“Smile, “ I say to her.
Her skinny legs dangling off the bar stool,
doing a rat-a-tat as she swings them back, forth,
back and forth again.
“You’d be such a pretty little girl if only you’d smile.”
I see in the wound that is her face
a tiny second of clarity,
like she understands me –
understands my need.
I watch as she slides her gaze to the birdcage
where her Mama dances fast
orange sequins flashing,
long fringe flying
a silent wish
telegraphed into the dirty yellow air of this place.
no, no reprieve there.
My hand rests on her bony knee –
“Stop that,” I say almost out loud.
But smile like you know I love you –
like my need won’t change you forever.
Smile someday when you recall this moment
of shared understanding,
how I made you
used up at six years.
Smile when you try to love a man,
but can give him only dead eyes and surrender.