I was crying for all the ways my brothers and I tried to get even a little bit of money to get some food, searching the streets and along the railroad tracks for anything we could sell–bicycle parts, soda cans, water bottles; digging the ground for pieces of scrap metal; climbing trees to find ripe jackfruit and avocados to sell door to door; helping out at the Sudanese Church, whose monthly parties we could hardly wait for.
This is from a short, searing essay from Illumination: A Young People’s Encyclopedia of Wonder, an anthology published by The Telling Room this year. Full disclosure: I worked with Richard, who goes by AK, last year as a writing mentor and still work with the TR occasionally as a teaching artist and advisor. But this essay knocked me on my ass–it reminds me of the power, passion, and invention that young writers often bring to language, particularly when they find a story that they have to tell.
AK’s essay begins “I killed a dog once” and ends with him questioning a God who isn’t intervening in his life when help is needed so desperately, after his father has died and his mother is buckling under the weight of having to provide everything for her sons and his five-year-old brother has been attacked by a dog. AK kills the dog who attacked his brother but realizes, at thirteen, that he is helpless to chart a new course for his mom and younger brothers.
This sentence is part of a longer litany of all the things in his life that he cannot change, all the things worth crying over. This is a portrait of a young man who is learning to feel it all, and to put it down into words. It is a litany filled with wonderful specifics–“digging the ground for pieces of scrap metal”–and an incantatory momentum that pushes and pushes and pushes. I haven’t seen half the things AK has in his life, but I do know what it’s like to watch a loved one in an untenable situation, to watch someone you love deteriorate before your eyes.
Thanks, AK, for reminding me why we tell stories, for giving me something to read and re-read.
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