When I was thirteen years old
I sat at an Olive Garden in upstate new york
My mother’s fiance
was complaining about his nose.
This lumpy broken thing
in the middle of his face
that barely allowed him to breathe
Always ruddy, red, rebelling angrily
at his otherwise pale complexion
His mother agreed.
Silly rugby accident.
Oh, well. Still a handsome man.
Her nose however,
would you look at how big it was?
Nothing delicate about this bridge.
You should see Grandmother Ward,
now that’s a nose to be proud of.
My mother joined in,
examining the slightly larger flare
of her own nostrils with a mirror.
Not enough “elegance,”
For the millionth time
another part of her lacked
enough whiteness to be beautiful
I felt the anxiety immediately.
My nostrils are much wider than my mothers
And the complexion of my skin is just
a couple shades darker.
The bridge of my nose is nowhere
near “just short” of elegant.
“Well, I guess I have the worst nose of all!”
The missed beat felt like a brick
thrown into the face of my father
His nose, wide and mexican
could not be beautiful
and yet neither of us
had a place at that table
Silence stretched itself
out like a cat
At that age I hadn’t yet learned
how to turn shame inward or
how to fashion self hatred out of insecurity.
At that age I still believed
that elephants in rooms
were supposed to be acknowledged,
that we were supposed to be bigger
than our silence.
It wasn’t until years later
that I learned the price of ivory
and understood why everyone
killed their discomfort,
and stuffed its
skeletons into closets.
I want to say that that was the day
I decided never to collect shame
nor bones nor silence
but the truth is I’ve become
an expert at organizing
the things unsaid.
Now my resume reads:
Expert elephant killer.
Well-read in silence
and the spaces between lines.
(Encounters a minimum of 200 elephants a day.)
(Never mentions said creatures.)
(Collects, delivers, and organizes bones.)
Secrecy is currency.
We drown rooms in silence,
who remember the elephants
collect their bones.
Our closets are heavy
with what the blind call ivory.
You might call it humanity.