Kelley White: Selected poems
Poetry » January 2003

First Person Singular

I started life as
jellybean green
too skinny a baby
but everyone doted on me
called me a beauty;

I learned to bury beauty
in layers, became
a bookish child
an intelligent girl.

Still, the teachers said
they were surprised
I managed to graduate:
everyone knew I ran with
the mule skinners.

(That was it, you know,
the back of a chevy
become a harvest torn
and bloody,
still gold in the air
fallen in the village of flies.)

I am fond of snakes.
I have faced knives and fists
and the rhythm of bullets
but do not ask me
to stand on a bridge with a child.

(My daughter knew.
At four she drew
her brother
calling out of flames.

I cannot light a match
but I would go into fire.)

In my father's twilight
I learned silent work
and the bitten tongue
by the basement's bare bulb

I learned that love
can look mean
but be soft
and salty
as a tray of cooked chicken hearts

(and I almost learned
to forgive
my lonely bed
and the tasteless color

Don't ask me

Heavy Pat meets
skin-and-bones Franky
at the MAC machine
beside the hospital:

"What are you doing
that's good for yourself?"
(Fortunately, they
don't recognize me.)

Kelley White was born and raised in New Hampshire, has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School, and has been a pediatrician in inner-city Philadelphia for the past twenty years. She writes to survive.

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