Poem :: I, at Seventeen

Photo booth sepia photo strip strip of young woman from the 1940s with mysterious smile.

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

I, at seventeen,

grand star of that film inside my head,

am spilling light into the yard

while peering out into the night

from my room amidst the trees.

I want a word to break my fall,

so I take a word and I take one more

and I take a third, and from those words

I begin to write a brand new poem

in the notebook on my thigh.

I, at seventeen,

am turned in and in like origami

am surely no one’s pretty baby

am foul and sharp and full of points

am already on and gone—and gone

to whatever lays beyond the trees

to history stretched across my knees

a word and a word and a third word still,

yet none of it enough.

I, at seventeen,

watch two thousand faces light

like torches when I dance onto the stage—

to the band’s bright haunting jig.

Then I turn and pause mid-flight to flaunt a grin

to hear ’em roar and when I land,

I’ll hit that beat and they’ll roar again.

Off I’ll go into the wings,

sweating, pinched, a bit more broken,

catch my breath and back out again—

a-one, and a-two, and a one-two-three.

Then I fly.

I, at seventeen,

can jab an elbow in your throat.

Don’t walk up on me way too fast.

Don’t you come up on my six.

I am small but too damn quick.

I can fight you f—king dirty:

I will kick your kneecaps backward.

I will **** your ****ing world up.

So keep your distance. Yeah, you heard me.

I, at seventeen,

washing dishes in the kitchen,

catch my face flit in the window

just above the soap-slicked sink—

I’m pale and worried, framed by night.

I’m so much sadder than I should be.

The glasses clink, submerged in water.

I dance a step and shake my head.

I turn and dance another step.

I want a word to break my fall.

Oh my lord, I’m seventeen.

A-one, and a-two, and a one-two-three.

Off I fly.