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    Poem: “After Challenging Jennifer Lee to a Fight” (me, the bully version?)

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 18, 2007

    This poem, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, was sent to me in e-mail today by a friend

    After Challenging Jennifer Lee to a Fight

    I hesitate, because what would my father say? My aunts in India
    are swathed in sarees, glass bangles and crimson nails.
    Their perfect ropes of hair, oiled and glossy black, never
    betray them to the wind or the chase of a chicken

    in the courtyard. They’d watch my grandmother
    shape bricks of dark halva, wrap each one
    in tight plastic they’d chill for days.
    Always calm, serene.

    At least, that’s how my father
    tells it, but I know when pressed,
    my aunts would have done the same thing.
    Jenny Lee called my younger sister

    Shrimp in front of the whole group of Bus Kids—
    no way I could let Jenny just swing her pink backpack
    all the way home. Once the bus pulled away
    from our stop on Landis Lane, I tapped her

    on the shoulder and, and-we were a mess
    of ribbons and slaps. She was easy to scare
    from my nail marks drawing tiny pinpricks
    of blood on her arms, her puffy cheeks. I told her

    the red dots meant she had rabies, that
    she shouldn’t tell anyone because then she’d infect
    them and most of all, she better say sorry to my sister,
    else I’d push her face into the barrel cacti littering

    the sidewalks. My first rage, my first fire. Jenny
    sniffled Sorry and I was relieved: I wasn’t sure
    I could hit much more and my skinny legs
    were spent with dust and sweat. My sister

    and I walked home in silence. If we wore sarees,
    all the yards and yards of shiny sateen would’ve
    unwound from our tiny bodies, too light to drag
    in the dust, too proud and taken with wind, like flags.

    (From At the Drive-In Volcano. © Tupelo Press, Inc., 2007)


    I was, I think, much nicer than this. Though I will say that in 2nd grade, one girl told the other girls on the playground that the eczema I had on my legs was some contagious horrible skin disease. So they would not play with me. And I cried.


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