Role Models

Studies for the Education of the Virgin, Agostino Masucci

I watch my mother
as she sits at the kitchen table.
She stares into her magnifying mirror,
applies brunette eyebrow pencil
charcoal mascara, faint rouge.
She allows me to set her hair,
soft waves not yet dyed,
slimy blue gel, gold rollers.
I feel special. I stand behind her.
She faces away from me,
looks out at the clothesline.
She tells me I’ll never have a
boyfriend because I bite my nails.
She says I sit like a man,
my legs spread apart like that.
She hides popcorn in the broom closet
where she knows I’ll find it,
carves “fooled you” into
the top layer of peanut butter in
a jar that looks unopened.
When we argue, she stops talking
for days. “You upset your mother, “
my father says flatly. “Apologize.”
He fingers his belt. I apologize.
I don’t understand what I did wrong.
When I was around five,
I yelled, “Hi, you son of a bitch!”
at someone down the street,
in front of my father, who said
son of a bitch all the time.
He carried me into the house
and hit me with the belt.
I don’t think it made a difference.
I was interested in swears from a young age.