By Dorianne Laux

Our mother would make two pony tails
on either side of our heads with red rubber bands,
so tight our ears ached, then dip a comb
in a glass of water and run it through
our thin blonde hair until it wept,
then lift her index finger and rake
the wet hair around it before she slid
it out leaving a long damp curl.
If we squirmed, and we did, she would snap
the wet comb off our bare arms
which blazed with scored red lines.
We had to sit still while our curls dried,
straight in our chairs in our matching
pink dresses, our white, white socks,
our black patent leather shoes, staring
at the paint-by-number framed
on the wall: a barn, a fence, cows stranded
on a patch of green in the distance.
I studied the paint-by-number clouds
drooping over the church steeple
on the yellow hill, a thin white, so thin
I could see the numbers through them:
zero, zero, zero,
as if God had given everything in the world
a value and the poor clouds had none,
made as they were of vapor, mere
water and air, good for little but gazing at
as they changed shape, each new one
as useless as the last.