by Cassidy Martin/ Youth Poet Laureate
Photography by Hunter Armistead
Behind the Downtown Presbyterian Church in the back alley
protected and sheltered and hugged and loved
by the dried and dirty spray-painted mural
I fell in love
with this City.
A mural with a mountain
that looks like a thousand pounds of paint and color.
A sun rising over its side to witness this City.
My entire self is dedicated
to this corner of earth.
The sun is starting to notice us.
This City is a family to me,
is the back of my hand as I walk down streets
from Hume Fogg to Rocketown to the police department
as I migrate from NSA to Big Picture to Maplewood
armed with nothing
but a blue backpack
that was a gift from my teacher.
Armed with open eyes and mouth,
speaking as just another kid wanting to make it.
Enveloped in this community.
My great-grandmother is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery:
She is safe.
She is watching
like our ancestors.
Gallatin Road is a movie:
Weiss Liquor Store bus stop isn’t a spot for teenage girls
but the lofts around them are clean and neat and gray
like the hair on the old man’s face
who offers me an orange from a trash bag bursting with
On the city bus, filled seats
and the only one empty is by a woman who doesn’t have
yet squeezes herself to the side to make room for me.
I don’t think she has a home
because I saw her sleeping on a bench yesterday.
Church Street attacks me
on rainy days
with wet-dog-scented sidewalks right in front of the library
where the people are divided
by the cracks.
Downtown inhales the scent of me,
intakes the sight of me.
Grown men who have permanent stubble and holey clothes
stare at these thighs
yet hold elevator-clawed doors away from me.
There’s a woman that comes into the library that people call
because she cradles a plastic Barbie in her arms like she
reading silently until they close.
And she was just a woman with clean clothes and a bright
until someone told me
they call her Baby Doll.
She was just a woman until they gave her a label.
Another person that is gum spit out on crosswalks
in a place that treats me like family.
How would you treat me if I told you I sleep on the street
instead of bed sheets?
Would you invite me to your table?
Would you feed me if I could not feed myself?
Clothe me if my shirt showed more skin than it is supposed
Smile at me because you know that I’m born on the same
planet as you?
If I showed you
a dried and dirty spray-painted mural
at the bottom of a building
in the back alley
of a downtown Presbyterian Church
where I fell in love
with this city…
Would you fall in love with this city too?
Cassidy Martin is the 2016 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, a program of the Mayor’s Office, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Public Library Foundation, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and Southern Word. Cassidy is a junior at Big Picture High School.
Learn more at www.southernword.org.