Sometimes I think cruel things about other people. I don’t want to think these things and sometimes I hate myself for doing so. You say that all matters to you is being kind, I think, and that was so unkind. Sometimes I try to be Buddhist about it: Recognize. Acknowledge. Sit with it. Let it go. Sometimes I turn to one of my lifelong mantras to forestall future cruel thoughts: You don’t know what his story is, Alison, or, You don’t know what his home life is like, Alison, or, She was once somebody’s baby, you know.
Even though I don’t say these cruel things out loud, they bother me. Which might be why this poem upset me so much the first time I read it. As the lines gathered speed, and the poem gathered torment, it seemed so full of cruelty that I had to get away from it, had to push it away from me. It brought back so much awfulness from the past: cruelty of the school bus, cruelty of creative writing workshops, cruelty witnessed on the sidewalks and in school hallways and . . . everywhere. Especially these days, under our current regime.
But I kept reading. And when I got to the ending, that is when I knew that the poet was like me, but braver. She made herself go into the cruelty so that she could come out the other side.
Katherine with the lazy eye. short. and not a good poet, by Francine J. Harris
This morning, I heard you were found in your McDonald’s uniform.
I heard it while I was visiting a lake town, where empty woodsy highways
turn into waterside drives. I’d forgot
my toothbrush and was brushing with my finger, when a friend
who didn’t know you said he heard it like this: You know Katherine. Short.
with a lazy eye. Poet. Not a very good one. Yeah, well she died. the blue
on that lake fogs off into the horizon like styrofoam. The picnic tables
full of white people. I ask them where the coffee is. They say at Meijer.
I wonder if you thought about getting out of Detroit. When you read at the open mike
you’d point across the street at McDonald’s and told us to come see you.
Katherine with the lazy eye. short and not a good poet, I guess I almost cried.
I don’t know why, because I didn’t like you. This is the first time I remembered your name.
I didn’t like how you followed around a married man. That your poems sucked
and that I figured they were all about the married man.
That sometimes you reminded me of myself, boy crazy. That sometimes
I think people just don’t tell me that I’m kind of, well…slow.
Katherine with the lazy eye, short. and not a good poet.
I didn’t like your lazy eye always looking at me. That you called me
by my name. I didn’t
like you, since the first time I saw you at McDonald’s.
You had a mop. And you were letting some homeless dude
flirt with you. I wondered then, if you thought that was the best
you could do. I wondered then if it was.
Katherine with the lazy eye, short, and not a good poet.
You were too silly to wind up dead in an abandoned building.
I didn’t like you because, what was I supposed to tell you. What.
Don’t let them look at you like that, Katherine. Don’t let them get you alone.
You don’t get to laugh like that, like nothing’s gonna get you. Not everyone
will forgive the slow girl. Katherine
with the fucked up eye, short. Poetry sucked, musta’ knew better. I avoided you
in the hallway. I avoided you in lunch line. I avoided you in the lake.
I avoided you. My lazy eye. Katherine with one hideous eye, shit.
Poetry for boys again, you should have been immune. you were supposed
to be a cartoon. your body was supposed to be as twisted as
it was gonna get. Short. and not a good poet. Katherine
with no eye no more. I avoided you, hated it, when you said my name. I
really want to leave Detroit. Katherine the lazy short.
not a good poet. and shit. Somewhere someone has already asked
what was she like, and a woman has brought out her wallet and said
This is her. This is my beautiful baby.
For more information about Francine J. Harris, please click here.