Monday, November 21, 2011

subject to change

i've told this story before. it was the third month of the first grade. winter had set in, and with it an itch.
grade one brought several firsts. my first full days of "pay attention", my first long gaps of freedom from the watchful eyes of "family", from the trail or be trailed rules of farm life.
here, in this spacious brick room, i was built by something new. it felt like self. there were days, when putting one arm and then another into the quilted
purple sleeves of my winter coat, felt like standing in line to be trampled.

like any good captive, i threw up protest. my knees would begin to jump as the 3:40 bell drew near.
i took to staying seated and stamping my feet when line up time was called.
then, things escalated. my protests took the form of a screwed up face which turned to oversized tears, and sporadic out and out
shrieking at last recess or sprinkled throughout the afternoon.
it had begun virtuous enough, a pure distaste to leave the nest of distance, but by november, i had chalked myself into a full formed problem.

my name appeared in the right hand corner of the black board early in the day, followed by checkmarks and frowny faces.
soon, nearly every morning had been invaded by my disturbances.
it was late november, cold enough to see one's breath but still warm enough to walk to and from the bus, slowly.
i dragged those few alone moments like the toes of my velcro shoes on the pavement.
the day began, role call, the pledge of allegiance. something crept up my red checked dress and bit me with a new steel.
i had never felt it before, a side effect from life out from under the thumb.

as everyone rose, i felt myself stay seated. miss baker, an angel of a first grade teacher, in belted blue dress, white bibbed and bowed, with matching scuffed pumps, shuffled to my side.
in utter distress, she watched my silent mouth. the chorus had begun but she stopped it with a double clap and another clatter of heels.

my eyes focused on my friend's pigtail, my name was called, two and then three times.
i heard the now familiar scratch of my name being chalked white on the blackboard.

it came over me quickly, so fast in fact, i didn't feel it come out. a question had been shaken out and hung between miss baker and i.
why, today of all days, was i refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag?

an explanation crept out quickly. i wasn't breathing. a small voice spelled out a truth I had never heard before.
"I"m not from here." the voice said. "this isn't my country. I miss my country, and I miss my mom. i want to go home."
The reality of the words stuck to my fingers, the roof of my mouth. a beat skipped, Miss Baker closed her mouth, turned and continued the
chant. face down, I counted as the words poured past me. still and red cheeked, i tried not to think about what i had done.

Later that morning, Miss Baker closed my reading book and led me by the elbow beneath the flag, through the door and down the hall.
I counted silver and black tiles from the first grade door
to the office. I sat on a pink and steel chair while a call was made. whatever awaited me on the other side of that phone, i didn't want it.

that afternoon, i followed the feet to the bus to the lane to the farm. slow, my grey velcroed sneakers carried me up the hill. when i
climbed the brown carpet to my bedroom, she was waiting.

something was wrong. i felt the quiver of knowing in my knees. it worked its way to my lip.

i had seen her angry before, many, many times.
the way the peach colored flesh around her eyes bunched. but today was special. there was a red splotch to the right of her mouth
and something in the ridge of her forehead looked deeper and more folded than i had ever seen.

she stood over my bed, tall and still except for her mouth. the big blue suitcase lay on my tiny pink bed, unzipped into two rectangles.
the closet door was open, and the brown carpet was cluttered with my few belongings.

i watched her face change to something darker and then sharper than skin should be.
her feet planted, she was half the room or more. one hand grabbed at the things
from our three years, she had bought to be mine. she threw them at the open suitcase.
the other hand pressed down onto my shoulder until i was flush with the floor, and small.

now, more than two decades later, i am sitting on a pink bed with an open suitcase in "my country" far, far away.
and still, this moment shines so clear, when i think of her.

how i found my voice of won't and lost it on that single day.
that day she built me. she built me
from a fear and shame and guilt that we called love.

'if you want to leave so bad" ,
the blue suitcase flying through the air , then at my side
"go" she said "go."

Thursday, November 10, 2011


the third time i met you, i was dressed on purpose.
i held a small clear glass to my mouth and sipped quietly.

in a green and ivory sweater i bought because it is wool, i sit cross-legged in my room. everything in me is waiting. clenched and focused on "patient".
it's a muscle i'm learning to stretch.

the way she pressed on me tonight, above the shoulders and across the part of my back that curves in two, i felt known. i skipped home, beyonce in my ears, a foreign smile on my face.
it's dark here in the quiet way that doesn't feel scary. i step quickly over a carpet of yellow ginko leaves spread out softly beneath trees they let go of lastnight.

they let go of.