Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 6: Unsolicited advice to girls with pen-stained hands and pierced noses

I have loved Jeanann Verlee's poem "Unsolicited advice to adolescent girls with crooked teeth and pink hair" for a very long time.  The pacing, her delivery, and that haunting line "when your mother hits you, do not strike back" just resonates as so brilliant to me.  I have wanted to write a poem in a similar format for a long time, but always got stuck when I tried.  

I recently heard this poem by Tonya Ingram, titled, "Unsolicited advice to skinny girls with bitten nails and awkward glances (after Jeanann Verlee)."  Ingram modeled Verlee's format/lines on this, and has some beautiful lines, too: "When you discover your grandmother is bipolar and schizophrenic, hug her.  Then google each illness.  When you question if you are anything like her, hug yourself.  Then google each illness."

And so I found myself thinking about 2 weeks ago that I had to try my hand at an "Unsolicited advice..." poem.  I'll be honest: it has taken me hours of back and forth to write this.  I'm not writing any disclaimers, I'm just stating facts here...this poem was hard to write, in spite of the fact that I have been mulling over it for months.  I will probably change it quite a bit...but I need to post it and stop obsessing over it.  

It's ironic, isn't it, that this poem is causing me so much stress, and my line here is "when your heart knows the truth, do not be afraid to write it."  I am learning how to get out of my own way, but goodness that's hard.  I think, maybe, I need to poem THAT.


Unsolicited advice to girls with pen-stained hands and pierced noses

When your heart knows the truth, do not be afraid to write it. 

When the girl you know is taking her dog to the pound, let yourself save him. 
Let him become your new best friend.

When your mother finds out you have pierced your nose, smile. 
Own this reclamation of your body.
When your grandfather will not look at you, will not talk to you because you got your nose pierced at  age 24, leave the restaurant.
Take yourself for a walk, to the bar next door. 
Shock him again by buying yourself a drink.

When the farmer boy with strong arms invites you to dinner, say yes. 
Let him be the first boy to open your car door, to get dressed up for you, to bring you flowers.
Let him pay.

When the farmer boy with strong arms decides to leave you at the coffee shop 'cause he ran into a hotter friend,
wait until the Christmas party to tell his mother why you didn't work out. 

When your teenage best friend asks you if your father makes animal sacrifices because he is a Jew, invite her over for Passover.
When she tells you your family is going to Hell, forgive her. 
Do not take it as an insult, do not question her ignorance, let it be a sign to let her go.
Then, let her go.

When your New Jersey aunt asks you if you are taking your goat to college, curse her.

When your heart knows the truth, do not be afraid to write it. 

When your grandmother mails you postcards she painted, save them. 
Put your favorite in a frame, keep it on your dresser,
let her laugh bless you while you're dressing. 

When the boy you love starts dating someone else, let him go.
When the girl you love wants to hold your hand,
give it a squeeze
feel the softness of her fingers
let yourself smile.

When your grandfather tells you that you look like an Indian, ignore him. 
When he tells you that you don't have a mind of your own, ignore him. 
When he embarrasses you in front of 42 relatives, ignore him.
When he questions your 12-year-old breasts, fondles your 12-year-old bra, stares at your 12-year-old chest, do not hold this as a secret, tell your father, tell your mother, tell his wife. 

When your heart knows the truth, do not be afraid to write it. 
When you finish your last grad school class,
roll down your windows
flip them the bird as you drive away.

When your sister tells you how hard it is for her to stay alive, hold her.
When you can't sleep because you watch her disappear every time you close your eyes,
walk in quietly, stand in her doorway,
count her breaths. 

When you find the community that will hold your heart, let them. 
Trust that you are deserving of this love.

When your mother tells you catcalling is a compliment, roll your eyes. 
When she says she doesn't understand your degree because you'll just give it up to have a baby,
tell yourself you'll show her what you mean.
When she has the nerve to ask what you were wearing,
do not tell yourself she did not say it
do not believe it an honest question
do not hold it like a secret
do not walk away. 

When your heart knows the truth, do not be afraid to write it
the time for writing is here
the time for speaking is here
the time for loving has always been here, this
is your birthright
do not question 
do not argue
hear me
there is always
to speak

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