Plain faced

They didn’t tell me

I was born ordinary

I felt it, a prickle in my bones, growing

plain-faced, my father reminded me

“work on your personality”

my mother, beautiful, smart

didn’t understand how a child of hers

could struggle to spell

behind thick glasses and a lazy eye

then she packed up and left

we were making an art of being fragmented

the other kids had families, after-school-clubs

swing sets, puppies, they hung upside down

and even then, looked the part, white teeth

straight backs, glossy well brushed hair

as if they had read a script on how to be

(able to survive the world)

and knew all the secrets

they didn’t tell me why I didn’t fit in

it wasn’t autism, no label, no category

a box of unopened reasons sat

in a dirty suitcase

on my kitchen table from 6 to 14

I ate my breakfast cereal reading a comic

like every other plain faced girl

dreading Summer and the wearing of shorts

the development of freckles and tree houses

succor for outcasts

my best friend and I ate

sweets that rotted our teeth

in the boughs of tenements and crying cement

where tired-looking women who were

probably only 25, the lines of their labor

etched into thin skin, hung dirty laundry

to be further muddied by the belch

of a merciless bloated city

I always felt

wrong

like the cuckoo

planted in incorrect nest

and if that is how we thrive

as I heard the other day

“challenges help you grow”

then bugger that for a laugh

because I developed a desire to dig

down

deep into black wormy earth

where the molestation of days

could not find me with their rage

call me a coward

well you did, many times

your disappointment hotly apparent

on your puckered nicotine laced lips

it didn’t disuade me

I learned on the easel of rebellion

ran hard and fast as long as I could hold out

on piss and vinegar and the immutability of youth

it seemed then …

easier to say ‘make me’ than

save me

it seemed easier to fight futile battles

and lose ground

than see a future that never

seemed distinct

they called me a bad kid

and I ate it hungrily

with a swig of soda

tepid from sitting in hot sun

Pasted in absolution

photo

are lesbians all extroverts?

or has the press of being confined

so many years

caused them to burst at the seams

when introduced to

cold water? And social media?

Wake Up. Wake Up. Sleeping Bird.

Stepping out I felt

scathed, unprepared, strange, curled at the edges

not comprehending the pool cues and

darts carelessly flung

nor wished to grow my nails long

and lay back a pillow princess

nor an intellectual dyke with accolade

my mom said to me as a kid

you like to be different

it wasn’t a compliment

she meant it as an insult and loathed

the trace of my existence

being several minorities you begin

to collect them like badges of pride

though i was not proud

of being periphery to my tribe

if indeed these women were my ilk

they did not feel like were

they seemed rather barbarous and hateful

if truth be told

or worse, indifferent and with such

secret codes I never learned how

to impress upon them my membership

much as i kept trying

my lily white Sephardi leg did not dip well

into the queer melting pot

my ink stained hands and penchant

for sensitivity over brevity

left most rolling their eyes in askance

like the cows at the back of the field where i grew up

wondering then if i were normal

or doomed to be different

something in our blood, our skin, our freckled creed

sets us apart

it isn’t left-handed-ism

burnt toast, dyscalculia

shy labias or closed boxes of wild flowers

trailing their haunted perfume through your hands

or even, a repulsion of dykes

chalking their conquests up like men

gloating over how much pussy they had

it isn’t that I cried over

certain novels (Anna Karenina) and not others (Rubyfruit Jungle)

or did not get my (polka-dot) panties in a wad

when KD Lang sang or Ellen

waved her plaid-clad-arms

I hated Orange Is The New Black (but Wentworth was good)

I was never a follower of trends (except those plastic sandals you could buy

in Dollar Tree and with lip-gloss look pretty fabulous at 12)

nor adroit at fitting in just because

of one thing in common or a noon day pink vagina-hat march

there were

too many that didn’t fit

anywhere

satellites without orbit

except maybe, briefly, with you

you, who also didn’t fit in

couldn’t endure small-talk, the color yellow

or back yard get-togethers with damp burgers

and without a glass of wine, found yourself unable to resist

hiding in the abandoned tree house

smoking a purloined woodbine

something about your short nails and full lips

isn’t that what they always say?

see? I subscribed to one lesbian myth

and maybe

if we stay long enough

legs swinging against dusk

fireflies eating holes in the universe

we’ll not feel so cut out of errors

and pasted in absolution

for all we are supposed to be and not

anything much but this

lovely sway in darkness

I don’t like you

A little girl

With golden hair reaching her tan

Told me, tongue to one side, half-licked lips

I don’t like you.

