The question echoes down the years
And takes its stranglehold on me
I see her gray head and inquisitive eyes,
Like a bird on its perch,
Wondering and wondering
About quiet, awkward me.
So smart, she chirps, as though I am deaf and on display.
But, she doesn’t play with anyone.
She doesn’t cut straight
Or color neat.
She runs strangely,
Cannot climb the rope
Or catch a ball.
And, even when I know she knows,
She doesn’t answer
When called on.
She holds her hands to her throat instead.
Why does she do that?
The rest I take on the chin
As I always do.
It’s my clumsy, fumbly little lot in life, after all.
Oh, but that last!
I want to spring up and describe in detail
how the words
Rise up all a jumbled lump
And choke my throat.
How the wrong words at home
Bring a swift slap
And sometimes spittle on my cheek
When my nickname “Bitch” is snarled in my ear.
How I fear the twenty-three pairs of bemused eyes turning to me
As I gasp for air, let alone a coherent response.
Even if I know the answer,
Which I nearly always do.
But, I can’t.
I am quietly choking again.
And, soon, my mother fills the silence, anyway,
As only her overcompensating,
Gabbling tongue can.
She acts bewildered
By my oddness,
Baffled by my depression.
She references her entire life story of being
Shy while simultaneously
Dismissing my own.
She explains her tiny brother died
So young, so tragic
And, therefore, of course, the bubble wrap
She kept me in.
Besides, that girl is clumsy and without balance.
Vulnerable and not a bit worldly wise.
And there was once a kid that drowned.
Another who twisted her knee skating.
An aunt that slowly
went mad after incantations
Said at a sleepover.
The earth is an ugly place.
My husband is always on the road.
Money is always tight.
But I do try to buy her trinkets,
Even when she surprises me with her “smart mouth”.
And especially after we fight.
And then mother cries.
Teacher turns the bird eyes soft and tearful, too-
I am all but forgotten
In the litany of “life is so rough at home”.
Suicide notes get crumpled unread in her hand, to later be flushed-
To erase how I failed her.
I am looked upon with a near disdain.
One who could be a credit if only
I could straighten up and fly right.
My grades are good,
But as a mama’s pride,
I remember wishing desperately for change,
But finding only years layering over pain.
And, so, the memory is mostly not
So sharp anymore,
But more a dull twinge-
Something that resurfaces
When the query pops its head back in-
Why does she do that?
Because there are a thousand reasons
I could give,
But none I want to keep discussing.
I am so sick of choking on the justification of
What makes me me.
I don’t want to be told to change
Or even that I can!
I just want to be me,
no questions asked.