Here’s the thing I have to say before I say anything else:
I am very lucky.
Very, very lucky.
I knew that I wanted to write poetry when I was in second grade. I still remember the moment. I still remember sitting in the back row of Miss Hanks’ class, bored with class and bored with myself and bored with staring out of the window at the parking lot and at the ubiquitous statue of Vulcan, who mooned my grammar school all day, every day. I flipped through my English book, hoping for anything to stop the boredom of class and myself and the window and the parking lot and Vulcan’s ubiquitous backside. And then it happened.
Somewhere near the back of the book, I found (an unfortunately de-dashed and uncapitalized version of) this poem:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
And that was it. In that moment, I experienced something I couldn’t describe until, years later, I found that Dickinson herself had described it: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”
I started writing poetry, at first directly to Dickinson, because I was lucky enough to find someone, even across decades of distance, who would understand about the parking lot and the classroom and the boredom and even Vulcan’s rude gesture, and I was also lucky enough to find a way to say it. I was even more lucky to have parents who cared for and supported me, who encouraged me to keep writing and reading and writing. I was lucky to have a mother who understood I needed to have this exact kind of notebook and this exact kind of pen (for years, a brightly ridiculous purple). I was lucky to have a father who loved poetry too, who took me to the library every weekend and introduced me to the poets who made me the poet I am today. I was lucky to have parents who not only allowed but ensured that I followed my heart, who let me audition for the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where I was lucky enough to have incredible teachers who left their own indelible mark on my development as a writer.
After I started school at ASFA, every September, my father and I went to the bookstore so that I could get the newest edition of Best American Poetry. I remember the excitement I felt when I found it. I remember flipping through the table of contents in the check-out line. I remember reading it, and in a devouring kind of way, on the ride home, ignoring the carsickness and reading lines I loved to my father. I remember, from time to time, thinking about how amazing it’d be to see my own poem printed on the book’s pages. I remember thinking that would never happen. I was just a girl in Alabaster, Alabama, and I couldn’t find the way to believe in myself enough to believe that would even be a possibility.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have people — my parents, my teachers, my friends — who believed in me and in my possibilities even when I couldn’t. Still, when I heard that Sherman Alexie had chosen my poem, “House Is An Enigma,” for the 2015 edition, I couldn’t at first believe it was possible. Now, it still feels unbelievable, and I’m filled with gratitude for those who believed in me, even when I couldn’t.
If you’d like a sneak peek at the poem, you can find it in this issue of Conduit. And, as a bonus, here’s a photograph of the house that became the House in this poem and the others in my House Is series: