Christmas break, a temp job,
office clerk in the shoe factory.
Mind-breaking work—I saw
manila folders in my sleep.

Not a dream when Martha,
quick to speak her mind,
sniped at my attitude. Shame,
guilt, a chill in my gut.

She was full-time, self-
possessed, her confidence
strong as the silk
of Madagascar’s golden orb

spider. I was sixteen, a thin-
skinned perfectionist
without the will or nerve
to confront, defend myself.

There’s a picture of me
in third grade, wistful
and haughty in the eyes.
I look like a long-lashed seal

at the zoo, popping up
from the pool, staring down
her nose at the crowd. Which
came first to the clown,

sadness or disdain?
What prompted Martha’s scorn?
I filed away the hurt,
my puzzlement, with the scent

of new leather wafting in
to our workspace,
those beautiful shoes
I could not afford.