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 Kidsâ€”
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. Â© 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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