Cherry Blossoms; Growing Pains
By: Mollie O'Leary
I grew up in the shadow of a church
and a flowering cherry tree.
Thick blossoms weighed down
its branches in springtime,
the limbs bent in mock reverence.
The church was too far away to see,
but the cherry tree still knew
to bow when it felt most beautiful.
Pride was a sin, and I knew that
like I knew the rosary—like I knew to swallow
back my rage when dad welcomed me home
from my first semester at school by declaring,
There is this rape epidemic on college campuses.
Women lie when they have regrets.
During spring rainstorms, I watched
the cherry tree shake and thrash its fuchsia fists
with an anger that I understood.
There was another epidemic that he didn’t mention.
Those priests became a household whisper
among tight-lipped Irish families, huddled
behind open pages of the Boston Globe.
He was an altar boy, my aunt said,
for one of those priests. It could explain
why he is so troubled.
The rains eventually stripped the blossoms
from their branches. They fell in heaps
and stuck to the bottom of our shoes.
We tracked them into the house
and between the quiet church pews.
My brother used to say,
My tummy feels funny,
which I think meant,
My stomach is upset,
which I think meant,
I am hurting somehow.
It is hard to be a child
with emotions too big
to express and a body
too small to house them.
My brother used to pull
the hairs out of his head,
sprouting bald patches
like the tops of mushrooms.
The seams on socks upset him,
so my dad cut them off. At first,
I thought the act was a kind gesture,
until I saw the shredded remains
in the trash.
This was the only lesson
my siblings and I needed.
We practiced making ourselves
small, packing up our pain
like hand-me-down clothes
that had never fit right.
If you teach children
not to take up space,
then what will happen
once they realize
they must grow?
Mollie O’Leary received a B.A. from Kenyon College where she studied English and Philosophy. Her poems have been previously published in Persimmons Magazine and HIKA Magazine. She grew up in Massachusetts and is currently an English teacher in Texas.
"This fall I decided to start working on a chapbook that was thematically centered on growing up. Throughout last year, having recently graduated from college, I struggled to find the inspiration or direction to write, so I thought challenging myself to write on one topic would give me a sense of structure that I lacked. Since I am moving into
a phase of my life that you might tenuously call "adulthood", I found myself turning back to my past and the experiences that have shaped me. These poems are a result of this process."