A Muddle of Words
We sit on the back porch steps,
Scraped knees and blisters on our heels,
Scars sprinkled like constellations
On our hands. Airplanes shake the sky
Above us, cutting it apart with white trails,
And out of nowhere you tell me you hope
Those people up there can see us
Sitting, the heavy air clinging to our skin
As we stare up with desperate, searching eyes.
I shrug off the soft-voiced doubts, nodding
In agreement, because we’re both
Doomed to dream the impossible,
We always have been.
Our mothers taught us to believe,
Dressing us in stiff-fitting clothes
And our shiniest shoes every Sunday,
The ones we would slip off underneath
The Sunday school tables while the teachers
Told us stories about fruit and floods
And falling from grace. Our mothers
Were the ones who taught us how to read,
Sitting next to us on the living room floor
As we stumbled over the roots of words.
They taught us how to snap them in half
Like twigs and look at each piece on its own
Before tying them back together again.
We still press our hands together and our eyes
Memorize the cracks in the floorboards as we pray,
We still cradle books against our chests and our lips
Mouth the words as we go along, because they taught
Us there’s a difference between faith
And ignorance. Told us to remember the world is built
On the backs of both. Remember you always have a choice.
Remember when the words get too difficult, snap them
In half. Look at each piece on its own.
I speak in prose. In long, rambling sentences.
In stories driven by conflict and catastrophe.
Let me tell you a secret:
I think in poetry.
In short, quick lines,
Describing everything around
Me, trying to find a deeper
Meaning in meaningless things.
My mind is a muddle of words,
So many I can’t keep track of them all,
So many that I get distracted from the world
The words on the paper smeared
As I wrote them down, inking the backs
Of my hands. Each poem carves itself
Into my mind, burning like liquid gold.
Can I tell you another secret?
It took me four cups of coffee
And two bottles of Snapple
To write this poem. I scratched away
Every stanza until all the papers underneath
Had imprints of the crossed-out lines.
I took a deep breath. I began again.
Another airplane slices the sky
Above us. I nod my head,
Letting myself fall into the idea
That we are more than skin and bones.
That we matter enough on this dry, cracked
Ground to matter enough to those people
Up in the air.
There is a plane ride in the back of my mind,
My legs too small to reach the floor,
My attention held in the hands of the sky
Outside the window. The clouds tangle
Together, my stomach dips as the plane
Flies higher and higher, my fingers press
Against the window in breathless
Wonder. I never bothered looking down.
Not even once.
Elle Cooper is an eighth grader at Charleston County School of the Arts, where her focus is Creative Writing. She enjoys sarcastic comments and the shocked looks they leave on people’s faces. Her favorite candy is gummy bears, but only the clear ones. She writes too much poetry, and drinks so much coffee that her parents and English teacher are concerned.