"Chicks Up Front" by Sara Holbrook

Chicks Up Front

Before and After,
we stand separate,
stuck to the same beer-soaked floor,
fragranced, facing the same restroom mirror.
Adjusting loose hairs—
mine brown, hers purple.
Fumbling for lipsticks—
mine pink, hers black—
a color I couldn’t wear anyway since that convention of lines gathered around my mouth last year and won’t leave.
We avoid eye contact,
both of us are afraid of being carded.

Mature, I suppose, I should speak,
but what can I say to the kind of hostility
that turns hair purple and lips black?
Excuse me, I know I never pierced my nose,
but hey, I was revolting once too?
Back. Before I joined the PTA,
when wonder bras meant, “where’d I put that.”
I rebelled against the government system,
the male-female system, the corporate system,
you name it.
I marched, I chanted, I demonstrated.
And when shit got passed around,
I was there, sweetheart, and I inhaled.
Does she know that tear gas
makes your nose run worse than your eyes?
Would she believe that I was a volunteer
when they called “chicks up front,”
because no matter
what kind of hand-to-hand combat
the helmeted authoritarians may have been
engaged in at home, they were still hesitant to hit girls
with batons in the streets.
“CHICKS UP FRONT!” and we marched and
we marched and we marched right back home.

Where we bore the children we were not going to bring into this mad world, and we brought them
   home to the houses we
were never going to wallpaper in those Laura Ashley prints
and we took jobs with the corporate mongers
we were not going to let supervise our lives,
where we skyrocketed to
middle-management positions
accepting less money
than we were never going to take anyway
and spending it on the Barbie Dolls
we were not going to buy for our daughters.

And after each party
for our comings and goings
we whisked the leftovers into dust pans,
debriefing and talking each other down
from the drugs and the men
as if they were different,
resuscitating one another as women do,
mouth to mouth.

That some of those we put up front
really did get beaten down
and others now bathe themselves daily
in Prozac to maintain former freshness.
Should I explain what tedious work it is
putting role models together,
and how strategic pieces
sometimes get sucked up by this vacuum.
And while we intended to take
one giant leap for womankind,
I wound up taking one small step, alone.

What can I say at that moment
when our eyes meet in the mirror,
which they will. What can I say to purple hair, black lips
and a nose ring?
What can I say?

Take care.