628: I Guess By Now I Thought I’d Be Done With Shame

628: I Guess By Now I Thought I’d Be Done With Shame

628: I Guess By Now I Thought I’d Be Done With Shame


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I have casually said that I have no regrets, that life is not a series of re-do’s or mistakes, but rather everything leading to where I am right now. I’ve said that, yes. But there are still nights I wake up thinking about everything I’ve ever done wrong. The faces of anyone I’ve even accidentally harmed making cameos in my dreams like celebrities appearing on a B-list TV show.

Can any of us really say we live without regret? Without a sense that we have invented and reinvented the self so many times that sometimes someone was harmed in our making. And sometimes that person who was harmed was us? It is so humbling to be human. It’s fascinating how wrong I can be even when I’ve felt a certain righteousness with my own life decisions.

Sometimes I think as we age we think there’ll be a moment, an ascension to the mountain top, where suddenly you live without guilt or shame or rage. But instead, we are always who we are. I think what I’m saying is, I’m trying to learn to love that. To love that I will always be a mess. Maybe the mess gets a little easier, a little lighter to carry, but a mess I shall always remain.

In today’s many-layered poem, we see how the speaker is coming to terms with her own shame and with the many selves she holds within her. This poem is by Franny Choi.

I Guess By Now I Thought I’d Be Done With Shame
by Franny Choi

but I opened my coat to prove a point
and kept coming home with colds.
I thought I was done stuffing fists
in my mouth to mute the sound.
Done lying about what trails my throat
had charted. I practiced looking tall
men in the eye, spoke loudly,
pronounced every ‘R.’
I chopped wood at midnight.
I left the shower and kept
singing. I sang about my body
like I was proud. I was proud.
I was – My legs churned the poolwater.
I clamped silicone and didn’t cry.
Learned the names of oils. Asked
for another finger. I cried. Swore
to drown before saying sorry.
I sang about my death
like I was over it. Ground
my face into the soil, like I was ready
to shave it off. I stopped shaving.
Told a joke in the voice of a stupid
girl. I waved a flag of my own bones.
I threw my sordid liver at a man –
think fast – then acted surprised,
again, when he caught it in his teeth.
Not everyone who speaks this way
is lying. Somewhere,
there is a version of me that isn’t neck-
deep in her invented filth.
Somewhere a woman is walking
barefoot through the woods,
trailing white linen, walking without
a dog snapping at her heels.
Both of us are singing.
Both of us are bragging
in the past tense.
One of us is still here.
That much, I guess,
at least, is true.

"I Guess By Now I Thought I'd Be Done With Shame" by Franny Choi. Used by permission of the poet.