My grandmother tells me
stories of 1960, Miami, Florida,
when at twelve years old,
she and nine other Catholic school
girls piled up next to her baby brother
in her mother’s dark green Chevrolet.
The backs of their thighs stuck
to pleated skirts, long legs tangled,
argyle socks and brown penny loafers.
The heat formed mirages on
the pavement, wind rushed
in through the windows, and strands
of honey hair stuck to petal lips.
They stood in the 163rd Street
open air shopping mall, where
on a small platform, John F. Kennedy
spoke of “a time for greatness.” White
cuffs extending from dark suit sleeves, he
reached a suntanned hand out to the crowd,
laugh lines deepening at the corners
of his eyes, straight white teeth.
She says the thing she remembers most
is being surprised by how much red
was in his hair, so different from
the grainy black and white pictures
that flashed on her television screen.
I wonder now what it’s like to watch
the world through a gauzy veil
of monochrome, pulling at the threads
until a tear forms large enough to see
color, a feeling that will never come
to me, a feeling that faded away with
’63 and a General Electric color
television, when my grandmother
realized there was no mystery in gold
buttons gleaming down the front of a pink suit,
all the sorrows shaded once in grayscale
now bleeding out onto the shaking fingers
of a widow’s hands, as she realized that we will
never again look in wonder upon auburn hair.
—from 2017 Rattle Young Poets Anthology
Why do you like to write poetry?
Roey Leonardi: “The first poem I ever wrote was about a unicorn, and my mother wrote the last two lines, which were undoubtedly the best two lines in the poem. That was in first grade. Now, whenever an idea comes to me out of the blue, it’s almost always in the form of poetry. I’ve found the ending is still the biggest challenge, but I try to push myself toward something that is unexpected and can hopefully give the rest of the poem a fresh and more complex meaning.”