★ ★ ★ ★
By Daniel Blokh
On the Friday of my fourth week of school, I came home, ditched my planned SAT studying, and spent a couple hours in bed on my computer. Let yourself relax for once, Daniel, I told myself, which is a piece of advice I tell myself nearly every day, and usually follow. This week was hitting harder than most, though; an upcoming AP Environmental Science test was filling me with regret for taking one of my school’s hardest classes with the sole purpose of impressing colleges, and undeciphered Precal problems were floating around in the back of my head.
It had been a while since I’d read a poem of my own accord; junior year in high school doesn’t afford one with much time to deeply explore a piece, so I was saving verse for when I really needed it. That day, though, I wanted the relief of a poem, the breathing room of reading and rereading a few stanzas that captured a feeling I was struggling to express. I needed something for comfort. So I googled ‘poems about being a teen.’
In the poem I stumbled upon, Adolescence, Adrienne Su writes of the struggles of growing up through the image of a canyon “which had come a long time earlier/ and spent many years being forgotten.” In the next stanza she goes on to write about “fine garments and rows of strong shoes,/ the pantry stocked with good grains and butter-/ everything could be earned by producing right answers./ Answers were important, the canyon said,/ But the answers were not the solution.”
The entirety of the poem stuck with me long after reading, but it was particularly this personified canyon I could not forget. It felt so true to the experience of growing up and staring into the slowly nearing, seemingly impassable gap between myself and my future, between my adolescence and adulthood. It also felt true to the solutions school offers to this problem—just get the right answers, and you’ll be able to attain those “fine garments and rows of strong shoes.” Right answers on a test might help you achieve those material goods, Su’s canyon says, but they won’t necessarily bring you closer to where you truly want to be in life.
The poem personifies this point of satisfaction as well; beyond the canyon, a “prairie/ on which houses stood sturdily.” During the turbulent experience of adolescence, that adult stability feels to me like a dream, a finish line to cross—yet I have no idea how to get there. In these teenage years, I am constantly reminded that everything I’m doing is needed to attain my future. I am incredibly privileged to have these choices open for me, but I feel the decision-making process for the future is taking over my present life. I have to make a good standardized test score to attain my future; I have to take difficult classes to attain my future; I have to decide on college or not—and if college how I will pay for it, and if not how I will move forward—to attain my future; etc. But with all this emphasis on getting to the future, there has been little focus on figuring out what that future is. It is as though I’m making decisions for an adult self without having any idea who that person will be. I haven’t figured out what this adult self will want or need. Maybe figuring that out will be “the answer”.
This came as a revelation to me. When I finished reading Su’s poem, I closed my laptop and lay in bed for a while, thinking of what I really wanted to accomplish in my life, what would grant me satisfaction beyond going to a good college or getting a well-paying job. School can make it feel like all life revolves around that building of a career, but this poem granted me the perspective to see beyond that, to ask what was really important to me. I haven’t found the answer yet, but maybe I’m getting there. And in future times of confusion and uncertainty, I will return to Su’s poem to grant me the distance I need, to help me realize what I’m truly searching for.
Daniel Blokh is a 15-year-old writer living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of the memoir In Migration (BAM! Publishing 2016) and the micro-chapbook The Wading Room (Origami Poems Project 2016). His poetry chapbook, Grimmening, is forthcoming from Diode Editions in 2018. His work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing awards and the Foyle Young Poet awards, and has appeared in DIALOGIST, Gigantic Sequins, Forage Poetry, Avis Magazine, Thin Air Magazine, Cicada Magazine, and more.