In second grade, we were told
that Martin Luther King ended racism.
In third grade, we didn’t learn much
but spent a lot of time drawing
red, white, and blue flags. We pressed down hard
on the markers so the colors
melted, as if they were
waving in the wind.
In fourth grade, we learned about
Christopher Columbus, and I started saying the Pledge of Allegiance
with my fingers crossed behind my back.
In seventh grade, I heard the phrase,
“the winners write the history books”
and wondered who would write
my story down.

I didn’t know I had a history –
except the one I didn’t want.
Red like blood, blue like bruises,
white like deepening nothingness.
Promising to obey
something I could hardly pronounce.
Flag stars lined up like behavior chart boxes.
All the days I went to school smiling like a president,
clenching my teeth until I felt it in my ribs.

I didn’t know I had a history.
I took Look Me In The Eye out of the library
and mom said no
even though she had previously let me
read books about the Holocaust.
I thought the thing inside me
was unnameable. Shape less.
Mold on the shower curtain.
That clump of Something in the corner –
mouse poop? Cat vomit?
To find who I was,
I looked at the graphs of my goals,
arranged like a foursquare game
where I was always dropping the ball.

I don’t know when I first read
something by someone like me.
And it happened so gradually,
like the nutty smell of spring
seeping into the wind,
that I cannot point to the moment
when I became part of Us.

The winners write the history books,
and I am beginning to write my history:
notebooks with covers bent like the horizon,
blog posts and Google Drive drafts,
poems curling into chants
that I repeat in my head like I used to repeat
my wish to erase myself.
Now I wish to exist.
I am building myself with ink stained fingers.

I am beginning to write my history.
I think I’m winning.




16 thoughts on “History

  1. Oh, wow. This is masterfully done – I am quite moved. I really love so much of this piece. “Smiling like a president” – what a precise image! Thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

  2. Finding your words — and constructing your history — is like a shaft of light breaking through between the edge of a closed door and its frame. I love the imagery in here, the stringing of those together in this narrative, and your clear truth which break through these words. Yes, keeping writing your story. The words will be your way out.


    • Thank you.
      “A shaft of light breaking through between the edge of a closed door and its frame” is the perfect way to describe it.
      One of my favorite tumblr blogs, into–the–weeds, has a tag “stories are important”. They are.
      Words have saved me many times.

  3. Beautiful. I’m just starting to explore the poems prompted by the We Write Poems group, and really enjoying it. This is so strong, and some of the phrases captured moments perfectly–“smiling like a president”. “the nutty smell of spring” and, oh, especially, the 4 lines that start with, “to find out who I was..” I could just picture that child, studying those graphs, trying to figure out herself and the world. Thanks for posting this for all to read.

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