Poem for Poetry Thursday

The Young Girl

Wandering through the isles of the department store,
a security guard notices her
lingering among the racks of costume jewelry.
He thinks he saw a young black girl stuff something
into her bag. The guard stops her at the double doors
and searches the backpack. Nothing is found,
nothing is explained, yet he looks at her as if
he has seen her face before. She shuffles her feet as
the manager’s name is called over the loud speaker.
The guard squawks into his walkie-talkie:
She fits the description.

Fumbling through my purse, I wonder about her
thin brown body; how many times has she been
stopped, opened up in the fronts of drug stores
and clothing stores. How many times
have buzzers sounded and heavy eyes
fallen on her face.

The manager threatens to call the police.
Her big gold-hooped earrings dangle
under a brown baseball cap, hiding her eyes
from the customers in line.
The lady behind me says
She’s gonna cry. For a moment
the young girl glances up, looks at me,
then looks away. She turns toward the guard
and starts smacking her gum loudly.
A series of rapid pops like a cap gun.
I crack a slight smile. I hope she took it!

Copyright 2006 January Gill O'Neil

Poetry Thursday: the most wonderful day of the week!

This poem was published originally in Callaloo years ago (they never sent my copy of the journal--yes, I'm bitter). But as I look at it, I see how my writing style has changed. I see things I would do differently, words and phrasings I would not use today. But I do like the energy and I remember when I wrote it. For me, poems are like photos, so I can go back and see me as a young girl poet who used any moment, any conversation as a opportunity to write poems.

I think of her often and fondly.


Colorsonmymind said…
I like the idea of a poem being like a photo to you.

I am so new to poetry, but I feel like my poems will do the same for me.

Thank you for sharing this.
wendy said…
I'm glad you have kept writing, so you can chronicle all the years...I have huge gaps...when i had kids..as if to think letting the poems out would endanger them..(i had an intense sylvia plath fixaton). I too, from the poems read here, can see the change in you...you were a talented bud, in this poem...but you have blosoomed into an incredible and fierce poet.

I enjoyed the glimpse of your younger self....
GreenishLady said…
I echo Wendylou's comment. There's a maturity in what I've seen of your recent work that makes the work sing out. While this piece had an authenticity that makes it fine in its own right, I imagine you'd treat that incident differently writing about it now.
January said…
It is fun to go back and look at my older work.

The subject is so important to me that every once in a while I like to put it out there and see what happens.
paris parfait said…
That poem is terrific! And yes, almost everytime I look at something I wrote in the past, I see something I would change. But at the time, that worked. And yours worked then and now! Brilliant!
Dani In NC said…
Your more recent work seems to be closer to the vest. What I've read focuses on your feeling and relationships. This poem looks outward. Both styles are interesting in their own right.

There must be something in the air because I was having similar feelings about a poem that I posted this week. Even as I was typing it, I had to resist the urge to embellish it. Didn't I know how to use adjectives back then? That is a change from my younger self, who thought that all poems were dropped on her fully formed and should not be changed one iota once they spilled out of her pen. Sixteen-year-olds can really be full of it sometimes!
Anonymous said…
A very moving poem - I could hear faint whispers of many other stories within its lines. Excellent as always.
Keep it up, you have a great imagination
Catherine said…
I can see in that poem, a young writer who was going to become a great poet if she kept on working at it. You observe the details beautifully.
I have learnt, by the way, from working on a literary magazine, that artists and writers do not always make the best administrators. sometimes the administration part gets messed up. I spent the last couple of months sorting out messes on a subscriber/contributor database when I took it over. Still, it's a shame you never got your copy.
Jim Brock said…

Really wicked fun in the poem, with the speaker being complicit with the young girl's subversion. Your commentary just adds another layer of watching the younger you watching this young girl.

Of lost issues in the mail, I like to think of the most unlikely people receiving them in my place.
January said…
Thank you!

I know I probably should give Callaloo the benefit of the doubt, but I e-mailed and called many times but they never responded.

For the record, I do have a lot of respect for readers at journals. I did a short stint with Ploughshares and it was intense.
January said…
I do like the idea of the journal getting lost in the mail, however.
My uncle worked at the post office for many years and always brought me magazines from the dead letter office.

Maybe someone who needed poetry more than me received it. I can live with that!
Jennifer S. said…
this is great, a little bit sad and a little bit sassy. I love your snapshot style poems.
writingblind said…
I love this poem, especially the image of the girl and the narrator exchanging looks, kindred souls for just a second. Just wonderful.
Kay Cooke said…
Yeah! Great captured moment.You do that so well.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for stopping by Poem Road. Glad to have found your blog. Lovely poem. Having lived in the West Indies for five years, when I think "Callaloo," I think of a Caribbean stew/soup...which made me just go off on an internet search for Bay Area Carib restaurants. :) As Jim implied, fun to think of the person who received your journal instead of you...not fun for you, but maybe it was just what that person needed that day...

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