by Paige Gilchrist

Her name was as strange as my new life,
moved from a clear, blue Minneapolis cul-de-sac
to Ozark air that buzzed thick with bugs.

The walk to her trailer from my parents’
mid-life crisis country store
was up the weedy edge of a hot
two-lane road.
Nearly every place we passed
she extended a freckled arm.
Some cousins in that one,
her step-dad’s grandmother there.

That summer before our fifth-grade year,
while her mother worked at the store,
we drank Mr. Pibb and played foosball,
and she assured me It don’t matter
when I asked about school.

She called us best friends
by the time we started.
Chose me as her partner every chance.
Insisted that “Osage Indians” was the
answer on a shared sheet we filled out,
even though I knew it didn’t fit the question.
Trust me, her green eyes serious,
I’ve lived here my whole life.

Eventually there were more newcomers,
their parents from St. Louis
to run a boat dock.
Chicago to open a restaurant.
Their answers matched mine.
They planned to go to college.

So I never asked Avonda
whether her name maybe
came from someplace beautiful.
From across a sea,
where long ago someone spotted
tiny flowers fighting to the surface
on a battered cliff.

Paige Gilchrist spent many years working in the publishing industry, had a midlife career change and baby, and is now a yoga teacher and raising a teenager.

About Avonda—This poem grew out of a class exercise to write about someone who is “other.”