Hyena Girl by M. Brett Gaffney

First Place
At thirteen, some girls grow fur, begin to hunt in packs,
nubby tails wagging at the expectation of a kill.
Backs hunched, heads pressed together over a dead thing.

The hyena children look for mates in the schoolyard,
alpha females flaunt their spots, eyes as warm
and dangerous as the Serengeti,
lips bright as sacrifice.

All the while, the girl hides in the locker room’s dark
corners with the other prey, licks her wounds.
After lunch she covers the bites and bruises with her mother’s
sweater, wool spun from lambs long dead.
But always the pack circles, sniffs for a scent of blood in the air.

The truth is, nothing can protect those unwilling to bark,
he ones trailing the shores of the watering hole with breakable legs,
pale antelope skin.
The transformation. Creates predators,
enables survival.

And so on the girl’s next birthday, she grows thicker hide,
her calendar a mess of cave paintings. She lets herself laugh
in the bathroom mirror but can’t seem to stop, the sound
a chortling that rattles the bone-yard of her body.

M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is an associate editor of Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stone Highway Review, Slipstream, Wind, Penduline, Cactus Heart, Exit 7, Still: the Journal, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Rogue Agent, and Zone 3, among others.

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