Floating Ladders3
By Nancy Lynée Woo

The reason why I don’t clean
or fix my car, and then drive
around Belmont Shore looking
smug with taillights smashed
and duct tape mirrors gaping
at the fluffed white people
shopping is because I might want
them to be offended by my
poorness. I learned this in
4th grade when I would, without
fail, walk into my Gifted And
Talented Education classroom–
where smart kids go to be told
they’re smart—in Orange County—
where the envious go to flourish
in their hive cement sidewalks—
15 minutes late every day, creaking
open the door to teacher already
talking, interrupting, because
my mother, worn out and coffee-fixed,
could never fit a schedule,
it was her subtle way of resisting
her tug-a-long fate—at least she could
rebel against time—and usually
my clothes were dirty or old or
hand-me-downs friends’ mothers
who pitied me gave me, and here
I learned how to walk in this rag
fashion show kind of way, quiet but
smiling that smile like I was saying
yeah, look at me, look at the isness
of my difference, I’ll strut on in
when I want and grin until
you believe I am grinning, smirk
wide like I am better than you for
knowing what poverty feels like.

Originally appeared in The Camel Saloon.

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54 comments

  1. I can relate. It might be hard to imagine but that kind of childhood gives you an advantage when you’re older because you will be stronger than the ones who had it all handed to them on a silver platter.

      1. Yeah it’s a moving poem. Are you missing the point about how growing up in poverty grinds kids down? A silver platter is a metaphor for a spoiled kid. No spoiled kids where you live? Bearing your cross is another metaphor saying we all have problems. That sounds a little cold hearted. Children shouldn’t have to bear a cross. Your assignment today is to buy clothes for a kid who is a social reject because of their parents poverty.

  2. I kind of know that feeling.. because of the economy and my own financial situation.. I get most of my clothes at The Clothes Closet..

  3. Standing out from the crowd or one’s peers is not making a stand for the better or to be individual. It shouts out “look at me!” Non conformability is often a cry for attention. Given the chance of a privileged life style and all its bounties, i’m certain even you would find it hard to resist the temptation to conform. Standing out due to being dealt a hard life, is not making a stand out of choice but neccesity. Sorry if this offends, that’s not the intention here… just my honest opinion!

  4. They call it the Orange Curtain for a reason, but once you get behind you realize that for most of us, I’ve never had dinner on a yacht in Newport Harbor, but I have eaten a burrito I ordered off a roach coach by the freeway entrance from a woman that could barely repeat my order back to me in any language. I grew up in Anaheim, aka home to the Happiest Place on Earth. Great writing.

    1. I agree that it’s called the “Orange Curtain” for a reason. I married a man from Villa Park, and he, his brothers and sisters, mother and all of the so called life long friends speak of it often, with an invisible but obvious turned up nose to anywhere else in CA. I lived int “The Valley” where the connected and disconnected blend but only at the mall. During the Rodney King riots, Orange County hoped LA wouldn’t bring their troubles to them and literally watched the streets for it to come their way. Poverty does not live in OC, unless it hides.

      1. Poverty does indeed both live and hide in OC. Think about where the parents come from who are able to finally “make it” in OC. Many from lives of poverty. Poverty is not just a financial bracket, but also a lifestyle, characterized by a certain way of thinking, and a way of life.

    2. I grew up there too!!!! And the tourist area is nice but then you drive further and you see where all the Disney employees work and then you realize there are two different worlds.

  5. I like it. A lot. It’s all true. I’ve been an outsider-a down-and-outsider–and proud of being so. Outside of normal, healthy, loving, moneyed, and stable, while still a child and so helpless to fix things in any meaningful way. The only thing left to do is to walk that catwalk with the strength borne from getting there with the wind constantly blowing you back.

  6. Growing up with hand-me-downs, I certainly relate. Resisting the insults. Snapping back with sharp teeth. Until I realized my smugness was suffocating me… Great poem. Brought back many memories.

      1. I have: 3 weeks in 2012. Still do not have a publisher for my manuscript, and am tenacious. Take a look at my blog…a couple of early entries (just started the blog late Oct to build my “platform”) and I talk about it. Would be happy to chat more. It is amazing to be so nurtured. And your work fits the mission: women authoring change. I have poetry in my head and it is the style of yours. So far on paper, narrative comes easier. Be well…your work is a gem.

  7. Very powerful and I liked the originality of expressing that kind of sub-radar subversion, which is a very real stance for so many and identifiable for me. My personal battle is always to avoid bitternesss. I find irony is my most satisfying weapon which makes me laugh at myself and others whom I find irritating.

  8. Very moving piece. Growing up poor and having nothing makes you appreciate the things we have now. It takes the value away from having so much. I don’t need a new BMW to be awesome I wear my thrift store bargains with pride.

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