Hand Me Downs
Ripon High School
for Katherine Cheever
A friend of mine asked me to write a poem
about myself, and for the first time, I was left
without words. I realized that I can churn out
pages upon pages about lovers and the sea
and holy places and music floating through
the night, but I can’t write a single line about
myself. I don’t know how to weave my grocery
list of redeemable qualities into the tapestry of
Earth’s most beautiful things.
See, I grew up playing in the mud and I
don’t think I ever got the dirt out from
underneath my fingernails. When somebody
says you look good today I can’t tell if
they are reaching out to shake my hand or
slap me. Modesty claws its way out of my throat
every time anyone says something kind and
chokes me until I’m gasping for disinterest
like it’s air. I am a collection of hand-me-downs.
My confidence doesn’t quite fit me yet;
it still hangs off the ends of my hands like I’m a
child playing dress up in my father’s sportcoat. I
have to cuff the hems of my integrity. I wear thick
socks so that my feet fill my compassion. My
honesty falls into my eyes.
But I am still learning, and I am still growing
into this body. My eyes and my smile are tailor made,
and my heart has my initials stitched into it between
its coronary veins. They are mine and only mine,
and I am theirs, and someday they’ll fit me like a glove.
I’ll radiate confidence and integrity and
compassion and honesty and be soft like rose
petals and babies’ dozing breaths but strong like
iron and women’s hands and the ground I skinned
my knees upon in childhood and someday, some
glorious someday, I’ll be unwavering in my love
Someday I will know this truth: I have been with me
every second of my life. I am the best friend I’ve ever had.
There’s a story being told here—a child, in a world that is hard on everyone, growing up and trying to find their way. This is a special one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Stanfield is a senior at Ripon High School in Ripon, Wisconsin. She is the recipient of the 2018 Council for Wisconsin Writers Young Writers Award and has been published in Canvas Literary Magazine, The Ricochet Review and more. She graduates in the spring of 2019.