A Natural History of My White Girl
after Mendi Obadike
When I was a white girl, I had no mother.
I drank whiskey, lived in a house with no walls.
Girls visited and marveled at my room to breathe.
When it was sunny, they let down their hair, drank fresh orange juice.
We drank all morning, didn’t go to class.
I knew which words to carry in the arsenal, which memory to disarm the most resilient bully.
Nobody bothered us or asked why we were missing.
I never doubted this was me. I knew how to pull up short, how to light my name under their skin.
There was no need for mirrors. No need to get free.
Copyright © 2014 by Ching-In Chen. Used with permission of the author.
About this Poem
“‘A Natural History of My White Girl’ started as a challenge from Gregory Pardlo—to write to the ghost in the room, one which I always secretly imagined lived under the surface of my life, morphing through the television screen of my childhood, through the laughter of the children in my elementary school who couldn’t pronounce my name. Ultimately, this poem is about growing compassion for myself and for the ghosts I imagined kept me company, whose stories I inherited.”
Ching-In Chen is the author of recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017) and The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009). A Callaloo, Kundiman, and Lambda Fellow, they have been awarded residencies and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, among others. They are currently Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington Bothell and live in Seattle, Washington.
Date Published: 2014-11-13
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/natural-history-my-white-girl