Fanny Says How To Be A Lady


1. Never tell your age. If under cardiac arrest and the ambulance comes, the paramedic will ask lots of questions—the city you live in, the president, your last name. Answer him best you can, but if he asks the year you were born, say, You’re the doctor here. If you’re so fucking smart, why don’t you tell me how old I am?

2. Watch your reputation close. Remember, if you lie down with dogs, you’ll come up with fleas, and no man will buy a cow if he gets the milk for free. Now, if you need a husband, put on a pair of pants—tight now—so it shows your rump, and get a little chain to walk that dog. Go on to that fire station and walk past. Now those firemen are gonna notice you and whoop and holler, but you don’t pay them no mind, you just keep walking with your head held high. By the fourth or fifth time you walk past, one of them’s gonna say, well, I’m going outside to talk to that ho . . . and that’s just what he’ll say . . . but I’m sure he’ll learn right different, soon enough. And then? It’d be all she wrote.

3. Take it easy, keep your feet up, and don’t carry nothing heavy unless on the hot sidewalk you want your uterus to fall out. And if you lift weights, you’ll loose your perky breasts, you won’t be left with a tiddy one; trust your grandma, stay away from the gym, cause like I say, I don’t believe in exercise, no, not one bit.

4. Speaking of your tiddies, once you loose them, you can’t get them back. Wear a brassiere with a good wire day and night, even to sleep, and don’t let no baby nurse you. If you do, they’ll deflate like two bananas. Then what will you do? Ain’t a thing wrong with bottle feeding—look at you, raised up on formula from day one, and you seem to be alright.

5. Steer clear of places where common people go. Public pools ain’t nothing but a sea of hot piss, and if you’re forced to drink in a restaurant, you ask for a straw, because Lord knows where that cup has been.

6. Don’t fool with a boy with no home training. If he pulls in front of the house and lays on the horn, don’t you answer. You ain’t no whore; he needs to come to the front door proper and knock. And when you get to his car, grandma will be watching to see if he opens the passenger side. If not, you stand still, let him jump in alone . . . soon enough, he’ll notice you’re not in the car and come around to open your door. I mean it: I’ll be watching, and if you so much as touch that handle, I’m coming out to whoop your ass. A man will respect you once you’ve earned it. Start a puppy early, and he won’t pull the leash.

7. Don’t answer the phone, especially if a boy you like is calling. I don’t care if you’re picking your toes and watching The Flinstones on a Friday night, you let grandma answer. I’ll tell him, no, she’s not here, she went down to Miami with a few girlfriends and never came back. When he sees you, you’ve got to pretend now—Oh, we had such a good time. We played volleyball and got a tan. That will keep him from taking you for granted, for waiting so long to call, thinking you’d always be there, waiting around.

8. People mostly see what you say. Now, if you’ve got a crooked nose, let them know and that will be all they notice. And your feet? I know they’re flat and turned in, big enough to row a canoe, but tell people and they’ll think you’re afflicted. Look in the mirror, girl. You’re as pretty as you let yourself be; you’re just fine.

9. Don’t ever let folks think you’re trash. Don’t sit with your legs open like you’re drawing flies, don’t ever let me see you drink straight from a bottle or can, and for God’s sake, never serve coffee with the stirring spoon still in the cup. Wear your hair up after thirty, but never let nobody cut it off, and at the table, don’t you dare touch the last bite. You don’t want people to think you’re hungry: if you enjoy somebody else’s dinner, don’t say thank you for the meal, but thank you for such a nice time. Don’t track in through the front door unless you’re company; if you’re family, use the back. And if you’ve been drinking from the same glass for a few hours, it’s greasy, get yourself a clean one, fresh from the dishwasher. Ain’t no sense ever being dirty; soap don’t cost a nickel now, soap’s cheap.

10. Be mean and fight for it. That’s the only way it will ever come to you. Remember what grandma tells you: people will take only what you let them, and you hold that head back and walk straight. You understand? Be mean, fight for it. Hold that head back, walk straight. You’ll remember what I tell you? You’ll remember, won’t you?

NICKOLE BROWN is the author of Sister and the forthcoming Fanny Says, a biography-in-poems about her grandmother, Frances Cox, from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Her work has been featured in The Writer's Chronicle, Poets & Writers, 32 Poems, The Cortland Review, Post Road, The Oxford American and Mammoth Books' Sudden Stories anthology, among others. She also co-edited the anthology, Air Fare: Stories, Poems, & Essays on Flight. Currently, Nickole lives in Little Rock, AR, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arkansas and Co-editor, with Robert Alexander, for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series at White Pine Press.