Stumbling Block

At the 4-H Fair in Amboy

my mother told me

my shorts were too short.

They had never been

too short

before, but

she saw a man

watching me

as I heedlessly

circled the rides

on the midway.

Tan colt legs, knees

bound in band-aids,

blue cotton candy

stuck to my cheek.

On my way to the goat barn

she stopped me and said

Did you see that man?

She seemed angry

and a worm of unease

uncurled in my belly.

That was the first time

I understood the male gaze

came with teeth.

Four Julys later

I mowed the lawn

in a rainbow swimsuit

with leopard spots.

When my father got home

he seemed angry.

I cut the motor

and watched his arms


then went inside

and put on pants.

When leggings came in fashion

I learned to layer them

beneath baggy jeans

wriggling free of denim

only after parking my Chevette

far from home.

You don’t know my father said

what goes through a man’s mind

when he sees you

wear things like that.

It was my responsibility

to remain invisible

to let that gaze slide

safely by. When

all I really wanted

was to be stylish

fix my tan lines

eat cotton candy.

06.19 | New Hymns