Thursday, June 9, 2011

I am what I am

So, a few weeks ago, I was part of a poetry service at church about loving ourselves. In the meeting before the service, we decided to start at the "it's really hard to love ourselves" place, and move to the "I'm super fantastic" place in our poetry. A friend and fellow poet suggested writing "I am what I am" poems*, and said she would write one. I thought about it, and wrote a poem with "I am what I am" in it...but that poem was just a little too personal (and had a few too many f-bombs) to be read in church. Oops. I wrote a different sort of poem (without expletives) but when I heard my friend's "I am what I am" poem, and the "I am what I am" poem written by the congregation, I was amazed. THAT is some cool stuff, I thought. I decided I would write an "I am what I am" poem. So I sat down, and I wrote at the top of the paper, "I am what I am." And then I waited. And I waited. And I waited. So I wrote it again: "I am what I am..." and then I waited. Apparently, it still wasn't time for me to write about me being what I am.

So the next week, I had a "poetry workshop" with some kids at church. As a "warm-up," I gave them each a slip of paper that said "I am...". "Now," I told them, "you can write things that we would know about you. You could write things like, 'I am a girl' or 'I am a boy.' Or you can write things that we don't know about you, like, 'I am a person who hates broccoli' or 'I am Harry Potter's biggest fan.' OR..." I paused for dramatic effect. "Or you can write something that is more symbolic, or metaphorical, or something that couldn't be real that you feel sums up who you are. This would be something like, 'I am the one ray of sunshine streaming through the clouds' or 'I am a mama bear in her den' or 'I am lemonade on the hottest day of the year.'" I handed them slips of paper. Five seconds later, hands shot up: "can I have another one?" "Can I write more than one?" "I need another one." "Can I just have a whole piece of paper?"

Clearly, this is easier for them than it is for me.

I don't have the permission of the authors to publish their work here, but it was amazing. With lines like, "I am paint that wants to be splattered" and "I am the odd kid that lives down the street" and "I am a hat that wants to be worn backwards," their "I Am" poem is obviously super-fantastic. What amazed me, too, is that they sat, wrote their poems in 5-10 minutes, and handed them to me, beaming: "look what I wrote!" "Read this!" "Listen to this one!" The room buzzed with excitement and creativity. When I read them their poems aloud, I thought we would explode with the magic of words we were creating. Most importantly, they were proud of their work. They put words on paper, read them, and were happy with it. Watching that process was amazing.

So, I left that session and thought, "You know, you really should try writing your own 'I Am' poem. If the 10 year olds can do it, I'm pretty sure you could string some words together." I, finally, made myself sit down and wrestle it out. I'll have you know it still took me 4 days to write this poem. 4 days! It was a hard one. A really hard one. But I did it. I want to say something like, "It's really not good, and I really don't like it..." but in an effort to be like my 10-year-old poet friends, I'm not going to. I'm just going to say: this poem has driven me NUTS!

I Am What I Am

I am what I am:
I am puppy kisses, goats, roosters named Zuckerman, and ankle-biting ducks.
I am knee-high wading boots, overalls, bent spoons and rusted out pots perfect for mud pies, grass soup, and dirt cakes with dandelion honeysuckle icing.
I am deer snorting in the darkness, tents with dry-rot in the front yard, 4-H entomology club, and cowbells banging on the front porch, telling me it’s time to come home.
I am the teenager who escaped to her bedroom and lost herself in books such that stories came to life with an imagination so vivid, they infiltrated her dreams and wrote sequels in her mind.
I am flashlights under blankets until the quiet hours of morning: it was Judy Blume who taught me to love the silence of 2 AM and the ways stories and words fill the quiet with mystery that burbles, joyfully, in my heart.

I am what I am:
I am Durga, Buddha, and Mary of Guadalupe, together on my dresser.
I am faith and disbelief, uncertainty and striving, clarity and conviction.
I am a teenager with answers and a 20-something with none.
I am an old soul who is discovering, uncovering, and recovering, denying what I know and owning what I don’t as I try to figure out how to live in a world I’m not sure I ever belonged in.
I am candles and dirty dishes,
prayer flags, violets, bamboo,
books littering a bedside.
I am mechanical pencils scratching legal pads at 3 AM when even the dog has given up and gone to bed without me as I sit,
writing until the jagged, pounding thoughts smooth into silence.

