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,”

she determined.

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!”

Silence.

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

grooming time

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.)

Professional.

(Never mentions said creatures.)

Skilled.

(Collects, delivers, and organizes bones.)

Secrecy is currency.

We drown rooms in silence,

and those

who remember the elephants

collect their bones.

Our closets are heavy

with what the blind call ivory.

You might call it humanity.

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