By Lynlee Graves
9th grade, New Tech High @ Coppell, TX

With lines from "For Lac du Flambeau, Healing Is Remembering Their Boarding School Experience" by Yvonne Krumrey, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

My mother told me I was three years old.
And I cried.
                    “That can’t be true” 
I thought.
I blew out five candles on my birthday cake
A week ago
With four children singing around me 
                    “Mino dibishkam noon gam
                     Mino dibishkam noon gam
                                      Four children
                                      Because the rest were gone.
                                      The rest were sleeping
                                      In dark corners
                                                      As cold as it would get in the building.
                                      Where the warmth couldn’t reach,
                                      Forgetting the language
                                      We were singing in. 
                                      Learning not to be the people
                                      They were raised to be.
I knew the children.

And they didn’t sing my birthday song.

So I cried
               “That can’t be true”
But she said
               “That's what you must tell them” 
Because she knew the stories
And she knew the children.
                                      Their names
                                      Their families
                                      Their identities
So she prayed I wouldn’t grow
And told me I was three
And later she cried too
In secret
At the thought of my tiny tears.
But she protected what she thought she could. 
                                 My age.

So when they came
With the yardstick
I cried
And told them my age In 
between those tiny tears.
And the yardstick loomed over me
Reminding me
Of my childhood dreams
To be just as tall as my brothers and sisters.
Tall enough
To be free of the chains of childhood.
And finally
The tip of the yardstick
Hit just below my little head.
And I smiled.
But my mother cried.
Because now I was
                                      My name?
                                                       Who cares? 
                                      My family?
                                                       Who cares? 
                                      My identity?
                                                       Who cares?
                                      And my age?
                                                       It didn’t matter anymore.

Because now I was
Sleeping in dark corners
For singing in the language of my people.
               “Mino dibishkam noon gam
               Mino dibishkam noon gam
I was walking through unfamiliar halls
With foreign sleeves 
               Brushing my arms as I walked.
I was looking out the window
Trying to remember where home was.

I was watching my sisters sleep
               Bleeding and broken,
                                Rejoicing in rest
After hours of breaking themselves,
Then told
               “Appreciate what you are given”
               “[Don’t] cry about everything..” 
And I watched them cry anyway.

Because now I was
                                Trying to sing my birthday song
                                Over and over
                                In my head
                                Clinging to the words
                                I worked so hard to learn 
                                A lifetime ago.
Trying to find my childhood again.

But they were gone.

                                                       It was gone.

Lynlee is a rising sophomore at New Tech High @ Coppell in Coppell, TX. Reading and writing have always been very important to her, and she is so grateful for this opportunity to share her words. Lynlee also enjoys singing, art, playing the piano, and spending time with her friends. She was inspired by the new cultures and underrepresented problems she discovered through Pulitzer Center, and she hopes that readers are educated and inspired to learn more about this topic by her work.

Read more winning entries from the 2022 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.