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Abby Saypen

Before I joined Identity House, about a year ago, I could not even imagine the possibility that I would ever publish this poem. Just thinking about it filled me with anxiety. Thank you Identity House, for helping me become proud of who I am and allowing me to help others. —Abby

The Shawl

Passed by my mother
Ignored, crumpled into a closet 
How it hugs her shoulders
Protects her from cold’s disembodied embrace
Its rough perfume invades my nostrils
The softness of the old wool against my skin
Her arms around me  

I could almost hear the knitting needle’s
soft click as they touch
The barely audible counting of stitches
Me at her feet 
My brother impatient
in her belly

They used the shawl to tease me;
It was the only thing
that could keep your fingers
out of your mouth

when you started school 
we had to hide the damn thing 
to keep you apart 
you cried for almost two days

We would visit Toby’s Yarn Shop 
almost every day 
me always falling behind
Often, I would stop  
after school
their willing child model
charmed into staying 
hot chocolate, and a cookie or two
They seat me in one of the booths that lined the store 
I finished and was about to leave 
When one of my mother’s friends said

Wait, I want to try this on you
A winter hat for her daughter  
me in front of the mirror 
pink and white
placed upon my head
She pinches my cheeks 

What a face

And then she pulled the flaps over my ears
I turned to face her
She took my head in her hands
Looked into my eyes, and smiled

You’re too beautiful to be a boy

In the background, a stranger 
Don’t say something like that to a little boy

Boys are not beautiful too?
What does she mean?

I loved the Yarn Shop.
walk around— wear this try that, 
Prancing and dancing 
thrilled 

My brother was born in a snowstorm 
I was shipped off to my Aunt and Uncle
Canarsie Quonset Huts 
Home to servicemen
Returned from the war

On Christmas Eve, my uncle asked 
what would you do if you could do anything
I would like to be able to knit like mommy
Knitting is for girls
But uncle you can make beautiful things
Beautiful is not for boys

What am I? 

I learned to hide
when I was five