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The First Time

Cynthia Robinson Young

Two events I always confuse,

as if they happened on the same day

when I was five years old, living

in a house we had moved away from

when I was four.


A little white girl I called my friend;

a playground swing set in her backyard:


My little playmate, come out and play with me.


I played whatever she wanted,

but the one time I didn’t, she called me a nigger

and dismissed me, pointing me back

to my house next door.


I remember sadness siting in my mother’s kitchen

covering the sun with troubled clouds

when I asked her what that word meant.


Then there’s the second event:

Me, on the same afternoon,

back on the neighbor’s swing, flying high

as if no mean words were ever said—


My dress is white like the clouds,

the clouds like cotton candy,

the sky a baby blue in which I soar,

my brown legs pumping high in the air,

 but my dress


is now stained red, bleeding

from a word

made into a weapon to pierce my spirit,


a violent slaughter,

a premonition

of all the future times

I will forget to remember

to guard my heart.

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