I am what I am:
I am the big sister who answered to “mom” on the bad days; the glue that held things together when they were falling apart.
I am the 9 year old who was told not to cry, and didn’t.
I am the kid who learned that feelings aren’t meant to be shared. Thank goodness I became the 25-year old who has decided to break those rules and does, again and again and again.
I am the 12 year old who navigated children’s hospitals with a 3 year old in tow and befriended children hooked to machines in playrooms who discussed waiting for hearts like I waited for the tooth fairy. It was there that I learned to be strong for others before I knew what strength was.
I am the young adult who learned how to visit her baby sister during visiting hours and ignore nasogastric tubes, locked units, IV lines, and “I hate yous.” I learned how to hold the pain of broken closet doors, self-hatred, and fear without words, how to be the mom she wanted and the friend she longed for.

I am what I am:
I am a 3rd grade drop-out, a soon-to-be doctor with no high-school diploma. I am the ex-homeschooler who will always be a homeschooler at heart.
I am the poet who denies she’s a writer, and the writer who denies she’s a poet. I am slips of paper with lines of poems in the bottom of my purse, in the margins of textbooks, at the bottoms of grocery lists, in the middle of psychopharmacology notes.
I am the aspiring musician who pretends to read music but can’t, and is too hard-headed to take lessons because she can figure it out herself, thanks.
I am the person with the familiar face that strangers spill their stories to in line at the grocery store,the girl recognized by her smile, the passionate woman with a penchant for social justice who doesn’t know how to rein it in, and doesn’t want to.

I am what I am:
I am words becoming unleashed; a voice, no longer silent; power, no longer hidden.
I am expanding limitless horizons and targeted goals, maps with fuzzy borders, no clear destinations.
A dirty blue Subaru heading in the direction of my dreams, I am an expert at U-turns, 3-point turns, throwing it in reverse and driving until I figure it out.
I am rarely singular in purpose: I move at a speed I can’t keep up with, determined to keep challenging, moving, pushing, destroying road blocks, “I can’ts” and “you won’ts.”
I drove from the place I grew up in with one foot on the gas and one on the brake, my stomach knotted with “how could yous?” and “why are you doing this?”, a mind full of other peoples’ beliefs that I would be back home before the year was out, but I knew I had to get the hell out anyway.
I am a heart beating with the truth of following dreams and, four years later, I am driving back, one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, desperate for my mountains, aching for the familiarity of home, only to find I’m leaving behind the home I made.

I am what I am:
I am nose rings and skirts, my father’s skin, my mother’s hair, and eyes that are all mine.
I am flip flops and dangly earrings, ballroom dance and belly dance, I am waiting on the brink of confidence.
I love with an intensity that fills my body, am far too sensitive and feel too much, but can’t live any other way.
I give big, long hugs, talk with my hands, write long letters, tell friends I love them, and mean it from a place in my soul.
I am a therapist described by supervisors as calm, gentle, and loving. I am arms scarred from teeth and fingernails, and I am unending patience, rewarded by trust, fleeting eye contact, and spontaneous smiles.

I am what I am:
a 25 year old light of insignificance
making my place in the world by loving and dreaming of becoming
I am.

*You can read her super-fantastic "I Am What I Am" here


  1. W00t! It's superfantastic! You're superfantastic! No wonder it took four days. Four days>?!?!?!?!? You've got to be kidding me!

  2. Nope, I'm serious. I mean not 4 FULL days...but considering I usually sit down and write a poem in one sitting, this one took FOREVER. I would sit down and write a line or two, scratch a couple more out, put them in a different place, write one or two more, have no idea what else I am, and stand up and put it away. I usually become obsessed with whatever I'm writing such that I have to write it all at one time. This one was just really hard for some reason!

  3. I can tell you who I am. I am an old man who loves you in that good way. I am grateful to be your friend. I am honored to be someone you have trusted enough to share who you are. I am blessed to have been able to share life with you even for this short time.

    Peace and love always ...