I.

When we first moved in, five-and-three-quarters-year-old me

ran up the stairs eager as lightning, thought

white walls and a bay window

meant mansion, thought a yard big and green as a jungle

and ceilings tall enough for bunkbeds

meant heaven.  Not like the last house

half-swallowed by snowy hill and

slanted eaves low enough to bruise my sister’s head. No,

I was impressed.  Didn’t know

then about cockroaches

termites in the woodwork, neighbors whose

beliefs staked signs in our yard

like hostile dandelions or

schools where integration was

a brief-lived memory.

I knew nothing then; hadn’t heard the rasp

of sexist words slung across girls’ skins

like purse straps or the thunder

of brooding stormfronts rumbling

with storefront fundamentalism–my hearing hadn’t

grown sharp enough yet for that.

But on the playground

in the lunchroom

I quickly learned when to hold my tongue

or risk whiplash from the practiced backhand of

a silent majority that

never lost its voice, not here

where vocal chords climbed three-fifths

up the voting register and pitched a tent

on the summit of inequality.  Here

they carried heavy slabs down with them

from that mountain of self-righteousness and stoned

to death those who couldn’t afford

houses of glass, or those who couldn’t bend

fast enough.

My house aged fast, almost as quick

as I did, shooting up like the

summer weeds in the yard I wove into ropes

then went climbing in the trees shooting

rubber-tipped arrows like I was Tarzan

before he’d ever heard

of Jane, before she ever tried to mend his wild

uncivilized ways.  And my mind grew

faster than the poison-ivy vines they tried

to tangle it with, to bind me to history’s rotting

tree-trunk, its pages flaking dead bark

But in time the growing pains caught up with me

bent my back

pushed me to flee

that place of growing, of beginning

My dreams burst from their picture-frames on white walls

and I sought taller trees to climb

ones where the wood doesn’t smell like rotting

things that should’ve died long ago

and been buried beneath slabs where none could forget

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