Janet Smith

The Children’s Section

As a child I sat on stiff chairs
and read. None belonged to me.
I could be pushed out by someone
larger. I owned nothing, not even
my face when a hand approached to
lift the bangs from my eyes, not even
an unbroken hour. I planned to read
every book in the children’s section.
I began with A and read about
archaeology and Antarctica.
Some words had a flavor: zodiac,
periwinkle, bracelet, savannah.
They held a space I could breathe in.

Childhood is a fierce land where
the laughing sounds like crying.
It felt safe to sit on the metal kitchen
chair left to rust behind the lilacs,
a library book splayed on my lap.
The heart meanwhile knocked on its
own door and waited in its warm locker
while the long years ahead stood
orderly on a shelf until my full pardon
would be granted. I wrote lists
of the titles of the books I’d read
as slow tides pulled me through
the locks of days. I read as I walked
to school, the margins holding me.