I was always Pocahontas, Esmerelda, Mulan,
whichever came close to the color of my hair,
whichever princess my mother didn’t need to buy a wig for.
There were no black princesses then—no hapas.
In Oahu, I’m asked where my father’s from. They know
he’s hapa, too—knows nothing native ends in -ski. They know
he feeds his daughter Spam and rice,
says ‘ono, pau, pakalolo—
says words no haole grows up knowing.
This makes him ohana. This makes me safe.
In Ohio, I’m asked what percentage I am. I’m invited
to the women of color brunch. I don’t go, don’t want to be
the whitest POC in the room, don’t want to be asked
so what’s your mother? Meaning why are you here?
I tell them the process of dying my hair orchid and iris,
the hours waiting for the shades to soak,
the bleaching and fraying—the damage repair.
I tell them she’s an Aries with a Leo moon,
that her mind is a diamond drill bit,
how she’s too lazy to find a job,
how she’s the Sadie and they’re the Maud,
how I shaped her body into something else,
grotesque, foreign to her former self—the model posing
on the beach waiting to get paid.
Body as Luna with Tumors
I am half cream. Thick
in the middle, unwanted.
My body is a chasm.
I am training.
I gorge, drill
a dancer’s cast iron will,
watch as they breathe
like horses. I’m counting
the ways my body shifts,
the moon jellies cleaving
pink corners, my softer side.
I am still. I feel them twitch.
I pool into myself, watching
as the trees breathe like machines.
Costume Party with Blood
—Plain City, OH
Your friend yells spit roast through the bonfire.
I ask him what he means, knowing
exactly what he means. He says nothing, winks.
His new girlfriend sits quietly beside me. No one
says our names. I count the hollow points
draped across his chest, wondering if they’re real,
wondering who he is tonight. How many bullets
I’d need to kill him—where he keeps his gun.
I want to ask her how long they’ve been fucking,
why she chose to be a dog, how much longer
she thinks she can take this. I keep quiet, knowing
she’s one of them. You’re busy entertaining the crowd,
shooting the shit with girls in native headdresses,
war paint contouring their cleavage. You drink
a shot of liquor from a medicine cup,
the same size they give Plan B in.
I think of the phrase in utero,
think of a dark wave, dark warmth.
That went down way too easily. You laugh,
ask if I’m alright. I stare into the fire,
wondering how many I’d need to kill
the burning inside me. How many holes I can fill.
I sip my beer in silence, unaware
the tip of the bottle is broken,
the glass slicing into my lip.
I’m bleeding from both ends
—spit roast. All my lips are red.
Originally from Oahu, Hawaii, Babette Cieskowski has lived in southern Florida, Kitzingen, Germany and Central Texas. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her poetry has been included in Z Publishing House's Emerging Poets of Ohio book. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Compose, Qu, the minnesota review, Day One, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Laurel Review and others.