A lake in Michigan. (Photo by Karina Pantoja)

Paw Paw Nocturne

By Karina Pantoja

I admit that when slithering pink-honeyed sky
is replaced by breaking charcoal-stained night
I swallow the busiest road in town and throw it

up, its spine tangled among pink hydrangea
petals, garage sale signs, wine bottles and
crucifixes. I don’t do much but barely exist

here among the moon’s bloodless glow that
speaks its own kind of white language. I listen
to delicate lake water kissing damp land

as you whisper, ​You’re beautiful. ​When I was
seven I cried about having dirty skin; brown as
mud, not brown as fruitful soil. Desire burned

in my throat for ocean eyes and thighs that I
could grip with one hand. I tell you that I’m
still learning to hold myself in my own hands,

but maybe that’s a lie. Maybe my hands are
ashy bone held by sadness at the joints and
if I stop clenching my fists for one moment of

serenity they will blow away and I will be left
with fragments of a body that I can only chew
and never bring myself to swallow.

* * *
Author’s note: For the longest time I avoided writing about my hometown, Paw Paw, Michigan, because it brought pain, frustration and discomfort. But I needed to face these feelings. This piece navigates brownness in a white space. I did my best to center myself within a town I have always known yet am still learning about, just as I am still learning about myself.


  1. What emotions does the author feel?
  2. What aspects of her appearance was she self-conscious about?
  3. Why do you think the author may have felt self-conscious in her environment?

Karina PantojaKarina Pantoja, a delegate of the International Congress of Youth Voices, is from Paw Paw, Michigan. Latina born and raised, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English at Kalamazoo College, with a focus on poetry. Pantoja is a co-director of the Kalamazoo Poetry Collective, a student-run organization that hosts open mics for queer students and students of color, and workshops to produce and share poetry.

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Student PostsGrowing up brown in a white U.S. town
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