Lee Rossi is a winner of the Jack Grapes Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Steve Kowit Prize. His latest book is Darwin’s Garden, from Moon Tide Press. Recent poems appear in The Southwest Review, Rattle, Spillway, The Chiron Review and The Southern Review. He is a member of the Northern California Book Reviewers and a Contributing Editor to Poetry Flash.
Instructions to My Teenage Self
the next time you go for a walk in the world
remember the stories you heard as a child
a girl goes to visit her grandmother
two kids get lost in the woods—
remember, the woods are not just woods but the whole world
and everyone you meet there
is either a wolf or a witch
they may not look like a wolf, or a witch
they may look like your grandmother, some kindly old lady or
like some cool dude who knows his way around
they may even look like you
but don’t forget the stories
all they want is to eat you
even your parents
by the time you get home
if you get home
you won’t recognize them, or rather
you’ll recognize them for the first time
the wolf and the witch you’ve been living with all along
by now, you’re part wolf, part witch yourself
how do i know? who am i?
i’m a bird, a bug, the woods, the wind
i’m that other part of you
the part that’s left
after everything else has been eaten
the part that fails it’s way into the future
i am you, who survives
At first I couldn’t say anything.
I was a bobbin wound with silk
beginning its long migration
through skirt or inseam, hemming
and hawing. I was afraid of truth
and so was given many truths,
all of them huddled
on the windward side of the cliff.
I did not speak to the cliff,
and it did not speak to me.
I spoke instead to my mother,
her roots diving into the restless soil
like genies who forget their powers,
the power to reverse time,
the power to make the dead see
who they really are,
and thus be revived.
My mother spoke quietly
shaping the wind into syllables,
a language I would never learn to speak.
Don’t get me wrong.
I did learn to speak.
There was fire, and buildings
tumbled to the ground.
I searched and found
plastic forks, plastic dolls, tricycles.
I wore them around my neck—
amulets against the future,
Say Anything (p.2)
or the past (they didn’t seem that different,
and not now.) But now I’ve given up my search.
(You knew that.)
I have found as much of the truth as I can carry,
and even so, it is too much,
this load of wood, this raven feather,
each step pressing me further into the ground.