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Portrait of a Girl With Comic Book

Thirteen’s no age at all. Thirteen is nothing.
It is not wit, or powder on the face,
Or Wednesday matinees, or misses’ clothing,
Or intellect, or grace,
Twelve has its tribal customs. But thirteen
Is neither boys in battered cars nor dolls,
Not Sara Crewe or movie magazine,
Or pennants on the walls.

Thirteen keeps diaries and tropical fish
(A month, at most); scorns jump-ropes in the spring;
Could not, would fortune grant it, name its wish;
Wants nothing, everything;
Has secrets from itself, friends it despises;
Admits none of the terrors it feels;
Owns half a hundred masks but no disguises;
And walks upon its heels.

Thirteen’s anomalous – not that, not this:
Not folded bud, or wave that laps a shore,
Or moth proverbial from the chrysalis.
Is the one age defeats the metaphor.
Is not a town, like childhood, strongly walled
But easily surrounded; is no city.
Nor, quitted once, can it be quite recalled –
Not even with pity.

- Phyllis McGinley


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