Self-Portrait in Middle School

The teacher fiddled through the cup, pulled
a purple crayon, a red crayon, and a green crayon,

and laid them one by one on my desk.
I’m not the kind of person who’s easy to draw.

The mirror tells me I’m oval-faced and grave;
photographs remember me differently.

A weekend ago, mom hunched over a tripod,
wind plucking the ends of her steely hair.

She told me to smile. I said I hated my smile.
She told me to look at the camera. I said my eyes hurt.

Notice how my face won’t agree with anything.
Straining an elastic around her hair,

she told me I was standing under the same
cedar tree my great-grandpa stood under

when his mom took a picture of him.
He died when I was three, when I didn’t yet believe

in death. A child must learn to believe in life before
they believe in death, and the face, somehow,

has become an icon of the living. There,
in homeroom class, I tried to remember

my face in that picture mom took of me, and drew
myself with purple skin, red eyes, green hair.

I could’ve asked for another color, but this felt right.
Something about a parting gift for the forgotten.

Jenna Nesky is an autistic, Jewish, bisexual teen writer and poet. She is in tenth grade at Carver Center for Arts and Technology in the literary prime. From Maryland, she turns sixteen this year.

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