Poem: She Doesn't Ask and I Don't Tell

Poem written by Mayo High School student Isha Kapoor and chosen by the Diversity Council of Rochester as one of the winners of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Poetry Contest.

Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

They bite their tongues quick, but their questions scream at me nevertheless
The air is cloudy thick with angst, but this is no phenomenon
I have been a silent observer since the moment she called me milk chocolate
An innocent comparison, I know now
But the urge to peel my chocolate coating to match her whiteness lingered for an eternity
I see it because it encloses me
The deafening gap the elementary substitute teacher took before attempting to pronounce my outlandish name
She pauses
I watch the fear draw lines on her soft face
The trepidation of the syllables falling off her tongue in the most twisted of ways
I save her the anguish
She did not learn my name that day
But she doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell.
I see it because it stares me in the chocolate eyes
What the smudged glass can’t hide
The dense tresses of ringlets cascading down my back
They’re my mother’s, and I know to wear them with pride
Upon my asking, an acquaintance tugs at the hair tie that clings to her wrist
She hands it to me, and I wrap it around my coils
Once, twice
The twang as it snaps resonates and the world chips away
The girl flashes a look of disbelief that morphs into one of pity
My thick South Asian locks are nothing if not foreign to her
But she doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell.
I see it because it builds a wall between myself and the lady behind the gleaming counter
“No, but where are you really from?” she prods me
Her voice riddled with doubt and suspicion
Meant to be concealed behind petite femininity, but I notice it anyway
I tell the woman what she wants to hear—
That I am Indian-American, and my parents immigrated during their youthful sunflower days
But still, she does not know where I am really from
That I am from the woodsy fragrance of incense, reaching out and tickling my nose
From fragmented Hindi and English, a colloquial Hinglish of sorts
From Maggi noodles, a simple and flavorful indulgence since the age of 3
But she doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell.
So tell me, when will this conversation take its seat at the table?
When will we tear down the wall and close in on the fear?
A wise man’s dream as our compass
So that one day she can ask, and I can tell.

This poem was written by Isha Kapoor, a junior at Mayo High School, and a PB Teen columnist. It was selected as a winner of the 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Poetry Contest sponsored by the Diversity Council of Rochester.

The Post Bulletin publishes poetry by local and area writers every Tuesday. Send poems to with the subject line "Poetry submission."

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