This Is Not a Poem

by Allison Whittenberg
Allison Whittenberg

There is a day that defines me for bad reasons. I go back to it to look for meaning and clarity.

I’m walking home. I’m seven. I’m Alone. I always carry books whether I read them or not. It’s early fall. Climate: warm.

I don’t notice the car pulling up beside me, but I hear what they’re saying…The red car crawls as I walk. They yell chaos. Foul words clashing. Primarily “nigger,” a little bit of “bitch” thrown in.

I keep my pace. The one in the back right doing most of the hollering. The irony of his blond afro-ish hair strikes me. It circles his red face like an angry halo.

Eyes front while the other four of them hollering so loud I can’t think. I walk past the apartment units seeing the blue side of my house. I have no escape plan. I’m going to pretend that this isn’t happening, leading them right up to my front door, ringing the doorbell.

My mother’s going to let me in.

Like every other day.

I’m yards from the front gate. I’m just about to place. My hand on the iron when they speed up.

I stand in my school dress coming to my senses.

I get smart. I wait and watch them turn the corner.

The neighborhood has turned black over the years. I remember thinking they must be from the neighboring town where much of the white flight flew.

My mother opens the door to my shaking and crying.

I had held it in until then.

I dissolve as I tell her four whites called me a nigger.

My mother stays on her side of the table; now that I’m safe, I’m scared.

My mother offers nothing.

Indoors, I keep thinking, what if…

It’s like they could have grabbed me and put me in their car.

I can feel them on me.

I tremble.

My face burns.

My chest hurts.

I go up to my room.

My father comes home at 9:30 p.m.

Every other day, he works till closing. Mother always has something light for him. A sandwich half.

I usually come down to hear him talk about the store, but I’m in bed early tonight.

Under the covers, I hear him coming up the stairs, biting off his words.

“…I was so ashamed of you…coming home…crying…and some white boy called you a nigger.”

He flicks on the light, my eyes adjusting to his age yellowed teeth.

In the next weeks, months, he re-scolds me about the incident. When he does, my mind takes trips…

I’ve added, “not tough enough” to the list of what have become moments that I didn’t live up to my father’s expectations. (I’m not smart, not pretty, too skinny, too dark).

More than anything, I come to wish that I could have. I would have never told my mother.

My mother doesn’t like to own things, she always gives these things away.

Though this is the end. There is no conclusion.

I end where I begin every time.

Every time.

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