Mother eats seaweed and plum pickles,
and when the Mormons come knocking
she does bird-talk. I've never seen
an ocean, but I'd swim one to look
for secrets. She has a big pearl
from my oji-san, says it will be mine
when she's dead. It's in a drawer
hidden with silver dollars. I hope
she doesn't buy a ticket, go back
to her sisters and leave me.
With stinging strokes, she brushes
my hair, pulls it into pigtails
that stretch my face flat. I walk
to school across sagebrush while
she watches from her bedroom window.
Once I found a prairie dog curled
sleeping on the ground and I brushed
away ants on his eyes. Mother
saw me dilly-dally, told me not
to touch dead things.
I have a red box in my desk
with a dragon lid that screws on
and off. It smells sweet from face
cream and I keep a kokeishi doll
inside for good luck. Wishing
for more colors in my crayon pail,
I make up stories about mermaids
and want a gold crayon to draw hair,
silver for their tails. But
we can't afford lots of kid junk.
I have piano lessons. She says
I'll be a doctor someday
but I think I'd like to be a fireman
or maybe a roller derby queen.
One day when I was walking home
some boys on bikes flew down
around me like noisy crows.
They kept yelling Kill the Jap!
I ran fast as I could but fell
in the dirt, got up and fell.
My mother came running to me.
She carried me home, picked out
the gravel, washed off blood,
tucked me into her bed and let
me wear the ring for awhile.
I wish I had long, white skinny
fingers, gold hair and a silver
tail. I'd gather baskets
of pearls. But my hair is black,
my fingers stubby. Mother
tells me they're not found just
floating underwater. She says
oysters make them, when there's
sand or gravel under their shells.
It hurts. And the more it hurts,
the bigger the pearl.
- Lee Ann Roripaugh, from "Beyond Heart Mountain"
P.S.: I was completely mesmerised and it caused a stir inside me when I read it at the library book sales earlier this year. To me, it effectively demonstrated what poetry is about: the emotion beyond or behind the words. "...the more it hurts, the bigger the pearl."