When I’m not telling people
I am the least competitive person you’ll meet
I shouldn’t have moved to America, I am an anathema
I am nevertheless, competing with myself
the breakage, subtle and merciless of my whole
appears to be my greatest talent
should they look me up in the dictionary
I would stare out bleakly at Consequences in Fetus of Nicotine In-Utero
it began before words were formed, a slow
incompleteness quite unlike the robust energies
of my relatives
a thin, wan girl, slow to learn, I made up for it by being sporty
denying the gnawing, gnarling pain in my stomach
was more than a night terror
swimming for medals was competitive after all but
didn’t feel so when, head under water, the cheers sounded
like waves breaking on distant shores, easy to forget
noxious rinse of chlorine in verruca filled inner-city
swimming pool where small measure of fame could be found
among cast-off plasters.
Beneath water I felt powerful, unmolested, not burdened
by sandwich of pain in my gut or how
no-one for me sitting among keening spectators
when I came up for air.
Since then, fantasy has been my succor, I can’t deny it
perhaps I have lived half in petri-dish and tree house
with ‘here be dragons’ written on its door.
When teachers told me; I wasn’t behaving like a good girl
I said ‘make me‘ and spent the afternoon kicking muddy
kid shoes against linoleum hallways
what do they think we imagine as, willful, disobedient, opinionated
we are shunted from our positions as ‘well behaved’ to the
shrine of sinners lost in plastic corridors?
We learn the company of other Reparates
is oddly comforting, no-one to remind us we cannot
make sense of numbers and still struggle with spelling
soon I gave up trying for A’s
locking lips with strange boys who wanted my best friends
instead of this disinterested girl
briefly kissing felt like swimming underwater
but coming up for air was much harder.
I am teleported now into a body and time I never imagined
surviving this long or sitting at this table, watching birds
battle their pecking order outside in a hostile green world
I rarely visit
it’s not reluctance or shyness, they have grown comfortable with
the shifting skin of me
something that happens when you begin to leach
that essence of youth and vigor
realizing, if you can make it out of bed today
you’re doing better than the day before.
I hear in my head, the scold of my mother
who believed I gave myself this illness
and much as they’ve told me that’s madness
I am often found returning to those words
as if they have some clammy power over me
which of course, they do.
I know I was well and then I was not
just like you can remember the day you lost your virginity
or survived a car accident or inherited a country cottage
it’s a day when colors and sounds change
in this case, terror walked into my throat
sucking on me, whispered; bitch, this is your new normal.
Fight as I may, these years have unfolded like those
paper flowers I used to buy in joke stores
put them in water and watch them bloom
only long enough before turning to ink and
wet tree pulp
it’s a form of flaying when strangers are kinder than
those you expect
angry with yourself for not learning sooner
expectation leads to disappointment.
This could be why I didn’t
enter many races or attempt to claw my way to the top (of what?)
better to stay low and wait it out until
you can have your turn
only sometimes, waiting uses up all the time you have left
then it’s almost too late and you have to change
Nowadays I compete with myself
can I cure the beast that’s become constant companion?
Will it matter if I do?
What happens afterward?
Fear is mauve and dives and swoops like unmated Mockingbird
I hear the kitchen clock and fast thud of my tired heart
Somewhere, I’m still the girl in the treehouse who says ‘make me’
perhaps one day it won’t be disappointment but
something lovely, I can only hope
though my body likes to punch me in the gut
as I fall asleep and try to dream
thump, thump, thump, my mother’s voice
this was something you did wrong
thump, thump, thump, my own voice
no it wasn’t this was an explosion taking the long way around
even getting half way there would be some kind
which is why I always said it’s not about winning
but making the effort
to which I was told, that’s pretty negative foreign-born-girl.
Where’s your sense of spunk? I think I lost it somewhere between
throwing up for 4 months on end and the doctors saying
maybe it’s incurable…. ho ho ho …. you see
I’m not from here, I don’t belong
though where I came from I hardly know anymore
so I will forge ahead, outcast or survivor, pick a damn straw
with every passing year I realize
I can’t win, I but I will fight
MAKE ME I whisper to myself
bloody well try to MAKE ME stop.