Read Write Poem Mini-Challenge Poem #1: Sycamore

Note: If you don’t want to read the introduction, you can skip down to the poem.

This is the first of hopefully six poems written for January 2010’s Read Write Poem Mini-Challenge (to write six poems about starting over in six days). It was also written for Read Write Poem Prompt #109: Beg, Borrow, Steal, which was a Wordle prompt. I managed to use a good percentage of words from the prompt.

I normally edit as I write (or try to) — but for this one, I found myself writing without an editor, from the more unconscious part of my mind (and perhaps, by extension, my heart), and then going back and editing later. If this seems less linear, that’s why. I also ended up taking my “ash golem” from my poem “Ashes” and bringing her into this poem. I hope you enjoy.

To see other poems for this mini-challenge, click here.


Drawing blanks and blood,
fertile-thighed, skin scarred, I am a
whalebone artist, carving my dreams in bone apocalypses
and shoving them behind my jaw. Wake up
when I’m twelve, and try rescue those school-day reveries
running in tape-loop, dream-sequence repeats before they
waterfall down my throat and slice vocal chords
into confetti as they fall for their own enjoyment. Thirty-three years old,
whipped into a existentialist froth, I now dare to seek
my old suit of skin that’s been hanging from the
low-bending branches of some lonely sycamore that
the steel mill in town forgot to poison. I see that it’s still wearing
pink, which I forgot how to be
a long time ago.

Stones lie around the
wicked, dirt-merchant feet of this tree
that spread and plunge their brown, crooked trident toes
into the ground. These stones
carry an elite sense of being murder witnesses. Here, the
little ash golem that I made out of my own burnt shadow to
remember my little girl self – she now
tumbles down, disassembling herself into dust. Here,
the deflated brown girl in the trees is worshipped instead, never
scolded for thumping concertos made out of loud heartbeats
into the soul and being too “black”, never
ridiculed for hiding high-brow words in her cheeks
and being too “white”. Here,
there is no sundered goddess, no
wretched apart Athena-and-Medusa phantasms that spin,
shining one face of golden, gifted good girl and
another of cracking, crooked, and burning Cuyahoga ugly. But
she is just a

sunken suit of empty,
a flat question with no answer except for
I, the adult,
comma-shouldered like a sigh, an exhale, a caesura;
I, the adult,
a bewildered, whirling heart moving like
Adam Lambert forgetting who Freddie Mercury really was
and spinning out wrong plastic black that
masquerades for cool. I cannot
wear this skin. I am the wrong kind
of shaman, I am the
girl that God forgot – I cannot shake rattles or
smoke my mind into chimera colors onto the canvas sky
and then tell my internal tribe that this is
where we belong. But the skin still

beckons me,
and I can do nothing else
but put her on.

She’s a little tight, but stretches to
fit me. At certain intersections of bone, my joints
split her open, speaking single strands of blood as
proof. But I walk away, wearing her,
leaving in her place an illegible ash gospel upon the stones
and a dead fire that coughs up its incense ghosts beneath the bark. I will
rip the pink off of her and bless her in purple, clothe her
with epiphanies so loud that grave stones hear them, give her
thunderbolt beats that jump-start the hearts of bones and make
every congregation of dead jump up and dance. And after
I build her back into herself,
she will be enough,

and my little ash golem will remain,
lying as a crumbled idol at the feet of that sycamore,
her purpose expired from her gray corpse. I don’t need her
clay-mud version of my eight-year old face
anymore. So yes, I’ll take
this skin with me. The sycamore has one of her own
to shed.

Written 1/11/10 and 1/12/10
© 2010 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.

Stumble It! Stumble It!


About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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10 Responses to Read Write Poem Mini-Challenge Poem #1: Sycamore

  1. Oleacae says:

    I read the poem, read “Ashes” and returned to re-read this poem. They are both really stunning pieces of work because of the imagery, the rhythms, and then the connection between both poems works as a battle that can’t be won within the self—the pieces of ourselves we burn with flame but follow us endlessly. The idea that starting over is always a circle because we are always facing our past.

  2. davidmoolten says:

    I really like the image of the sycamore as a scaffold resting behind the progress of your thoughts in this. It looks so vascular, so like nerves or blood vessels that are all about movement from source to periphery, but also back again.
    The poem does a good job of seeking out that kind of flow in the narrator’s life and consciousness. The idea of shed skin as something that can remain whole in one’s sense of self and spirit (when real skin is shed as dust) is a great and ironic metaphor.

  3. I like how you circle this around the tree, a powerful image for shedding and renewal. This line really struck me: “I see that it’s still wearing pink, which I forgot how to be a long time ago.”

    My poem is here: It’s password protected. If you don’t already have it, let me know if you’d like the password.

  4. derrick2 says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Another rich reading. I particularly like the first stanza with its ending
    “I now dare to seek
    my old suit of skin that’s been hanging from the
    low-bending branches of some lonely sycamore that
    the steel mill in town forgot to poison. I see that it’s still wearing
    pink, which I forgot how to be
    a long time ago.”
    as well as the very last line:
    “The sycamore has one of her own
    to shed.”

  5. wayne says:

    soooo good Nicole…I enjoyed ALL of it….thanks again for sharing your words

  6. rallentanda says:

    Well all I can say is …masterpiece!

  7. barbara_y says:

    I’d fight for the little pink ash girl’s right to keep her own skin intact,
    but we do change our memories to suit the moment, more’s the pity.
    A rich piece. golems and gospel and ghosts and girls, graves and gods

  8. A powerful poem about the selves we keep or leave behind as we advance to new stages in life. Are they physical, emotional, or psychological selves? Or a combination? Can we go back to retrieve something about ourselves we lost? I love the sycamore tree. The sound of it is almost like sick-a-more. More sickness, or no more? I am always impressed with your prolific outpourings.

  9. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read and comment on this poem.

    @Oleacae: You could say that they are complimentary works. Part of the reason I write is to try to heal from old wounds (namely childhood abuse), and you could say I’m trying to work out my own healing publicly through poetry. And I couldn’t get the ash golem from “Ashes” out of my mind — I didn’t really feel it was fair that this forgotten part of me remain an ash figure. I thought lost skin that can be donned again would be better.

    @David: There were quite a few sycamore trees where I grew up, so I when I edited my first draft (which was, as I mentioned, poured out of my unconscious mind without any filtering), I kept that image because it seemed significant to me, like going back home to find something I’d lost.

    @Elizabeth and Barbara: The “girl wearing pink” image is actually a reference to line out of a poem by Barbara Fant called “Pain”. The line in question mentions mothers dressing their little girls in pink before they can “decide what color they really are”. After hearing her perform that poem at a recent feature, I began thinking about how girls have been conditioned and socialized in Western society: pink is feminine, pretty, and soft. But what if you don’t fit the ideal or the expectation of what a girl/woman is? Does anyone? After some thought, I decided that I’m not pink at all, but probably either purple or black (maybe both), and that’s why I said so in the poem.

    @Therese: Thank you. 🙂 I’ve believed that maybe it is possible to go back and retrieve what is lost, especially if it *is* a part of yourself. In most case, you still have adumbrations of whatever it is you’ve left behind — unless you consciously choose to destroy it. And even then, you still have the memories, so it is *never* completely lost.

  10. Kayin says:

    I like how this poem is drawn out, has an energy, takes you places, and has enough surprises of images, like this line here, which I love: “comma-shouldered like a sigh, an exhale, a caesura;”

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