To Esmerely at Claire’s, who tells my daughters it won’t hurt—
Look, it always hurts. In this hell, my eyes burn cherry red fusion lemon lime explosion sea of shopkin honey bun clip-on bubble-gum soda pop purple rainbow eye shadow lip gloss blush brush unicorn tie dye diamond crusted crustaceans on necklaces scarves that shimmer shine. The whole shebang outrageous girlish coquettish. Don’t my daughters love it here. Like a sparkling beacon lighthouse ship in the distance buoy life-boat savior. Jesus don’t they anchor towards glitter? Don’t they run bump awkward dance child like hip shake towards the sounds of pop culture raining down streamers of tutus and gloves with emojis. Getting your ears pierced – no matter the earring – be it emerald blue birth stone star lemon drop cross for Christ gold ball is gonna hurt. And so when Miriam – brave as she is – and she is – says she wants it done, of course I say yes. And when she smiles from heart necklaces to best friend lockets and holds on tight, I can see her whole three and half year old self grow decades before me. Once done, her wail is one for the ages. A heave and push. And when Miriam refuses the second ear and weeps so hard she vomits all over my scarf and coat and bag and the coats of theirs that I’m carrying, all I can think to say is It fucking hurts, Esmerely. And maybe one of us should have been gutsy enough to tell the truth.
In the 7th grade—
on the back of my school picture—me: hair a frizzed up mess, me: in a silky shirt (that was not silk,
more like synthetic-ness) with a striped vest that attached only in the front. A faux vest if you will. It was the year 1993, and on the back of all my friend’s pictures, I wrote: What a time to be alive! And I meant it. Just before I’d even had a first kiss or sex or any of the future love of any kid & fun & dance parties & laughter. Before I even knew any of that was coming for me. Before travel & New York City & friendships & meals that would last lifetimes & children & David. Before I could even see all of that into existence, I shouted & cheered: What at time, what a time, time, time to be alive!
Miriam Dawson Hagan
You skillet-sizzler woman, grease eyed pop
& hot, you stove-chanter, apron-wear-er,
Knife-wielder, waist-shaker, you witchy kitchen
of coven & craft. You palm-swatter, shift-slinger,
Late-stayer, crossword doer, milk drinker, country-
fied, sweet spot haver, arms plenty, hand
You stuffing wizard, veggie chopper, spin winner,
potato skinner, lard user, slim sister
You spatula wielder, casserole baker, butter
to his bread, you tale teller, turkey dresser,
sous chef shit talker.
You exalted sweet tea mixer, fried egg wonder,
majestic Mama to nine bodies, you grand-
grander. Show stunner,
all the time. I miss you.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the author of two poetry collections, Crowned and Hemisphere, as well as Watch Us Rise, a YA collaboration with Renée Watson. Another poetry collection, Blooming Fiascoes, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2021, and Reckless, Glorious Girl, a middle grade novel in verse, is due from Bloomsbury in 2021. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found on ESPNW, in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. A proud Kentucky writer, Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.
Image: Film still from Perte by Alan Coon