The Better to Bite You With, My Dear
By Tara Brenner

When our mothers raised us,
I don’t think that any of them meant for us to inherit malicious intent.

Every male lion knows
Send the lionesses to do your dirty work.
It’s animal instinct
We are made of fangs and spitfire
Beneath our cherry lip gloss are cog smiles and territory lines
We are calculating machines taught to hate one thing:
Each other

Most call them mean girls,
Celebrity, size two, perfect skin, prom royalty
Who talked in secret shower steam in gym locker rooms,
Write their hate mail in mirror fog,
Spend night after night on private lines talking about

I was military jackets and lace-up boots
With garish green eye shadow and ripped up jeans.
A self-named pretty girl’s arch nemesis.
My pack was brash.
Stitched on band patches with dirty flannel and a cigarette haze
Partying for three days straight.
Oh, how we hated popular girls.

High school was the year I developed an aptitude for the game of chess.
In it’s simplest form,
It is a series of movements carefully defined to get the better of one’s opponent.

How easy it is for mean ones to learn their roles
And take sides.

Giggling in the locker rooms
Was countered by gossip in the hallways
Writing in the bathroom stalls.
Making out with Chelsea Water’s football player boyfriend behind the baseball field in the summer.

Even as our viper venom spun webs around each other
The sharpening of knives placed next to our spinal curves
Became just another lesson in women’s work.

This is the poison that no one tells you that you ingest when you learn how to fight back:
You learn how to be mean.
I learned how to be very mean.

Years later, when I adopted the full language of whispers
I spat my venom in the crevices behind my best friend’s back
Convinced that I could wash myself ashore on some untouchable island
Where my broken heart could hide from its own embarrassment.
I never meant to shipwreck myself in a valley of my own malice.

It’s an awful lesson that we’re taught.
How to bite, and be bitten, and bite back,
and sharpen our teeth for the next pack brawl.
And sharpen, and sharpen, and sharpen when the fight does not come back.
No wonder we accidentally bite anyone standing next to us.

So when I hear you, mean girls,
speaking the learned language of malicious lioness.
I’m afraid I’m not surprised when someone comes over to your table to exclaim,

My, what big teeth you have my dears.
My, what sharp teeth you have.

With her trademark ability to combine pathos, satire, sincerity and moxie, Tara Brenner quickly became integral to the performance poetry field through her work as a performer, four-time National Poetry Slam competitor, and workshop leader. Brenner’s work has been featured at venues from California to Florida. Tara currently lives in Idaho and continues her work within the slam poetry community. This poem will appear in the anthology, Seeing the Unseen.