Afterward I asked

A disinterested person

Who was paid to iron my dad’s shirts and begrudgingly

Watch me until he returned

Why would someone not like me?

I hadn’t said this with some inflated belief that I deserved universal liking

But rather, an innocent question

That first time

Branding with the word knife

The girl with flax hair

Didn’t include me in hopscotch or skip rope

Ring a ring a roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tissue, a-tissue, they all fall down

She was the most popular and they chose her for Mary in the school play

Whilst I played a donkey, braying when gift bearing wise men arrived

The local woman who ironed my dad’s shirts

Begrudged making me a canned supper

I was a nuisance, playing in her dour house until 6pm every day

Throwing dirt on drab paving stones, pretending to be invisible

I don’t know why

She crossly replied

Her forehead wrinkled with steam

Curly hair rising, sleeves rolled up, sweat stains coloring

Maybe you’re a nasty little girl.

The next day when my father dropped me off on his bike

At the school gates

I walked the other way

I have been ever since

Learning to salvage myself

From unexpected spite.

If I met the peach-kneed Danish girl today

She’d likely have track-marks and bruised eyes

Turned out she was beaten beneath her starched frocks

Turning the wickedness back into the world

Isn’t that what hurt children do?

Perhaps it’s not wise to always listen to your elders

I’d warn the five-year old me

Playing with empty hands on the stoop of someone else’s street.

As an adult, when someone doesn’t like me

Which happens like storms and rain in May

Their voice reminds me of that first loneliness.

Children who stop believing in a kind world

Feeling sharp thorned scorn

Grow into adults who keep themselves sheltered

From the humans in wolf skin, prowling outside

Like castaway cries of surprise

When we think we are safe and

Still, we trip and fall.

The next generation

This isn’t a pity poem

who the hell wants to read one of those?

but if I’m honest

which I’m not very often

preferring to put on a mask and sit mutely smiling on the outside

it’s sometimes harder to pretend and say nothing

than let it out

if I did let it out

what would IT look like?

am I really so bad for having an urge to share?

the empty feeling inside

surely that’s how we hope to fill ourselves

with something other than hot air or quiet despair?

one thing worse than peripheral is rejection, so usually

we stay quiet about how we really feel incase it’s true

nobody really gives a damn once you’re grown

how I got to this juncture is the easy part

a girl is born, her gender is already

a strike against her in a world easier on men

we don’t treat girls very well

maybe there should also be a rule against small families having smaller families

call it what you like, I call it diminishment

I was diminishing before I was born

when there’s nowhere to go, you usually strive to go up

but I was bad at direction, turned into a box turtle and hid in my shell

hoping someone would pry me out

that was my second mistake

generally it’s worth noting, people do little for free

if I could tell myself that I’d have said; Don’t rely on anything but you

you end up staying inside too long by yourself

before you know it, even the language you speak

taints your chances to pretend to be normal

I look

at photographs of other people

they are surrounded by people, fitting in like

well crafted pieces of puzzles I do not fit

I was the kid sent off to eat with other families, never my own

it felt like a kick in the shins then, and everytime since

feeling ackward in a crowd

because I didn’t learn how

to belong

so this isn’t a pity poem

i’m not chafing with self imposed isolation

not the girl who smiles when she’s crying, or maybe I am

or the one who feels more alone when amongst a crowd

everything is so quiet when that’s how you’re born

it takes a fortitude I don’t possess to break the cycle

erase the twenty years forming a tongue without social skill

I hear the sounds of a party rising over the walls

a party I could be at though, I know

i’d be pressed against the wall without a way out

though all I’ve ever wanted is to learn a way in

i whisper

i am irrelevant in this scenario

self worth is tied to others even as we know it comes from ourselves

i didn’t generate any faith

so I don’t believe in God or me

but I do believe in you

if this was a pity poem I’d ask

why you didn’t help me learn how to live?

though I know the answer already

you couldn’t do it yourself, what chance for me?

we’re cut from the same cloth, you and I

that’s why we both hide

like the man in the high tower

did he ever feel as lonely as I do?

why didn’t he need

the things I cannot seem to reach

it’s like I am stretching out for them

but the betrayal of beginnings and everything after and before, is too deep

we betray ourselves most of all

in trying to be what we just aren’t able to

a teacher once told me you can be anything at all

that’s a lie I know it

we each have chances and some of us have fewer props

so we stand ackwardly by the side

trying to be someone we’re not

until the inauthenticty feels like a curse

we revert to type even as we dislike who we are

this was set in motion before we knew

we’re just the next generation of lost

not self pity, no, more like a pain

a mere poem cannot do justice