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May I?

By Angelica Whitehorne -


Remember when you were younger and you asked “Can I go to the bathroom?” And your teacher gave a knowing smirk and said, “I don’t know can you?”

And then your face went red and your toes itched and you were forced to say “May I go to the bathroom?” although no one says that in normal conversation?

May you believe we teach children to be polite when the world handles itself the way it does? When the month of May is always there, a con artist tricking them into believing summer is a safe bet? Then it fucking snows in June.

Aren’t I paying in tax dollars and seconds lost to crosswalks to have our city’s children learn real world skills? Instead they are taught, “Say thank you!”

“Put your hands in your lap!”

"Be polite to strangers!”

Be polite to strangers? Are you kidding me? “BE POLITE TO STRANGERS?” and then we send them out into the world and bastard hands wring their necks while their own hands sit stupid in their lap.

“May I die?”

“I don’t know, can you?”

If I ever accidentally have a daughter— which is the only way the women in my family have their daughters, who claw their way out like puma cubs— I’d teach her to never stop clawing.

My coworker once said to me, unprompted and reflective, sweeping up piles of bread crumbs off the sub shop floor, “I had a girl when I was your size, and I can tell you if you ever have a girl, she'll rip that tight body of yours up like gift wrapping— you’ll be her first art project and probably her most bloody. Your guts everywhere like glitter, the skins of your vagina tearing off in layers so thick, they’ll let you take them home and sell them to pervs on the internet. Twenty-nine stitches in all and I left with a Picasso pussy, but god is my daughter worth it.”

Wiping mayo off my forehead with my greasy latex glove, I replied, “If I ever had a daughter, I’d serve her up my body like the sub trays we make in the A.M., and then the first thing I’d do is teach her how to fight.”

And that wasn’t workplace banter, I meant it. I’d hold the gruesome artist in my body til’ the coldest month of winter, (no baby of mine would be born into May thinking this world is all pollen and petals, she’d be born in the middle of a snowstorm just like I was). And I’d hold her out the window til’ her face turned blue, just to teach her early on how cold it can get, teach her from the get-go how to stop people from seeing you shiver.

And if she ever, ever said “May I,” fuck it all, I’d tear out the tongue of the person who taught her that phrase, and I’d make her watch, so she’d learn how to tear it out herself next time.


Angelica Whitehorne is a writer living in Durham, NC with published work in Westwind Poetry, Mantis, Air/Light Magazine and the Laurel Review, among others. She is the author of the chapbook, The World Is Ending, Say Something That Will Last (Bottle Cap Press, 2022). Besides being a devastated poet, Angelica is a Marketing Content Writer for a green energy loan company and volunteers with Autumn House Press.

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