Photo courtesy of Cassoday Harder

Congratulations, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas,
little sister, here’s my wish list.
My litany of lessons, my book of prayers, the incantations I say in your name:

May you never find yourself on any fucking list, hot or not.
May you never wish yourself there.
May you never swallow your feelings to keep the peace.
Find your frequency, adjust your volume. You are worth listening to.
May you always find the right comeback at the right time, the one that successfully straddles the line between step off, you basic bitch, and oh, I’m fine, pay her no mind.

May you never find yourself shattered in a bathroom stall,
singing your heartache to the gritty tile floor.
May you never teach yourself disorder,
looking for control in the cool smoothness of a butter knife sheathed in your throat.
May you never find your diary lodged in your mailbox,
defiled by eyes you trusted, stolen when you felt safest.

May you never build your life around a boy. Go to school to learn. Find your precious spark and fan the flames with every inhaled breath. Construct your castle, with your own two hands and a hammer. Dye your hair. Pierce your nose. Try the orange lipstick. There is time enough for pearls and pointed toes. There is time enough for natural. There is time enough for the holes to close and reopen. But please, wait until your brain is done growing before you get a tattoo.
That shit is permanent.

May you be on the lookout for adventure, always.
May you find the perfect pair of jeans or running shoes or throwing knives, and the money to buy them in every color.
May you never spend your college years slamming quarts of redheaded sluts, trying to erase the bile taste of one specific redheaded slut,
as if you can consume her memory in drunken Kool-Aid.

If your lover yells a sentence that makes your stomach raise a red flag lump in your throat, listen. When he threatens to leave you, let him.  Do not negotiate with terrorists.

Little sister, if nothing else, I wish for you this:  May you find men and women who love ungoverned, who paint comic book scenes on walls, who turn the lined paper the wrong way, who draw their eyebrows on with Crayola colors, who don’t give a fuck, who eat the damn cake, who will stand up with you at a wedding or sit down with you in the mud.

May you find men and women who will lie to you gently,
who will understand when you just need to win one,
who will tell you a hard truth when they know it means
they’ll be on the hook for you for the next unknown number of months after the fallout.

May you find a friend who will feed you mercy by the bucket full. Someone who will push you past your present self. Someone who will sit with you in the stinking wreckage debris or piñata prize puddle of your life, look you in the eye and say, I love you, I love you, I love, and that’s all that matters.

Because if you find them, those people, they will carry you across oceans.
They will build you back, without instruction. They will weed you wild.
And if all my candle lighting and meditating and eyelash blowing fails you, they will not.
May you never let them go.





Shannon CurtinShannon J. Curtin is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (forthcoming from Anchor and Plume Press) and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications). She is the newly named Poetry Editor of The Quotable, and her writing has been featured in a variety of literary magazines, including Short, Fast, and Deadly, The Muddy River Review, The Mom Egg Review, and The Elephant Journal. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. You can find her at and @Shannon_Mazur.

Cassoday Harder is a twenty-year-old photographer inspired by youth, femininity, and summer. View more of her work on Flickr or visit her website.

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