Look At Me Now
I was a wack poet. An
open mic all star. Flash
and footwork and gum chew.
Long hair and tardy and
postracial: even the humility
a sales pitch, the insecurity
a good look for later. Honored
to be here. Now watch me
wash in the fuss of this stage
light: miss girlfriends I do not
have (ignore the one I do),
hate a father whose love is
the reason I’m here. Here are
lies that sound like water. Look
at me. Showed up to the black
tie in sweats and Air Maxes,
smiled like a pay check, begged
clap while I flash the bones
of another life. Fill me with praise
I can’t sleep without. Let me
dare you to ask if I work here,
between slam scores and Sunday
dinner. Dance practice and football
tailgates. I work here: My family
is lower class. Came up the hard
way with silver spoons and jazz
music. Nobody ever handed me
anything except golf lessons
and boychoir and National Parks
and education like holy scripture
and love around my neck like a
light switch. But here are their
drinking problems. Their shattered
marriages. The doors they punch.
The things they shout across holiday
parties and the humans they wound.
Here are their worst mistakes,
wandering around on all fours
in the light. Now look at me.
We headed toward the far end of the field to collect
a lost kickball from an earlier recess, and then we
simply collapsed. Froze. Like jigsaw cutouts
laid awkwardly atop one another, face up.
I don’t know how or why we decided to fall here,
but I know I am surprised by his weight— like he might
crush me if we so much as speak. Or giggle. If we so much
as flutter a muscle toward naming the weirdness of it all
pinned beneath his trunk. If someone were to walk by,
they’d see only Jeff in bits, lying on his back in a pile
of rotting red Maples, unaware that I am underneath,
panting for breath, learning every inch of my tiny
body, its thick hum, heart whirring like the purr of a bike
spoke, little sex mashed into the ropy ribs of his back.
From this moment, sixteen years will pass before
I’ll feel the weight of a man like this again. It will be
in the back seat of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, pleather
will stick to the backs of our thighs. But here we rise
and brush ourselves off, trek across the field
after the bell without a glance. Here, I will flop
the next day for Jeff to see. His hard gaze in the other
direction while I soak there, taking in the open air above.
Adam Falkner is a writer, educator, and consultant. His work has appeared in a range of literary and academic journals, and has also been featured on HBO, NPR, BET, NBC, in The New York Times, and elsewhere. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the pioneering diversity consulting initiative, the Dialogue Arts Project, and Director of Special Projects for Urban Word NYC, a nationally acclaimed youth literary arts organization. He teaches at Vassar College and Columbia University’s Teachers College, where he is an Arthur Zankel Fellow and PhD candidate in the English and Education program.