I spent the weekend grading my students’ journals, and it made me want to post this poem, which was published in Encore: Prize Poems of the NFSPS in 2015.
I straightened the mirror a couple of times, so I have OCD,
then got distracted by a dog, so you added ADD.
I washed my hands after your high-five, so I’m a hypochondriac,
and when I frowned in the crowded mall, you said, “Don’t have a panic attack.”
I didn’t cry in Titanic or Bambi, so you think I’m a freak,
but I’ve seen Star Wars a hundred times, so I must be a geek.
I got 2300 on my SAT, so now I’m also a nerd.
Then I tensed when you gave me a hug, so you say I have Asperger’s.
It’s hard to live with so many labels— you have a name for each of my moods.
Despite how much you think you know, there’s something you forget to include.
While you catalogue each sign and symptom, trying out every disease,
underneath those acronyms, is a person, and that person is me.
This poem was published in A Book of the Year 2017, the anthology of first place poems from the Poetry Society of Texas annual contests. Now that it’s July, when we’re steeped in Texas summer, it seems like a good time to share it with you. Plus, I just got home from spending a few days with my wonderful family, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. I hope “That Summer” takes you back to some of your favorite summer memories.
I sat on a threadbare pink towel
on top of the ice cream maker
my dad and grandfather
taking turns at the crank
slicing homegrown peaches
my fingers stained
from hammering black walnuts
on the anvil in the backyard
the skin of my palms raw
from gripping the rope swing
in the hackberry tree
my mom in shorts and sandals
a glass of iced tea
sweating in her hand
my brother eating
a smile of watermelon
juice dripping down his chin
lightning bugs blinking
a slow Morse code
hummingbirds in the trumpet vine
bare feet and dirty knees
and the voices of my family
hovering in a comforting cloud
I’d like to reach back
and catch that summer
in an empty pickle jar
poke holes in the lid
and keep it for a while
warm and safe in my hands