Growing Down

Do not tell me why I wrote poetry –

that I want to be like you, that the words move through me

predictably, clean-cut and watery

you haven’t heard my stories, our stories

burning to a new beat that screams of “do not tell me”


Do not tell me that ceramic is spelled with an “e”

I spelled it with a “y” in my 6th grade spelling bee

Amidst the murmurs of runny-nosed children with shirts

The color of ketchup and Mickey Mouse leaning under easy words

I spelled it in my palm first, so I’d look real serious and maybe

Scare away the eyes in the lined-up blue seats behind me

(Can you spell humiliation, you pantie-wetting dictionaries? Let me win this bee)

I spelled it with a “y” and a husky man casually dressed

Told me, incorrect.

Incorryct, you husky man, you’re brutally incorryct


Do not tell me about rigor mortis

I picked raspberries with my cousins, not for fruit pies

But to smash between our teeth whole until our fingers looked severed

And my cousin wasn’t old enough to realize it wasn’t funny

To piss on raspberry-pickers, so he did, and I ran home

Sticky-fingered and screaming the S–word – “butthead” –

Screaming, screaming

Until I saw a cat in rigor mortis spread across the road

His head stiff while a cocky-looking raven sampled his tongue

And his belly ripped open,

All the way open

 like a stepped-on raspberry pie


Do not tell me that red lobsters are popular dishes

I wore one for Halloween, redder than any fresh-from-Maine crustacean

Down the hallway, past the Axe-sprayed clouds

That made Andy Wiggins throw up his lunch and pre-gym snack

And a big kid, 8th grade and shaving – shit –

Ripped off my plated tail, guffawed, while his girl shrieked

Between periodic peeks at her tissued-up rack

And I couldn’t move between the shoving pubescent guppies

so I hawked one toward his face,

and missed


Do not tell me no blood no tears

I hardly knew her – she was my age — just enough to drain my ducts

When her mother dirtied up her dress to kiss her daughter’s grave

And when I felt dried up

I couldn’t sleep, and thought of her crossing the street halfway

Before breaking her neck on a car’s hot fender,

Which if I’d understood correctly in those terrible days

Left brake marks, but no red,

And nobody dared question my screams

when the weatherman predicted sunny skies

 the afternoon of that girl’s death


Do not tell me math is boring

I colored my fingernails black – boy I’d get shit for that –

While a coughing gray teacher, conservative no doubt

Peered at me through box glasses and said page 157 class,

               Quadratic discriminant

But then a gorilla in the corner beat his chest to the tune of Fuck You

And slammed his fist in his partner’s face while Ms. Cowen wailed

And pattered around in a circle in her ankle-length skirt

Until a Big Bubba student pulled the fighters apart like stringy meat

And looked at me, the black-fingernailed authority –

Damn was I disappointed


Do not tell me about God’s Book

I wrote a short story with better grammar and

 A better fan base – less stoning –

I went to a church and compared my palm to Jesus’

And listened to “historically contextual interpretation”

               Noah’s Ark was merely a myth, but God’s word stands strong

               The world is older than 6000 years, but He sparked it all

               He loves us praypraypray faith is all that matters  you are beautiful in God’s eyes

Haven’t you heard the church’s statement? They acknowledge  evolution

Sure I’ve heard it – but haven’t you heard the Tooth Fairy’s statement?

She acknowledges evolution


But most of all, don’t tell me that we don’t do words

That they belong to an exclusive club where bouncers toss out the young and trembling

So the aging ones can drop in and cough up a verse.

Last year, on the way to class, a shadow walked ahead – a boy

Quiet, slouched, arms still red from the Indian burns of PE

And when I saw a crumbled paper fall from his pocket to the floor,

I picked it up, cradled it, unfolded it like a flower

And the words on that page were the words of a better soul

Wanting to teach his brother how to kick the shins of the people

Who called him freak, straining to see past the cage of the smelly hallways

To where the sky was bluer, carrying his heart on a single crumpled page.

The words on that page were our stories,

The simmering glow of anger, love, burning dreams and hope –

As ageless as the red of poetry from years and years ago.


Do not tell me we’re all beautiful, and that you see I’ve grown –

These are our words now – our stories, our pains,

The red of young and trembling years – growing, not grown –

That’s our decision.

Ours and ours alone.  


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