Off the Shelf, Poetry Thursdays
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Where I Am From

I am from wide-toothed combs
pulled through tangled hair.
I am from rumbling yellow school buses —
the smell of diesel and dew —
stumbling down the front lawn,
eyelids half shut with the lure of more sleep.

I am from smelly library books
read nestled in the bowl chair
as sunlight streams through lace curtains
lighting my quiet adventures.
I am from ribbons on ballet shoes,
chiffon of skirts on baby pink leotards,
the snap of a new pair of thick tights,
the rhythmic thud of pointe shoes on vinyl floors.

I am from trick-or-treating in a jacket over a costume
zipped up insistently by my mother,
shielding me from the cold bite of the night.
From gleeful squeals
jumping between electricity boxes,
ignorant to danger signs,
dotting them with glittery stickers
that remain glued to this day.

I am from the permed grass of a golf course,
the click of drivers meeting dimpled spheres sent
over waving oak trees.
I am from those oak trees, the allergies they kick up
bringing water to my eyes
and an insatiable itch to my nose.

I am from piles of dirt and compost
sprouting greens of chives and string beans,
winter melons and spiky cucumbers,
reminiscent of rice paddies and lake silt out of which
Mom and Dad rose to join cities,
universities with tightly closed doors
that they opened with their labor
to then unlock all of mine.

So when patients, attendings,
people ask me that question —
an innocent “Where are you from?” —
a flame flickers.
Time and restraints of hospital hierarchy
bar my expression,
as if to say, “You are merely different.”
I wish to say back,
“I am from years
of grit and struggle,
dance and joy,
a generation that saw immeasurable social advances,
privilege afforded
only by effort and humility,
built on the backs of those before me
to be where I am today.”

Image credit: Oak tree in the mist (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Theophilos

Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students and physicians. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.

Joyce Zhang Joyce Zhang (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Drexel University College of Medicine

Joyce is a fourth-year medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA Class of 2021. She is completing the final years of the Accelerated BS/MD Program there. Outside of the hospital, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, dancing, baking, and eating. After graduating medical school, Joyce is excited to pursue a career in Internal Medicine, and eventually Gastroenterology.