“I Used To”, by WITS Student Joseph Hairston

I Used To

I used to worry
about my life:
what will make me finally
draw that smile,
what makes me chase the dreams.
But as soon as I hit high school, things weren’t as they seem.
I sit and I kick rocks,
try to do what my bible tells me to do,
but I don’t feel or see
the message on how
to express my feelings
and who to do it to.
I don’t talk,
I just write with
a shakey hand while
the mystery girl draws
those tears and I wonder
why.


Why do I walk alone
on this earth, no gravity.
I find myself looking
in the mirror, hurting myself,
dying slowly, but I show
my family different.
When I was seven
I hid in the closet.
When I was sixteen, I had
a new disguise.
I felt like
I’ve been killing Joseph
for years now.
We change our names
so we don’t remember
what we went through.
Joseph didn’t want to
remember seeing his brother
dying, slowly
he breaks mirrors
because he remembered
cutting his wrist. But he would wake up
in the morning.
It seems like that name
has been dead for years.
The mystery girl
was the first to draw
tears,
but I know there
ain’t no honor.

Joseph Hairston wrote this poem while a student at Garfield High School in 2014/15, with WITS Writer-in-Residence Aaron Counts. He read it before a crowd of thousands, to open for Ta-Nehisi Coates, who spoke as part of SAL’s 2015/16 Literary Arts  Series.

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