The Artist at Seventeen
by Jackie Chou

You picture me
an outcast in my youth
a quiet, meek sort

At forty-one
I’m unobtrusive
in my dark clothes and thick spectacles

So you envision me
a tragic heroine
a depressed, tortured soul

Like one who watches the news
without blinking an eye
you crave tragedy

turning the page
when my story starts to taste too sweet

At seventeen I was a regular
on the color section of the yearbook
for the way I looked
cheerleading uniform hugging my shapely body

They called me a dim bulb
told me I would do nothing with my life
but marry a rich man

But words flooded my brain
and I wrote and wrote
and wrote my way into college
graduating magna cum laude

I still don’t know
what the tragedy was

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken in 1992, at a dance studio. My cheerleading picture is unavailable now.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired by people asking me questions like, “What were you like when you were a teen?” “Were you fat?” “Were you bullied?” Most of their speculations were that I was some sort of loser back then. I, however, remember being almost the complete opposite of those misconceptions. I believe that a poem and a picture would speak so much more about that than any explanation can. So here it is…


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jackie Chou studied Creative Writing at USC. She writes poetry in an attempt to construct meaning out of everyday experiences, to defy ordinary perceptions, and as an alternative to “ranting” to friends on Facebook. She attends writing workshops and has been published locally.