While I was a girl waiting for life
to improve I did what I could, a ladybug
on her back kicking her feet in the air.
Dreaming of flight, I discovered
my mother’s hoarded stamps, unused
hodgepodge of American hope:
Skylab, Credos of the Founding Fathers,
Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Exploring the Moon,
Coral Reefs, Emily Dickinson, Collective Bargaining,
Energy Conservation, Robert Frost,
Indian Art, Osteopathic Medicine, Peace Corps,
Apollo-Soyuz, Save Our Water, Peter Max’s
Preserve the Environment, Robert Indiana’s
Love, which was all we needed, e pluribus unum
entreaties to the common good.
Doing what she never would, I organized
each intaglio prayer into an album, protected
by the verdigris majesty of our Lady of Liberty,
the infinite halftone dots within painting
a bigger picture to show me how
my pattern of spots might one day fit.
Broadening, I started to write the world,
sending scarce singles via post for stamps
on approval, something I could do while grounded.
Each month, the universe was delivered:
glassine envelopes opening like blurry windows to full-color
propaganda from the Soviet Bloc and African dictatorships,
perforated portraits of the unknown: Burundi.
Bulgaria, Equatorial Guinea, Fujeira.
The Maldive Islands. Tonga.
Some countries even marketed to the likes of me:
a 3-D moon landing from Ajman, scented flowers
from Bhutan, a peel-off diamond from Sierra Leone.
I could select scenes of the Montreal Olympics,
Japanese landscapes, cat breeds, Mickey Mouse,
gemstones, creatures of the African savannah.
Such power even a 10-year-old had
in her nascent geekery, to buy or reject,
the limited locus of my choices in those years.
I licked countless translucent hinges, fixing
them to sheets in my Ambassador Album,
“For Stamps of the World—Personally Designed by H.E. Harris.”
Providing brief colonialist histories for each country,
a world map on the plasticized back cover,
Mr. Harris taught me all I knew of the planet,
preparing me for when I would no longer be stranded.
He gave my curiosity structure while my mother slept
and shouted her nightmares.
Other children practiced scales or played Little League
for parents shaping their lives like sculptors. With my postage paid,
I carefully opened each colorful window and escaped
into the beguiling worlds then closed to me: page after page
of my meticulously ordered ambition, plans
for how I would right myself and fly away.
Lori Rottenberg is a poet who lives in Arlington, Virginia. She has published in such journals as The Dewdrop, Artemis, Potomac Review, and Poetica, and in anthologies by Paycock Press, Telling Our Stories Press, and Chuffed Buff Books. She has a series of six poems to be published by UCityReview in June 2022 and another poem to be published in December 2021 in The Moving Force Journal. One of her poems was picked for the 2021 Arlington Moving Words competition and appeared on county buses this spring. She has served as a visiting poet in the Arlington Public Schools Pick-a-Poet program since 2007, was an invited poet in the Joaquin Miller Cabin Reading Series in 2002, was a finalist in the 2006 Arlington Reads Poetry Competition, and was a recipient of Best Published Award in the March 2009 issue of Poetica. She is currently a writing instructor for international students at George Mason University and is in her second year of studies at the George Mason University MFA Poetry program.
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