She holds them up, a flank of hushed shame,
far from her face, asks if these are mine.
This question belongs to her husband.
She comes to her 8-year-old daughter
whose clothes she buys, she oversees
how I am dressed.
I am that woman who forgets black lace
panties in a sofa bed? Sneaks when his wife
has taken the kids, he pays for my hair to get did?
Rides shotgun in his tinted-window Cadillac,
no one sees our faces. Nineteen and he’s a decade
older than my spine, still learning to sway.
Whose fed salt fish and ackee,
leaves behind grease and wet—
he’ll never wash his fingers.
I am that woman who believes love
is in the tabernacle of his hug—it must be
safe to slip my legs from what is unmentionable.
Recover limbs from the mattress’ edge,
bites the apple and forgets an essential skin,
and she asks me if these are mine.
It’s not enough to be the mother in her absence,
I am the mistress, unripen, these panties fall
to my ankles and there is stepfather stepping out.
She needs me to stand for this projection.
Her eyes, the soft part of apology, the inside
of the cheek where her tongue turns from talking
to a room where it stays knocking,
on a door he won’t open, and I’m
illegitimate in her arms.