Matt Miller’s “Thirteen” and Sunayana Kachroo’s “Oh, my brown boy”

Matt Miller

                        after Lynn Melnick’s “Twelve”

When I was your age I loved a girl named Jenn and when she had Becky ask me to come over that blue October afternoon to the house where she was babysitting and I slammed hard to the street bombing down a hill on my Jeff Phillips, one Kryptonic wheel catching a stone, my elbow all road rash and blood and when later I sat next to Jenn on the couch I think she expected  me to kiss her but I wasn’t sure and didn’t know how to be sure so I played Don’t Break the Ice with the kid she was sitting for. And wasn’t I such a gentleman, a good boy, and so terrified of a girl? Delaney, your dolls, your Leias, your Reys look dusty on your bedroom shelf. When I was your age my GI Joes still posed but I was scared to play with them in case dad came home muttering he’s weird to mom so when I was your age I made myself go outside to play football with my brother’s friends. When I was your age I stopped talking to Reggie about the X-Men on the bus even though the fall of the mutants was upon us. When I was your age I finally figured out how to punch a boy back hard enough he wouldn’t ever hit me again before school, on the blacktop, as I leaned against the chain linked fence that covered our backs from the knuckles and grabs of older boys. You tell me the cool girls are mean. You say you don’t bother with them but have you been in love, brought to balefire in another’s glance? When I was your age the girl I loved dumped me the night a ball went through Buckner’s legs and the Sox would lose the Series and she kissed Dave. Is a broken heart still a hurt all over the skin? Is this what you and Mom are whispering? You’ve told me kids you know are kissing. When I was your age some friends were getting laid but I just wanted to be seven again and forever in Ms. Kew’s class drawing pictures of Luke and Artoo. When I was your age we started sneaking beers because we were supposed to start sneaking beers but Delaney be safe, keep sitting on the den couch with us to argue and angle about what show we should all watch on a Friday night because when I was your age Friday night was football games, showing off to the girls by getting bloody in games of Smear the Queer, because when I was your age gay was AIDS and we were all too afraid to say anything but what we thought was the right thing. Oh, poor Reggie on the bus. When I was your age the only good thing I ever did was stick up for him that one time and Voula heard me and told him and he said thank you. But mostly when I was thirteen I was a coward like the rest while you statue outside your school to protest gun violence, while you draw pictures where every woman is the right kind of beautiful, while you get yourself up in the blueblack dawn for a world you know will come at you with claws, while you laugh with your brother, talk to your mother, while you lean into me and let me give you the hug I didn’t even know I needed.

Originally published in On the Seawall and in Tender the River: Poems (Texas Review Press, 2021).

Writing Prompt: I actually came to this poem after reading Lynn Melnick’s “Twelve” so my poem uses another poem as the very prompt I am proposing. Take a repeated phrase like “When I was your age” and us it to compare and contrast your experience with someone is close to you in some way and who may be going through a tough age or period.  Let the anaphora (repetition) of the phrase sort of guide you through associative memories. 

Oh, my brown boy
Sunayana Kachroo

You tear up crooning the star-spangled banner
You sound local in your accent and manner
You take pride in being from the land of free
You pledge to the flag and its liberty
You ravel in the lore of ‘the founding fathers’ will
You hold the values that this nation promises to instill

Yet someday someone might question you 
“You don’t look from here, what’s your origin and your ploy?”
They might see only your color, the color of a brown boy
That day, I urge you to stand and I urge Stand Tall
Tell them that you are an American and a human above all

To my son Yash 

Originally published in The Brown Girl Magazine and in Sunny Side Up: Poems and Short Stories.

Translation in Hindi
शीर्षक – मेरे सांवले बेटे

चाहे तुम्हारी आँखें
अमेरिकन राष्ट्र गान से भर आयें
चाहे तुम्हारा आचरण और उच्चारण
इसकी महक में घुल जाए
तुम्हें इस देश की आज़ाद सोच पर
चाहे कितना भी अभिमान हो
इस झंडे और स्वातन्त्र्य की रक्षा के संकल्प पर
चाहे कितना भी गुमान हो
“फ़ाउंडिंग फादर्स” के इच्छापत्र को
भले ही तुम अपना जीवन मंत्र बना लो
इस देश के उन मूल्यों के वादे पर,
भले कितना भी इठला लो

फिर भी

किसी दिन कोई तुम पर प्रश्न उठाएगा
“यहाँ के तो दिखते नहीं, कहाँ से आये हो ?”
कदम कदम पर जताएगा
दिखेगा उन्हें तो सिर्फ़ तुम्हारा रंग
तुम्हारा सांवला रंग
उस दिन तुम सीना ताने
और सर उठाए रखना
उन्हें गर्व से कहना
मैं इसी मिट्टी की “अमेरिकन” संतान हूँ
लेकिन उससे भी पहले एक “इंसान” हूँ

Born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Matt W. Miller’s most recent collection, Tender the River, was published in 2021 by Texas Review Press. He is the author of the collections The Wounded for the Water (Salomon Poetry), Club Icarus, selected by Major Jackson as the winner of the 2012 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize, and Cameo Diner: Poems. He has published poems and essays in Greensboro Review, Harvard Review, 32 Poems, Narrative Magazine, Notre Dame Review, Adroit Journal, Southwest Review, and crazyhorse, among other journals. Winner of the River Styx Microbrew/Microfiction Prize and Iron Horse Review’s Trifecta Poetry Prize, he is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University and a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in Poetry at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy and lives with his family in coastal New Hampshire.

 Sunayana Kachroo is an award-winning poet, filmwriter, producer, lyricist and columnist. Her oeuvre has been vast and impressive, encompassing poetry, films, and collaboration with other artists including musicians, dancers and poets. She has written for various award-winning movies, which have been screened at many prestigious film festivals like Cannes, MAMI, and Austin Film Festival. Sunayana expresses herself through diverse styles of writing in English, Hindi and Kashmiri language. She continues to explore various themes ranging from love, home, loss, nature, mythology, healing, women’s empowerment, prejudices and much more. Sunayana has performed across the world through poetry shows and recitations. She engages the audience with her unique style of expressing poems as compelling visual images, laced with observations and anecdotes.