You’re nine when it begins
And chests, you think (or don’t) are all the same.
You and your brother, naked to the waist,
Are romping through a game
Where one of you’s the chaser, one the chased
(Which he too often wins),
When mother calls. Obeying her behest
You kneel; she takes an oven-heated trowel,
Presses it to your breast,
One side and then the other, while you howl.
Later you understand
She did it so you’d stay plain-Janely flat,
Her eye on wolves and (guileless as a gull)
The superstition that
Breasts were the differentia of a trull;
She didn’t mean to brand
Wrinkle and wen into your flesh for good,
In swaddling bands so mercilessly tight
Confine your maidenhood
None would take on its manumission, right?
Now even that’s been done,
Thanks to a man who sees beneath your skin,
Sees skin as well, though, loves it for the view
It gives of the chagrin
You’ve suffered through, loves it because it’s you.
But you’re the lucky one....
‘Breast ironing’ is practised in Cameroon and, less extensively, in several other African countries.
By Peter Austin
Peter Austin lives in Toronto, where he teachers English at Seneca College. His poetry has appeared in many magazines/anthologies in the USA, Canada, the UK and several other countries. His first collection, A Many-Splendored Thing, was published in July of this year. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.