I never wore an ethnic dress

I never marched in a nationality parade
or drew a family tree, or said these are his
eyes, her mouth, it runs in the family.
I looked for myself in strangers, stood
in a grocery aisle surveying the slope
of a woman’s nose, the color of her hair.

I never felt hurt by a racist joke, never visited
a concentration camp or a burial mound
clutching my chest, the old oppressed
blood still beating on. I never got a letter
the way my sister got a letter, never analyzed
the handwriting, questioning the love
in the scribbled love.

I only ever whispered I hate to my parents
who weren’t there to hear me. I only ever
screamed I love to my family that is, cried
with my family that is, camped in the backyard,
built birthday cakes in the sand, watched
thunderstorms from the patio huddled
together with my family that is. And I learned
more each year, what that word means.
But I never wore an ethnic dress.

 

Published in Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards at Carnegie Mellon University, 2017.

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