Listen to Sandra Beasley read this poem.
When I was born, two incisors
had already come through the gum.
They gave me a silver bell to chew on,
brought me home in a wicker basket,
and kept me by the stove’s coal heat.
Every morning my mother boiled
a huge vat of mustard greens,
steam drifting over to my crib and
after a few hours, souring into a gas.
I breathed it all in. I began to walk
so they fitted me with braces.
I began to run, so they fitted me
with books: Mars, hydrogen, Mongolia.
I learned to dig a deeper kind of ditch.
I learned to start a fire in three minutes.
I learned to sharpen a pencil into
a bayonet. Sometimes at night
I’d sneak into the house of our neighbors,
into the hall outside their bedroom,
and watch as they moved over each
other like slow, moonlit fish.
Sometimes my mother would comb
my father’s hair with her fingertips,
but that was it. They wanted an only
child: the child to end all children.