Music lives inside my legs.
It’s coming out when I talk.
I’m going to send my valentines
to people you don’t even know.
Oatmeal cookies make my throat gallop.
Grown-ups keep their feet on the ground
when they swing. I hate that.
Look at those 2 o’s with a smash in the middle––
that spells good-bye.
Don’t ever say “purpose” again,
let’s throw the word out.
Don’t talk big to me.
I’m carrying my box of faces.
If I want to change faces I will.
But tomorrow’s in BOLDFACE.
When I grow up my old names
will live in the house
where we live now.
I’ll come and visit them.
Only one of my eyes is tired.
The other eye and my body aren’t.
Is it true all metal was liquid first?
Does that mean if we bought our car earlier
they could have served it
in a cup?
There’s a stopper in my arm
that’s not going to let me grow any bigger.
I’ll be like this always, small.
And I will be deep water too.
Wait. Just wait. How deep is the river?
Would it cover the tallest man with his hands in the air?
Your head is a souvenir.
When you were in New York I could see you
in real life walking in my mind.
I’ll invite a bee to live in your shoe.
What if you found your shoe
full of honey?
What if the clock said 6:92
instead of 6:30? Would you be scared?
My tongue is the car wash
for the spoon.
Can noodles swim?
My toes are dictionaries.
Do you need any words?
From now on I’ll only drink white milk on January 26.
What does minus mean?
I never want to minus you.
Just think––no one has ever seen
inside this peanut before!
It is hard being a person.
I do and don’t love you––
isn’t that happiness?
From Fuel by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with permission of the author.
She asks me to write a list
of all the names I’ve been called.
And then a list of things
that are killing me.
Where to start? Susie. Sue.
Big Head. Men have called me cold.
Men I know, men I don’t.
It’s all over the news
how they want to kill me.
It doesn’t matter what they
call me. When I was 17, I kneeled
on the stained carpet at Men’s Wearhouse,
looping a tape measure around
a small boy’s waist and he showed me
my name. He pulled his eyes slant
as I measured the distance
between belly button and floor: inseam
or outseam, it’s hard to keep track.
A wedding, his father said.
There was going to be a wedding.
The boy needed a tux.
I don’t like this memory
because I did nothing.
I become nothing again.
Not long after in college,
I was sorting clothes in the back
of a Goodwill. Court-ordered community
service. An older man took
his time looking me up
and down as I sweat through my shirt,
threw pit-stained blouses
into the discard pile,
everything else the salvaging bin.
I went home with him for years,
not knowing about the prior assaults.
Would my knowing have changed
anything? He was gentle
to my face. I only ignored
his texts sometimes.
Men have destroyed me
for less. Even the boy.
I’m supposed to tell you
I forgive him—
he was just a boy.
I forgive myself instead.
Copyright © 2022 by Susan Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.