Fourth Summer


She is learning that water can be drank from a hose,
that dirt is for digging,
that girls don’t have smokestacks,
and that some people don’t like frogs but I do.

We have been watching the videos of her first summer,
most of it spent in the hospital, when she was so small
that she took her first bath in a pink plastic wash basin a little bigger than a shoebox
and the green hospital pacifier swallowed her face.
“Is that me?” she asks.

Tonight as we walk she carries the doll Natchez because he’s “too tired to walk,”
and cradles his head with her arm as she’s seen us do with her sister Stella.
“Natchez has a boo-boo. He fell out of bed and scraped his leg.
I put a band-aid on it, a Cookie Monster band-aid.”

Later, Stories read, her teeth brushed, prayer finished, and she’s tucked in bed.
“Girls don’t have smokestacks?” she asks as we talk over the day,
touching the cleft between her nose and lip.
She strokes my beard and says “it’s soft,”
then touches my mustache and asks “what’s that.”
“My mustache,” I say, and realize for the first time that’s what she means by smokestack.
“No, girls don’t have smokestacks,” I tell her, and she looks disappointed,
“but girls can do some things that boys can’t.” She thinks about that and seems satisfied.

Beards are soft, and sometimes the water coming out of the nozzle stings her lips,
good things to know, but she also knows that the water jetting from the nozzle makes the grass and flowers grow, and sometimes it can become rain filtering down out of a cloudless sky,
bringing coolness and a reason to dance.


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