won’t admit her God cannot protect me,

because fear is a sin akin to dehydration. I’ll never tell 

how thirsty I feel when my hemline bounces

off the back of my thighs, when I baptize myself in glitter 

and crown myself with box-bleach hair dye.

Her solution is to scratch out the word “Cheer.” 

She thinks I can be a leader. As a woman. As a Christian.

She believes I will lead, until I’m led by a holy 

spirit, pressed into the passive of the active verb,

until I’m uniform, and come into the fold like my skirt: pleated— 

She prays for me with pins in her mouth, her tongue a hot iron.


Melissa Holm Shoemake lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two sons where she works in college administration and sometimes teaches at Emory University. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Mississippi and her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies including The Southern Humanities Review, The American Poetry Journal, Iron Horse Literary Review and The Southern Poetry Anthology. Her chapbook, Ab.Sin.The. is available from Dancing Girl Press.