From the Vermont High School Writing Contest
Swallow your fear. Regurgitate it in the form of poetry. It’s not masochism if it’s pretty, You tell yourself. You are a proven liar. You watch your aunts parade around the room Poking and prodding their flesh until it fits into Too small garments, dotting their bodies and their faces With lines indicating where the vessel is too big, Too unwieldy, indicating the imperfections yet to be wrangled. If i fit into my mother, I think i’d die of shame. You do not look into the mirror. You sit in the same room, Staring at the ceiling. Your grandmother is crying in the bed next to you. You say nothing. Your silence is the worst thing you have ever not done. You can write poetry for your grandmother but she will never read it. You can write songs for her but she will never understand them. You can pray for her, but it is not any kind of praying she remembers. Know this. You will do all these things for her anyway. God bless all the stories we missed Because we were too afraid to hear them. God bless all the lives we missed Because we were too afraid to feel them. You will learn that graves are more for the living than for the dead. You will learn that flowers are more for the dead than the living. You will learn that you are the most silent crier in the family. You will learn that you cannot make your sadness big enough To take up space, that it will instead sit in a densely packed ball Somewhere in a cobwebbed corner. You will make lists of things you know and things you don’t know. Bread tastes like ash in your mouth. You step into the shower and the world seems yellow tinted. You are sixteen and fifteen and fourteen all at once. You have shed shells of yourself all around this home And your relatives have pinned them on the walls, This house is haunted by all the people you have been and left behind. Things you don’t know: Your eyes. Isn’t that funny? Fruit is rotting in the refrigerator. The power Won’t come on in the house so you eat in the dark. Can people rot when the electricity cuts off? You can almost see mold starting to gnaw at your fingertips, Becoming so sedentary that a walk exhausts you. You stroll with your father on the yellow-tinted dusty streets Air force ones in a country where no one can buy nike. Swallow your guilt. Watch the people go by. The metal poles rise and fall, Slamming down on slumped backs. Your aunt says the streets run red in Karbala You inhale ghalyoun smoke and your lungs run red with feeling. People are crying. You’re crying too, you think, And so is the stranger beside you The stranger looks like your father. The stranger might be your father. You wear white to the shakhsei and your uncle jokes They will mistake you for a saint. What you would give to be mistaken for anything holy. The music is at a volume where you feel your heart trembling With the beat, four foot high Yamaha drums shaking your bones. Mourning is a thing of the whole here, Gaping above the crowd. Crying is a thing of the world here, Chests heaving in unison. American individualism, That heaving leviathan, sits above your heart And keeps your tears from falling. You are both the cup half empty and the cup half full. You are constantly on the edge of a flood But cannot seem to flow over the edge. Maybe it’s the mold That’s been slowly spreading at your edges. Maybe it’s the Gluttony and the chairs made of gold. Maybe it's the way That long red and white stripes bind up your soul. Maybe it’s the air of the plane tunnel finally eating up your lungs Maybe it’s your own acrid breath echoed back to you, Maybe it’s the rot they always told you reached sinners. Maybe it’s the rot you always expected reached saints. Maybe it’s the way you’re leaving. Maybe it’s the way you dread returning.
Biography of a town.
The closed-off cages of broken intersections Haunt the corners of this town. Nothing hurts more Than a broken wing. Nothing hurts more than These neon hallways and their strips of glaring light. I lick the remnants of summer off my hand and they Tastes like mango and freedom. The sticky-sweet Residue clings, gluing my fingers to each other Until I cannot parse my own thoughts. The rule of my life here: Everything is ten times better than you think it is, And also ten times worse. My mom and I go to look at Escape routes and pass through our previous numbness. There used to be a hot yoga place, she says, and a Mexican supermarket too. As she points I watch their ghosts Being drawn out until I can see translucent skeletons stacking On top of buildings. The car-sized commercials we pass by Make me want to vomit and uproot them, contaminated yellow glow and all, from the ground. My hands are giants and yet they grasp nothing. I guess all small towns layer grime onto my skin, because I still feel dirty here. Once we stopped in a parking lot and did nothing at all. Once you drove me fast in a shopping cart, and I yelled as loud as my lungs could bear. Once I saw a thing split in two and then become one again. The man at the cashier hands me the receipt instead of my mother Because I have to translate his domestic talk to my mother’s foreign ears. The man on the telephone apologizes to me for not being able To take my mother’s order, and my mouth stays locked up. I put in screw you, And it comes out as no problem. The man in the gas station Stares at us like he wants to take us apart. The sickly light makes your Eyes seem even wider than they are. We just wanted a Reese’s. We run to the car. I throw salt over my shoulder. You spill gas on the asphalt in your hurry. It stains the pavement dark and all I can see is our blood spilling. Starry night looks ugly in this hallway lighting. Starry nights look ugly in this destitute Un-metropolis. The white flesh of my clementine sticks To the inside of my fingernails. I sit at a plastic table painted to look like wood And breathe. I look at escape routes and I dream.