When the fullness persists
into the eighth year, then food begins
to flow gently, but insistently
your way. Your mother hands you
the fat from her bit of bison.
Your father hides the honey
from the younger children
and feeds it to you at night.
Your older brother appears with nuts
when you thought he was shooting.
All the while, they watch, hoping that you
are like the moon that grows.
If you are, if the rolls form on your neck,
if the dimpling begins before the blood
from between your legs, if you fruit well
even before you bear, then the ritual begins,
and only grows more intense with your girth.
Women who had been your aunties
will become your handmaidens.
As you grow, you will rise higher
above them, even as they come
to own you more. They will paint you
with the chalk of the white river
where you swell, with yellow
they will paint stripes
that meet and become circles.
With red they will paint your lips:
the lips of your mouth, of your vulva,
your nipples, your eyes.
With ash they will paint your folds,
which will become every day
more profound.

They will tempt you
with variety, with rarity.
If need be, they will restrain you
to send the nourishment
down your throat. You will eat
the tenderest shoots,
acorns ground past the aching of arms,
the soft bellies of insects, peeled.
Fires will be hazarded
to cook for you.
Because you eat it,
food will cease
to ebb and flow.
Everyone who knows anything will come
and show it, come and speak it to you.
You will hear some things many times over,
see the shapes of certain plants
in your sleep, hear stories
from the old men about
before and after.
And then, if you do not
rot, growing old yourself,
you will live through
that which you have never seen,
that which you have only heard.
The children will go first,
and those past bearing them.
The men who survive the women
will mate with you before they die,
and you alone will sail
through the bleakness
with your child inside you,
a laden barge.
The two of you will live
off of your flesh, which is not
your flesh, but the flesh
of your cousins and the
gazelles they have slain,
the flesh of your uncles
and the bulbous roots
they have placed before you.
Your baby will drink the milk
that is not your milk, but milk
you have been given to suckle
from other women.
You will carry the Venus
you have become
in your own girdle. The figure,
made of stone, will remind you
that your flesh will be borne
by anyone bearing flesh.
Your flesh, like the flesh
of the stone, will endure.

appeared in North American Review