WOMAN TO GIRL
after Jamaica Kincaid
Put the water in the pan before you heat up the pan; salt the water before you put the pasta in; turn your jeans inside out to keep their color; if you fall down get back up; never pick up a coin on the ground—money is disgusting; don’t brag in front of the less fortunate; if you know the right answer then raise your hand, even if you want to hide your knowledge; tell someone if they have something in their teeth; even if it’s my principal?; hold your head high no matter what; don’t back down if you’re right; if someone’s acting like an idiot look at them as such; no, not your principal, your friend or your enemy, not superior; if there is a pyramid of fruit do not pick from the middle or bottom; at Halloween let the little kids get two pieces; always have faith in yourself; if someone backs you into a corner, there is always a way out; this is how to make popcorn; this is how to comfort your friends; don’t be friends with someone you only like half of the time; watch what you wear to church events—even if it’s a camp-out; give and receive credit where credit is due; if the offer isn’t right, walk away; this is how to conserve energy; this is how to stay warm in winter; this is how to wash your bra; don’t go to a school that has the same name as a poultry company—if you can help it; know your audience; even if you have shorts on under a skirt don’t test it; build people up and knock down those who are as big as skyscrapers; try your best; practice how you’re going to play; if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit; get help before you need it; zip up zippers before you wash—sounds less scary; don’t buy something just to buy it; find your passion and never let go of it; this is how you decline an invitation to the dance; this is what you wear to a school dance; this is what you wear to a church dance; this is what you wear to a gala; if you have a loud voice, own it; if you get something wrong fix it, even if it doesn’t change your grade; do something because you want to, not because you have to—even if it’s a requirement and you have to make up something completely untrue; this is how to hold your head high in the face of shame; if you can’t drink at your wedding, then you’re too young to get married; this is how to walk the runway; I wouldn’t want to marry a stinky boy anyway!; don’t go camping without layers; always think before you talk—unless they deserve it; if your friend has something in their teeth, tell them!; date someone for at least four seasons before marrying them; if you don’t want to wear white on your wedding day, you don’t have to; if you can’t find what you’re looking for never stop believing in what you want; do not wear flip-flops in the city; “ma’am” should stay in the South with your elders; be yourself even when everyone is watching; don’t look down; live in the present, not the past; this is how to let go of revenge fantasies; this is how to embrace the world and its dark corners; this is how to make a simple treat on a cold day; don’t question your actions, even if they’re wrong—just learn from them and move on; live simply or lavishly, just live your way; break a rule every once in a while; have fun, even during a standardized test; write your own narrative, don’t be influenced by my achievements or life decisions; remember, I want to be buried naturally, don’t even think about cremating me.
—from 2020 Rattle Young Poets Anthology
Why do you like to write poetry?
E.E. Colmenares: “Poetry is a very personal and expressive form of writing that lets the author make known their true colors and feelings while still maintaining a guise. I like poetry because it lets me do that which I fight to do daily.”