Akshara Taraniganty | Art by Kristin Zhao
i was born in my grandfather’s lakehouse,
three hundred miles away from home—
four days old when i smiled, for the first time, at my father.
i was an infant. i didn’t know how or why to smile.
(it was a chemical reaction) but i like the idea of smiling.
so i think of it as more than just a coincidence.
and i grew up on walks that i can’t recollect,
pieced together through stories about my mud-brown stroller,
the trees near my apartment,
the way i’d get quiet, for a while, like i was contemplating.
it took three days.
three days for me to throw up when i heard its name,
three days for my parents to pull me out.
i never hated school—
i hated the cafeteria of the preschool (it was gray).
i hated the unfamiliarity, hated the way they’d talk down to you,
hated how nausea was, and is, the only thing i felt.
my father told me that they locked up the school
an eagle stole the key and dropped it on mount everest. i was safe.
but i didn’t calm down, not for months.
and so we moved to my second preschool,
my parents determined to make it the last.
two teachers, one tall, raven-haired, regal—
her eyes weren’t purple (i swear) but purple fits her
the other teacher had a daughter my age, and so
she should know better than to bully the other kids? right?
so why did they scrunch their noses when we opened our lunches
laugh and make remarks and glare at us.
yes, i was four, but i knew something was wrong and i knew
my food was stinky, and i knew i was gross and weird
and i was four, but it carried over.
i switched to a private school in first grade—
never talked. sat, ate grass, watched people play,
buried myself in work (there was nothing else to do)
befriended a tree, named him david,
his sister was helena, his mother mary.
gravitated toward him at recess, his comfort
was the only thing i could handle. i was scared.
i breathed in the oxygen he exhaled
imagined that if we spent enough time together,
we’d switch circulatory systems.
it’s an understanding, right? symbiosis
when a first-grader can talk and a tree can listen.
summer camp before fourth grade was a wreck—
ninety-five degrees fahrenheit, no one wanted to be my friend.
i played with the cut-up tires on the playground
(i guess they couldn’t afford tanbark)
let isopods and ants crawl onto my hands,
they weren’t trees, but they could still be friends.
once, i ate lunch with the humans, looking down at my food,
and some girl said that’s extremely gross and i
i cried, i was nine and i cried, i was indian and i cried.
so i sank into solitude,
left the cafeteria to sit alone at the edge of the field.
thought of my friends—the animals and the plants,
the other kids at camp and the way, for a split second
everyone hated her for saying it and liked me,
and i let it all drift away.
i contemplated, composed a song,
dumb in hindsight, but i felt like i was at the top of a mountain
brush dipped into water and pigments diluted
sky painted over in pastel purple and blue.
wearing a cape (my own hero)
i am the winner
and nothing’s gonna stop me now.