The First Shave

I am nine.
We are bored
and Karen is dying.
We drove to Austin
that summer
so Sarah’s dad—
who described Karen as
the great and impossible love
of his life, who taught us
the word lymphoma and then,
the concept of the prefix,
how it explains where the tumor lives—
could say goodbye.
The house is a rind
spooned out by the onset of death,
what’s left is a medicine cabinet
full of razors & we are hungry
& alone & sitting
on the living room floor
where the light
from a naked window
slices the hardwood
like melon, brandishes
each, individual fuzz
on my scabbed calf
a field of erect, yellow poppies
& we have been alive as girls
long enough to know
to scowl at this reveal
& what better time
than now to practice removal.
Once, I watched my mother
skin a potato in six
perfect strokes
I remember this
as Sarah teaches me
to prop up my leg
on the side of the tub
and runs the blade
along my thigh, See?
she says, Isn’t that so much better?
Before we left Albuquerque
her father warned us,
She will have no hair
a trait
we have just
begun to admire
except, of course
for the hair he is talking about
that which we hold against our necks,
that which will get us
husbands or compliments
or scouted in a mall,
eventually cut off
by our envious sisters
while we sleep.
first appeared in the chapbook New American Best Friend (Button Press, 2017)

Olivia Gatwood is a nationally touring poet, performer and educator from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work has been featured on HBO and Verses & Flow, as well as in Muzzle Magazine, Winter Tangerine, HelloFlo and The Huffington Post, among others. She has been a finalist at the National Poetry Slam, Women of the World Poetry Slam, and Brave New Voices and currently performs at schools across the country as an advocate for Title IX Compliant education. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute's Fiction Program.