- Sitting cross-legged on the guestroom daybed, Aunt Diana looked a bit like her namesake goddess. She had unbuttoned the top of her blouse so that the white parted like a soft curtain revealing her breast, infant cousin Will’s mouth molding so tightly to her nipple, it formed a rosy entity. I had wandered away from my parent’s dinner party, a curious toddler wondering where her infant cousin had teetered off to. He suckled and she squirmed. They never tell you how sore your nipples get when their little teeth start to poke through. My glance turned from her worn, crinkled eyes to the tiny nubs beginning to push through the gummy pink. My cousin had turned into a tiny weapon, yet he kicked and cooed, blissfully unaware of the way he made his tired mother wince.
- This is my body, given for you, do this in remembrance of me. This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, poured out for you and many in forgiveness of your sins. In moments like this, where his head lies on my sweat glazed breast, breathing me in, I remember that powerful men are nothing but little boys in new clothes. Sometimes in the dark they transform into fumbling fingers in the backseats of their mothers’ minivans, looking for some magic touch to make a woman’s thighs shake.
- As a child, I thought my mother’s nipples looked like strawberries. I would glance down at my own level body and wonder how my chest would find a way to swell into fruit, from lemons, to peaches, to oranges, to melons. Big bold melons that curved fabric in a pushy, womanly way, fell out of plunging yellow swimsuits, cradled crying baby powdered heads. Hush little baby don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird. And if that mocking bird won’t sing, mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. She said I would be a pear like her, bottom round, jeans straining across Italian hips. Baby making hips. Hips to bring a boy or two. She never had a boy: bore two girls nine years apart with those hips she gifted me.
- Self-proclaimed experts said to massage them, exercise them, drink lots of soymilk or eat flaxseeds to make them grow bigger. Do flies for the guys and curls for the girls. Lather them with coconut oil and pull and pull and pull until the fat must stretch. Try to grin and bear that you will never be beautiful without them. Your friends call you cute, say you have a face that could fool any parent into thinking you’re innocent. Pink cheeks, plain, unassuming gaze. Try to overcome the fact that sexy will never be a word to describe you.
- Virgin Mary, Mother of God, her body not her own. Felt the kicking of the Christ child, the only touch her loins had ever known. Perfect woman, no semblance of perversion. A young girl’s model of purity. Can you pray to her when a man’s kiss leaves you feeling more flushed than red hot candies, than your mother’s jambalaya? Can she know how it feels to spin and spin with nothing covering her breast and bottom but gooseflesh and anticipation?
- I never liked when the priest would talk about Eve. She’s the first: the prototype woman. Built from bones she cannot even call her own, her very skeleton first owned by Adam, then repurposed into careful curves. Never mind that the default perhaps should be female, as we are female first. Explain the nipples that give no milk in men. Explain the remnants of phantom fertility. I left notebooks filled with questions on the floor of bible study: proclamations of blasphemy. Diagrams of the snake, the tree, the fruit. Is it not the most human thing to seek the knowledge kept firmly from your grasp? Do we not find our purpose in seeking what we do not yet know? Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. God’s sweetest co-pilot, made from a rib, made for pleasure, broke the ignorance of paradise.
- I liked feeling tiny and when he called me “girl” I felt myself shrink into a place I wanted to fit. I had always felt too tall, too lanky, too boyish in my own body. Around girls who effortlessly exuded femininity and grace, I clomped and clamored. As a child, I collected a diverse array of insects from beetles to butterflies, from spiders to potato bugs. I wore backwards baseball caps and dirt-stained overall shorts, conducted footraces against the boys on the playground to prove I could run just as fast. But he found this innate profanity in my existence endearing: sexy in its difference.
- Once I smacked my skull against the leather headrest of a go-kart. My body a merry-go-round, I had wanted nothing more than to prove my lack of fragility. I am not a doll. I am not made of paper or glass or marble. I was a senior in high school then, filled with an unfiltered type of fury than tested any authority just for the sake of a challenge. My father and male cousins had a family tradition of going to the racetracks every year near where my father grew up in Latrobe. A small, dirt track with rickety old karts, it gave them each an opportunity to prove their driving prowess. When I turned seventeen, I insisted on attending. I had been driving for almost two years and that fervor inside of me saw a stereotype I wanted to disassemble. I was two full car’s lengths ahead of all of them when I took a turn wide and my cousin took a turn sharp and sent my tail spiraling. I spun twice and felt my neck whip like a riding crop. My father slowed the corner, tried to feather but slid on bald tires: hit my painted side. I hid ice cubes under my shirt collar for a week to silence the pain: turned my entire body to face the wall or the chalkboard or the television screen.
- There’s an old fable told to strapping young Spartan boys of a boy about their age who catches a fox. A soldier comes along, asks what he’s caught, and the boy shoves the feverish, injured fox under his tunic with boyish mischief. He should be training, practicing his swordsmanship, practicing his footwork. As the soldier asks him questions, the boy’s face remains stony still. He does not even let a bead of sweat escape down his forehead: does not even let a wince play on his tight upper lip. When the soldier is satisfied in his questioning, he walks away, and the boy drops to the ground clutching at his stomach which has been burrowed into like a cavern. I will tell you now there is no strength in exposing your weakest parts for a fox to ravage like an injured rabbit. There is no strength in fighting the wince of pain, the peppering of emotion hidden in the folds of one’s face. Perhaps this is what separates us all.
Natalia Conte was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1996. She will receive her Bachelors of Arts from Elon University with an English Literature and Creative Writing double concentration. At Elon, Natalia is a College Fellow and a member of Sigma Tau Delta. She coedits the poetry section for the award-winning Colonnades Literary Art Magazine and enjoys cultivating talented undergraduate writers. She is currently working on her first poetry collection to date which focuses on the extraordinary lives of four notable feminist icons. Within the past year, she has won first prize in the 2017 Hartman Poetry Contest judged by visiting poet Cate Marvin, won first prize in the 2018 Hartman Creative Nonfiction Contest judged by visiting writer Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and received honorable mention within the 2017 Fiction Contest judged by visiting writer Rebecca Makkai. She was also awarded a research grant through SURE to help further her process on her upcoming collection. Natalia regularly teaches creative writing to a class of high school seniors who provide her with boundless inspiration, insight, and sass.