Stuck in a Suburban Coffee Shop: a poem

Stuck in a Suburban Coffe Shop

Maria, my boss at our local coffee shop
was fifty-five and working forty hours a week,
never losing that Brazilian pep in her hips
or her feet. She was nine, coming to America
and didn’t think she’d still be here
after forty-six years, working
just one pay grade above us, college students.

She said she was stuck and that I was lucky
because I was still young and capable.
But we both knew women of color
had a lower chance of escaping
their situation, no matter the age.

She recalled the high-arched, glass windows
of the LAX. How distracted she was by
these tall women with hair like silk,
their jet black pantyhose smoothing over
their long legs. That’s when she tugged
on her mother’s sleeve to say, mamãe,
you’d look pretty in that, pointing
at the women’s glossed kitten heels:
those pointed, closed toe-shoes, so sharp,
they could poke holes in glass ceilings,
just wide enough for their own shoes
to slide through.

Back in Rocinha, the boticário gave her
pills to induce her period early, so she
could pretend to be older than she was.
If you were too young, it was hard to leave.

And to ease the discomfort of becoming
a woman at nine years old, her mother
bought her pain relievers and some kitten heels.
To ease the fact that she was now thirteen.
Thirteen was two years away
from a worker’s permit, four years away
from a university, and four years closer
to entering that glass castle with towers so high,
there would seem to be no ceiling.

I wrote my resignation letter the next morning.

 

 

 

 

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