Things The Neighbors Saw

This poem came as a result of crawling through writing prompts to stave off my pre-IWPS writer’s block (for those of you who haven’t heard, I am going to be representing Loser Slam at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam!). The two prompts I used were “things the neighbors saw,” and simply “list poem.” I have written a lot about growing up as a queer kid in a conservative suburban town, but I’m proud of this poem for capturing the general feeling of “bittersweet” that clouds so many of my experiences at home. Just as a reference, 2014 marks 10 years my family has been living in our current house, hence the chronology of 10 in this poem. Enjoy!

things the neighbors saw:

1.
my father,
safari hat flared out
over his sun-shy neck
like elephant ears,
strangling weeds
in their sleep.

2.
every early-morning
middle-school bus-catching
attempt; failed feet rousing
sleepy parents; keys
fumbled, jackets
askew.

3.
the first time i ran away,
Barbie suitcase covered
in stickers, filled
with too many shoes and
my mother’s be-home-by-
dinnertime smirk.

4.
the last time i ran away,
after a hurricane boarded
up all the windows and
i bit through my tongue
just to keep warm.

5.
the decade between
the first time and the
last, my little sister
hitting puberty to the sound
of my mother wailing
my name like a prayer,
hoping it’d be enough
to bring me home
unscathed (it
wasn’t).

6.
glass bottle broken
against sidewalk split
apart by his name beating
bat cave in my throat
the night i decided
to forgive myself.

7.
teenage mythology
bursting busted nut, bloody
lip, tires screeching against
driveway the first time i
drove by myself.

8.
her lips—the only promise
i have ever wanted to keep—
tucked under my teeth
in her car every night
for as long as we are happy.

9.
my best friend bringing us
home-grown tomatoes, crying
pregnancy test and ex-
boyfriend’s parents, me
leaving for college and her
walking her dog by the house,
hoping i’d come back.

10.
every single homecoming,
back-porch prayer turned
safari-escape, jackets flung
aside—childhood cartwheel,
stubborn love—my parents’
arms the first suitcase
i am aching to unpack.

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