a basement birthday party in manitoba, 2006

This poem won Second place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2021

i offer to put aside my brownness if no one else will mention it,
like a schoolyard trade of mediocre packed lunches, a promise
that everyone will benefit from this lying for pleasure. i excuse
myself to the washroom when the girls start comparing their milky
freckled forearms to scope out the suggestion of a tan, i offer to put
aside my brownness when we dance to aaron carter, our sweaty bodies
balter against each other like lost ships in the night and i avert my eyes
when one girl raises her hands to “screw in the lightbulb” and wiggles
her knowing eyebrows at me and i so badly want to be nubivagant,
limbs loose in aimlessness floating somewhere way high above
when someone asks if anyone has ever whizzed in a bush
before and all gazes turn to me, like they expect stories
of squalid conditions from a homeland i have never known.
in the quiet night when the air is damp with burnt out sugar highs
and comfortable sleepy sighs, i press my palm over my mouth
and nose, stifling my breathing until my nostrils pool with runny
snot just to feel myself live, feel myself physically survive this night
of knowing i do not belong. i embank myself with the swishy, hangnail
catching sleeping bag that i have been provided because my indian
family does not camp. the polyester smells of imagined older brothers
and backyard barbeques, plump all beef hot dogs, charred and kissed
with thick mustard from the good ukrainian deli that we sometimes
drive by on the way to walmart for groceries. i tuck myself
into the fabric that smells like something borrowed,
smells like a reminder that this night is not my own
and wait for morning to come. it takes nearly
until dawn for me to realize i have nothing
in common with these girls, the sheer
obviousness of this conclusion reaches
out slippery eager hands to wrest
me from the stilted joy of fitting
in, undoing my balancing act
to thrust me into the soft,
smothering lacuna of pure