Cindy Milwe

My daughter’s wet braid 
hangs down her back, rests  

between her pale shoulder blades, 
its bottom triangle fanning out  

like straw flecked with sand,
a tiny bronze broom shining  

in the sun like gelt.  
Her thrift-shop wetsuit  

is half-unzipped, the top 
of the black zipper forging  

a deep “V” of pink skin
down her back, a fork in the road  

only I can see.  She is running
fast to surf, braid bobbing  

as she reaches behind to pull
the zipper toward her neck,  

red board on her head pointing
straight to sea, where I worry  

she will crack her spine, nose-dive
into the ocean floor, get a hunk  

of her thigh bitten off by a shark.
Nevertheless, I let her go,  

admire the dull rubber fabric
snug on her hips, pressing flat  

her new breasts, plump half-moons
beneath the slick rash guard.  

What she’ll never know is that
she is wearing my old body,  

the body I loved all those years
before she flung herself out of it. 

And I am not sad to have given up
my body for hers, not sad to watch  

her leg muscles flex as she tears
through the ocean, sure-footed  

and strong as a gazelle. It feels right
to give my body away to someone  

who might use it better,
who might not offer its riches  

to any man who kisses her hard
on the subway, presses his nose  

into her neck as they dance
for the first time, drunk  

at any wedding. No. She deserves
to have it—all my blood gone  

and hers thrumming. Far out
on her board, she is the baby  

I wore on my back every morning
for coffee, so swollen and sleepy  

I almost could not stir the milk.
I have to look hard before  

the wave breaks to see her
whole body, my old body,  

standing proud on the crest
flailing to get my attention  

before she disappears and I panic
just a little bit until I see her again,  

glossy arms paddling out, her head
popping up like a little seal, 

wet braid flapping on her arched back,
three thick sandy cords of past,  

present and future woven together
and fastened at the bottom  

by the blue rubber band I found
in my purse right before the door  

of the minivan slid closed
and I watched her leave for the beach.  

She gathered her hair in her hands
and thread the band through  

and around, through and around
the same exact way I did every day 

on the Crosstown Bus
before dance class  

thirty years ago. Effortless
as the salt-spun air— 

your infant daughter
braids her hair. 

Cindy Milwe has been published in many journals and magazines, including 5 AM, Exit 7, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry East, Poet Lore, The William and Mary Review, Flyway, Talking River Review, and The Georgetown Review, among others. She also has poems in two anthologies: Another City: Writing from Los Angeles (City Lights, 2001) and Changing Harm to Harmony: The Bullies and Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center Press, 2015). Two years ago, her poem “Hunger” was selected as first prize winner for the Myra Shapiro Poetry Contest, sponsored by The International Women’s Writing Guild. That same year, she was awarded first prize for the poem, “Legacy,” by the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and received the Parent/Writer Fellowship. Last year, her poem, “Memorial,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first book of poems, Salvage, has just been published by Finishing Line Press. Cindy got my BA from NYU, a Masters in English Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an MFA in poetry from Bennington College. She lives with her husband and three children in Venice, CA.

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