My Better Self
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad,
She was horrid.—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My better self makes excuses for me:
I don’t know what’s got into her. She’s not usually like this.
When I’m bored by some slow dinner story
my better self says, Please pass the peas,
then tugs the choke collar.
if I start to say what the fuck,
my better self says step aside
let me handle this. My better self wears a habit
like my second grade nun, carries a ruler
with a metal edge. Underneath it all,
my better self wants to marry me but she thinks
I’m not worthy. She nicknames me Sweetie,
I nickname her B.S. for Better Self.
She’s the smooth speech bubble in a comic strip.
I’m the jagged thought bubble.
When I want to bite like a black fly,
she gets there first and blows kisses.
Can’t anyone see how awful she is?
She says, You can come out now. Whoops,
only joking. I snarl with a mouth full of maggots.
She says, listen to me or you’re on your own
and everyone will know what you’re really like.
She says Don’t talk back. Fat chance.
she won’t let me get a word in edgewise.
Before we leave for the protest,
my better self puts on a hat with ostrich feathers,
then changes it for the baseball cap everyone
wears these days. I plant one of the feathers
in my belly button, poke a hole in my jeans
it can wave through. Puh-lease put that away
says my better self, but she giggles
when I use it to tickle her stomach
then cuts her eyes at me:
When you go to the rally, chant,
pump your sign if you must,
but don’t pick anyone’s pocket.
When she turns her back, I slip
her wallet out of her bag.
My better self insists we go to counseling.
She wants to work things out.
I want to flip her the bird and leave.
When the therapist asks, And how do you feel
about that? Duh, I shrug, while my better self sniffles
and rubs her cheek. We’re getting a divorce, I say,
and I’m taking the car and leaving
our issues unresolved because I don’t want
to prolong this any longer than yesterday.
Meaning, I took the keys from the counter,
the engine is running, have a nice life,
All Saints Eve, 2019
Pots of bright chrysanthemums and asters,
ornamental gourds, sit on front steps.
Inflated witches, plastic skeletons
hang from trees. As the season changes
in a blaze of merriment, mock terror,
I remember you, children caged
at the border of my country.
When my oldest grandson kicks his soccer ball
down the wide cul de sac, and it rolls on the lawn
of a neighbor who smiles indulgently, I picture
your neighbors, guards, patrolling with guns.
When the mischievous toddler sneaks macaroni
from his brother’s plate and, grinning, pops it
into his mouth, I imagine your deep hunger,
the delicate bones of your body straining
against your skin. When the baby cries
for mama and she rushes to her and lifting her
kisses her cheek, I hear your mothers
cry for you, arms exhausted from emptiness,
and wonder if your eyes are too dry for tears.
With the children of my blood, I hollow
a pumpkin, and together we pull the wet seeds
and stringy membranes out with our hands
now covered with its gore. We place a lighted candle
inside it so the grimace we have carved
flickers with menace. You flicker, pale shades
at the edge of a crowd of costumed children calling
Trick or Treat. I try to bring you into focus
as your image flickers like that pumpkin.
Does it matter that I know you are there? And tomorrow–
Dia de los Innocenntes, Dia de los Angelitos.
Kathleen Aguero’s latest book is After That (Tiger Bark Books). Her other poetry collections include Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl Sleuth, Daughter Of, The Real Weather, and Thirsty Day. She has also co-edited three volumes of multi-cultural literature for the University of Georgia Press. She teaches in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Pine Manor College and in Changing Lives Through Literature, an alternative sentencing program.