Summer Recreation

The summer rec program
was like a sad day camp.
Our parents dropped us off
at our public elementary school
in the morning, before the heat
seeped into the tiled floors and walls.

Our teachers were teenage counselors
tasked with our suburban boredom.
We played kickball in the mostly-dirt field,
choreographed dances in the empty gymnasium,
and on days I was the luckiest, we drew pictures
on flimsy construction paper for sticker prizes.

One of those days, I heard another girl ask
to style our counselor’s hair, stick straight
and blonde as dead grass. I looked at her,
filling out a plain white tank top and denim shorts
in a way I thought I never would. I kneeled in front
of the teacher’s desk and asked to try next.

When it was my turn, I gathered the soft strands
into a hair elastic, twisting it the way
my mother did in front of our bathroom mirror.
I didn’t know how to form a ponytail;
I only wanted to be close to this perfect girl,
to absorb her femininity by proximity.

I pulled my hands away to reveal a tangle of hair,
knotted like a tumbleweed. I watched her tug
at the mess I made from across the classroom,
tried to glue my eyes back to my paper,
wishing for an out-of-season dismissal bell
to come and carry me home.

Sweating through my cotton kids’ clothes,
skin stuck to the floor, I tucked away my shame,
a shoelace under my sneaker tongue,
and looked outside the window of girlhood
toward a lens flare of a future—
a woman obscured by the sun.

Anna Szilagyi is a writer and public health professional based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in Hooligan Mag, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Luna Luna Magazine, among others. She earned her MPH from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy in December 2022 and is also a scholar of the reality television arts and sciences. You can find her on Instagram and TikTok @anna_szil

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