Sophie Elkin

Sophie Elkin was Oakland's 2014 Youth Poet Laureate. Raised in Oakland, Sophie attended Oakland School for the Arts and is now a student at Laney College. She has performed widely at Bay Area venues and festivals such as Dear Summer, Life is Living festival, and 20th Annual Arts Exhibition for Emeryville. She is widely regarded as a mentor and supporter of other young poets. Current California Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, calls Sophie...a word master, a performance magician with an eye and heart on the unity and healing of the streets, city and all people.



by Sophie Elkin, age 18

I'm naked
you can see every ridged dent in my thighs
dark blue veins slither slowly like snakes beneath milk
white translucent rivers
my belly
I'm naked
arms like ribs that’s how tight I conceal myself
cloaking my flesh tenement
I'm standing in your room
fully aware of the space I seem to take up with my silence
I watch meticulously as you apply all that makeup
I wish you loved me more than thick black mascara
crippling quickly crouched close to the door
anxiously peeling layers of skin from my thumbs
as I press the flakes of myself hard between clenched teeth
toenails crooked like smiles bent out of shape
on countless cold nights when the squad robs the liquor store and gets away with it
a malleable mouth contorting itself into blundering railroad tracks
twisted and never-ending cracks sewn deeper than expression lines
I have known the woman for as long as I have known my own fingertips
like burning sun dropping against rooftop gardens in Manhattan
when my grandmother put my hands in hers
asserted that I had never cooked a day in my waking life
my spiraled pencil prints too pure to have ever peeled a potato
raw from warm water
slit open from unforgiving blades
this is what I know
love has lingered inside of my body’s penitentiary
like slow moving poison trickling down collapsed cages of ribs
I remember hopscotch and double dutch, like sidewalk chalk in Oakland
and all the neighborhood kids had what I had
no child should strap onto packs on backs
or tug tirelessly in shopping carts close to closed hips
and we knew that
but blood is a stain in purple panties that not even club soda can scrub clean
like our moldy basement home on 47th and Adeline where I believed in fairies
and gunshots like keeping tempo
I remember 7th grade
when we lived in Boston where the reflection of light in snow
melted that prolonged optimism and sucked me dry of innocence and promise
I wore a rainbow sweatband around my wrist, in bold black the letters G A Y
you better believe I got my ass handed to me
one never does forget cold skin
blonde fuzz pressed up against locker room lockers cornered by girls
I'm just an ALLY I plead
shut the fuck up Cali, you a faggot
wish hard enough baby sister, pray louder
keep your headphones in
because they will want to know you
33rd and International
I walk behind a man with a familiar stagger
too close I suppose
I find myself too comfortable
in the presence of those who are not fully there
he whips around
mouth red like newspaper black and white
he's coming at me fast
cuss words fire like the nine
oh it’s a girl
it’s a girl
it’s a girl IT’S A GIRL
Dave’s Liquor Store, 8 a.m.
sir can I please use your phone?
there’s a pay phone outside, 50 cents
I don't have 50 cents, sir I need to use the phone, can I please use the phone
50 cents, pay phone, outside
I don't have 50 cents, can I please USE YOUR PHONE
you look like a little boy, yeah, a little boy is what you look like
but not broken
crinkled and wrinkled nothing a little ironing can't work out
I am bulging veins
tight tendons like flex those muscles boy and behind her door I am skin hugging tank top
hard nipples, hips like mountains and wet like contaminated streams
I am vagina open like wounds
I've spent a lot of time in closets with broken mirrors
pulling my shoulders back simultaneously pressing my breasts down hard
trying to obtains something a little tougher
eyeliner looks like she has been unfaithful when she sits on my low lids
pushup bras like corsets another man-made contraption to keep us fragile
hardly able to breath
if you faint lady I’ll be here to catch you
or will I be in the closet with the broken mirrors
with the other confused it’s and that’s and those faggots
no I won’t
I will not disintegrate into piles of ash like dust in places that are hard to reach
I will no longer stand in fear behind my apartment’s peephole wondering
if the door across the way has a trembling childhood wrapped up in warm skin
I have to smile when children ask their mothers
why is that boy wearing a bikini?
I have to take pride in the way my body was meant to move
my hips naturally sway like wind through trees
so I ask myself
why pull my pants down low in hopes of containing my woman
caging her up like a beast
I don’t owe you an explanation
I don’t have to answer your questions
I can see that my vibrations make you uncomfortable
but you don’t have to concern yourself
with what the fuck
I be doin’