by Freesia McKee
The mechanic works into the next day’s
early hours, searching through recycled cigar
boxes piled with ordinary parts, wiping her greasy hands
on the worn thighs of her corduroy overalls. The glow
of the garage’s center bulb flickers in its metal cage as her
Ani DiFranco cassette tape reaches the end
of its final track and she turns it over again.
I know—who listens to cassettes anymore?—but
we were girls.
There were pool tables and dartboards,
there were women playing pool,
there were women playing darts. There were women
with short curly hair, there were women
with long black hair, there were women
whose sunglasses shined on the table. There were women
with bike chain backs. There were women
with arms like rivers.
There were women with eyes that told the time. There were women
talking and sipping
drinks and there were doors
and the doors didn’t roll up.
We were girls:
Girl smudging the bright rose
of her cigarette into the ground.
Girl wearing a hot metal
Southside girl, rural girl, girl with green eyes,
rusty girl, shining girl.
Watercolor girl. Girl
who knows you
by both of your first names.
Opulent girl. Girl with binoculars. Girl
with histories like a scrapyard.
I’m a girl, a digging dog. I run
the length of the graze.
I know how to feed an animal.
Stay-away girl, visitor girl, girl
wearing both sides of a wall.
At this checkpoint, they tell you that you want
to go home
to the home they’ve chosen for you. They tell you that girls
like you don’t want to be in places like this,
places like the places we met.
Every road in the city of gender
has a checkpoint, official ritual.
When you come out
the other side, you’re closer
to the next checkpoint
which is why some girls forge their own roads.
How I want to give every girl a card
that says cartographer, not because this land
is untrodden, but because every person
needs to find her own way
to remember it. This is how the mechanic
lets me watch her work:
a quiet road, an all-night drive, an exquisite,
tuned machine. Here: I am a visitor.
I am waiting at her threshold.
Waiting for her, I am sober as a crane.
When I stand in the water, the river
moves beneath me.
The water seals around me like a well-fit
wrench on a well-fit bolt.
She unfolds the map, which grows like a reed
and shines on the rush.
I step in and the door
of the theater rolls down.