“Diversity Checkbox: When I Was Twelve” by Jill M. Talbot

Jill M. Talbot


Should I feel shame crossing off
the Caucasian box? White is the least 
honest color of all—I am not white—
I am shame. I am ashamed of
this box, this paint-by-numbers
diversity quiz. I could be a dyke?
Where’s the box for dead mother?
Where’s the box for adoption?

Identity confused: please call
Governor for report—where’s
the box for junkie—for warrior
gene? For should have been aborted?
Where’s the box for mentally unfit?
Where’s the box for asexual 
wannabe? Where’s the space 

for the time I got stitches and thought
it was the best thing that ever happened
to me—I was twelve. Stitches were
my identity. How they kept the white
out. Oozing red onto a dishcloth.

I thought I found God. 
She was white like me. 
I was twelve. 
I was twelve.
I was twelve.

I got a McFlurry 
with all of the flavors.
Just like my mother. 
White like me.
Dead like me.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]


Jill M. Talbot: “I actually debated whether or not to submit here. There is no doubt about whether or not I have been diagnosed with mental illness—in fact, with several. Mood disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders … I have altered between conforming and fighting against labels. I would rather be called mad than ill. I refuse to believe that my personality is sick—but I believe I am strange, am odd, am mad as a mad hatter. I can submit because I no longer fight labels. If anyone has a borderline personality, I do. But writing has taught me that my eccentricities are something to be valued. Because of the high correlation between creativity and mental illness, I believe it is a sign that we should start rethinking illness, as we have done with sexual identities. From illness to simply different—unique—equally valid. I just want to be valid. This desire is at the root of much of my writing—to just be valid like anyone else. Sometimes this is covered with a bunch of other shit, but at the root, always the desire to be valid—to undo some of the traumas of my past—to have an Axis II label of: okay. Maybe okay people don’t get hospitalized in psych wards, but maybe the world is mad, and some of us are more sensitive to it than others. Some of us need poetry more than others.” (web)

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