Who I’ve been

Inside words and worlds,

I’ve been Ross, 
digging my cocoa-colored hands 
into the dirt of a community garden, where
“everything makes me mildly or more
hungry”
pruning poetry from “pear blooms
howling forth their pungence,” 
celebrating Black joy and lamenting Black sorrow.

I’ve been Tara, 
traumatized by the white survivalists who raised me,
singing sweetly in choir,  
sweating in the junkyard,
choked by my brother,
fighting to get Educated,
mining the context of my life, the lies I was fed, 
for the truth
that defined me — 
and sets me free.

I’ve been Isra, 
missing Palestine,
abused by the husband I never wanted,
raising my four daughters and,
“reading [my] books . . . 
beginning to find 
a different kind of love.” 

I’ve been Paul, 
diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer,
clinging to hope,
loving my wife,
my work as a neurosurgeon
and words, always words,
I keep writing even in the face of death,
marking the moment 
When Breath Becomes Air.

I’ve been Alice, 
cradling close the lifelong pain 
of a childhood accident,
startling
when my baby daughter saw
a “whole world in [my] eye,”
which taught me 
I am “beautiful, whole, and free.”

Each story a ticket
to a place
where I         

               l       o       s        e

                                             and 

                                                     find 

                                                            myself.


Storytellers and stories referenced in order of appearance: Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Tara Westover’s Educated, Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and Alice Walker’s essay, “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is Self.”

I wrote this ekphrastic poem as part of Exhale Creativity‘s Reading Well, Writing Well 2 Workshop.

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