When I was a girl I didn’t know

I was a girl. I thought I was

more of a pigment, a choral tone,

some kind of weather that disrupts

everyone’s life in the living room.

I knocked over the cast iron iron again,

and this time it broke. How could

you break an iron iron? they yelled,

but how could I not? The weight of

metal on the earth, wanting to return.

When money was missing, I thought surely

I must have taken it.

When it rained, a hurricane this time,

I thought, see what you’ve done now.

I didn’t believe in cause and effect, elements of

surprise, or the slim chance meetings

that changed everyone’s lives. I didn’t know

that people were supposed to end,

contained as vases to hold

whatever you gave them.


I thought we were more like land, islands even,

unfurling in the brown haze of the sea.

I thought there was water everywhere,

pouring us into changeable shapes –

leaf or puppy or branch. All falling

toward wherever we came from

not afraid or surprised,

not bad or tricked into good.


All falling back into the horizons that come

each evening to meet the fire.


Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

from Animals in the House, ©2004





  1. What did you believe when you were a child? Did you have a free-floating sense of guilt, as the poet expresses here? Did you blame yourself for random “crimes?” Did you believe you possessed extraordinary powers?
  2. What family messages did you receive when you were growing up? Write a list poem called “What They Used to Tell Me” and capture some of these messages, positive or negative.
  3. If you were a color instead of a person, what color would you be? Write a description of yourself as that color and its many hues.
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