Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Nightingale-Bamford School, New York, NY
Educator: Maggie Tobin
Can I make you a collage to tell you how I feel?
My nails are too short to scratch.
No-one understands me except other people.
I remember Baldwin at the dinner party:
“I could not deny the truth of this statement.”
Strict agreement is stifling, sturdy doctrine.
He understands passion, unmoved & undulating;
he holds a heart that is tearing apart
and feels only the wet texture. Will I spend all my days
waiting for one word to rend me?
You’ve got to die for—stop!
if you do it fast, you get to pick.
En tout cas, toutes les vies se valent, oui, Camus?
I’m here now, admiring a bit
of yellow brick. Don’t say I’m wasting;
make it pretty if you do.
I’ve wasted water and wasted words, too.
But time is a gross thing to say, practically obscene.
A one-way ticket to a long winter. A pit of tar from the Pleistocene.
(The invention of the clock was the best thing
anyone ever did for writers.) Be real:
even if your brain was just a big blueberry
you couldn’t destroy yourself.
I’ll tell a cruel lie after I get LASIK
and a hot meal. For now I’m just expanding.
Although I am beginning to like modern art,
which is worrying. But why not stand in a white room
with a random number generator on my forehead?
If we’re going to approach an eclipse every ten years,
I might as well be inscrutable and thoroughly scruted all at once.
Why did we stop burning people at the stake?
If you find my body floating in a river, please,
tattoo my neck with something relevant.
Fukuyama, you were my rosary in eighth grade,
but I have a psychiatrist now.
Fukuyama, my dad believed you, fresh out of college
and still humming the tune of Fast Car;
he believed you and it tasted like vanilla wafers
and gasoline. Fukuyama, you’re the only one
who can handle being wrong.
Fukuyama, I have one question:
what the fuck was happening in the nineties?
I arrived just after the tamagotchis.
Did you all zonk out for ten years?
Fukuyama, my mom still believes you.
Three years ago, I was trying to get around
the subject of myself by way of going straight through.
“My fire burns short and bright,” is what I said,
if you’ll allow a teenager his cliché,
and tried to scrape the muck from my hands.
Listen: Joan of Arc was wrong.
She was wrong when she was a mud-faced child,
her hair in wisps, watching Saint Margaret
congeal from the poinsettias, crying as she left
and trying to hold her golden hand.
She was wrong when her sword filled with lightning.
She was wrong when she bent her head in the next room
and heard the older men discuss her fate
and prayed with the voice of a girl
who had never seen blood spray from a man’s neck
like a flock of plovers from the shore.
She was wrong when her flesh began to melt
and only a tiny part of her remained, buried in her chest,
still clad in perfect silver armor. And that part was also wrong.
I am in love with Joan of Arc.
Everyone is in love with Joan of Arc.
History’s sweetheart: we all wish we had her eyes.
And Helen and Cleopatra—famous beauties
clad in feverish fervor, Cleo had a snake’s tongue
and bit herself. Even Helen chose to live like bits of gilded gelt.
Her feet hit the pavement, too, you know.
Future drains into the face.
The best cure for acne is fate.
Gentileschi knew. You must drive your blade
into Holofernes’ neck. (I cannot forget that painting
because I am certain that when Paris showed up
on Menelaus’ doorstep, with a wild tale
of a golden lineage buried beneath pastures
and a half-smirk, Helen came to answer
his knock, and looked back at her husband’s
distracted dull patriarch’s eyes, and she turned
to the shepherd-prince and made Judith’s expression
and leapt across the threshold.)
But I have never been sure about anything.
I think I’m fine with my acne for now.
So what then? Fukuyama, everything is hilarious.
I live in a nest of “so what” like a trapper in reindeer skins.
It will not save me. But for how long have I been trying to retire
from the business of being saved? That settles it:
Oliver, I am coming upstream.
I am coming to meet you in the woods at the edge of town.
Will I see Bishop there, and Dickinson?
Please: let me join you in your vague loneliness.
I heard it in the thin static.
Curtains of it wash up on rainy shores.