Natalie Malcom

            Volume 42 ~ 2019





The Closet Dark


     When I was a little girl, I had fears that were normal and simple to any other person. The dark was scary, and there were different types of it. When with a friend, it was exciting and something to be explored; holding onto each other, giggling. When it was broken with flashes of bright lightning and rumbles of thunder; it was the light to be feared, not the dark. And then there was the unknown dark. This kind was occupied by unknown things that no one could ever explain or understand. This kind was the worst. It was the type that always seemed to find me alone, to catch me and snatch me out of every comfort. It took me to places where I was untouchable by those that might rescue me. It was found in basements, in old sheds and towns where nobody was out after a certain time; where street lights were spread out to leave some places completely abandoned by the light and given up to the unknown things. At night, it lurked in my closet. As most children do, I whined and complained when my parents told me it was time for bed.

     “You have to go to bed at some point.” My mother would tell me.

     “The rest of us are going to bed, so you’ll be all by yourself!” was my dad’s argument. I pleaded that I wanted to stay up and play, watch TV, or at least for them to let me stay with them. In their bed, I could be protected by their presence from the unknown things that lurked. I told them that I couldn’t go to bed. Not now. But they didn’t know the real reason behind my pleading. They didn’t know that after they peeked their heads into my room to bid me goodnight and left me alone by myself and the lights went out, the things came out. They came from my closet, and they still came even when I tried to trap them in. Nothing could stop them. Their shadows danced against my wall, and I couldn’t just turn over to avoid their sight. They were surrounding me and taunting me. They were challenging me to get out of my shelter made of blankets and walls made of pillows. I couldn’t face them, because I knew they would get me. They were stronger than me and they knew it. When I finally fell asleep despite my fears, I always woke up to the receding dark, with light shining over the room making it safe again. This was a repeating pattern, over and over again.

     “Aren’t you glad you went to bed?” My parents would ask.

     But I wasn’t. The only thing I was glad about was the dark being gone. Sometimes I wondered if they don’t get scared because they are grown-ups. I wondered if when I went to sleep, the things did too.

     This is the dark that I could not escape. Visiting relatives, hotels, sleepovers, the things lived here too. Closets were the hidden realm of unknown things, a whole family spread out across the world. They went out into the darkness, scaring children like me. And then, when the light came, they crawled back into their own realm of darkness.




     When my mom gets home from school, she has the look on her face. Her eyes are tired, but I can tell that they are tired for a good reason. She organizes her bags in the corner by the china hutch, and takes out a purple pencil bag, stacks of papers, and her computer. More work. She grades papers in between making supper and tidying the kitchen.

     “It would have been helpful if you at least washed the dishes, I’ve told you to help with little things like that before.” She doesn’t look at me, but continues doing what I should have done before she got home.

     As soon as she lets me take over cleaning the kitchen, she sits down at the table and starts her work. I understand.  

     Sometimes, she comes home with stories about her students. She teaches kids from so many different backgrounds and countries. Some of my favorites are about her Somali girls that have somehow obtained driver’s licenses.

     “I wonder if I could teach them a little bit about driving,” my mom says, concerned but still smiling.

     She tells me about the kids who are on their own here in America, because their families were left behind in their home countries. She tells me about how her boys from Guatemala fled just so they wouldn’t be forced to join a gang, because their towns were dangerous and poor.

     Most of her Somali kids were born and raised in the world’s largest refugee camp, called Dadaab. Their parents had been in the camp for years before they were even born, some over twenty years waiting to be sent to a safe country. When the kids that didn’t have family first lived in the US, they lived in small apartments in big cities. They got lost on the streets after school and got off buses at the wrong places. Some of them didn’t even know how to run their thermostats!

     “There were a couple of girls,” she says, “that lived in an apartment in California. It was hot outside, and the girls didn’t know how to turn on their AC. They ran outside and saw a man just walking along, and got him to come inside their apartment and turn their AC on for them.” She laughs as she recalls the story.

     She has new stories about her students every day. I’m proud of her, because she teaches these kids from so many different backgrounds and experiences. She’s making an impact on their lives, leading them to an education that most of their family never had the chance to get themselves. She is helping them build lives for themselves in a new land, after all they’ve gone through in their lives. Much like any other teacher, she is building the future, for the country and for the individuals she impacts every day.


What is the Ladder?


Ladder, something so common.

Something so important, yet forgotten.

Leaned against brick building walls,

Left alone in storage halls

Walked by, ignored without a glance

We easily miss their sturdy stance

Ladders, could we compare to human beings?

Do we stroll past others without seeing?

Those forgotten by the rest

Could they ever have a place?

What if we gave them their wings?

By simply being the one that brings

Company, a smile

Maybe just talking for a while

Offering a friendly hand

Can really turn a bad day grand

Be the person who doesn’t just ignore

But who does so much more


Unexpected Peace


I never thought I could find peace like this in a city

I thought you had to be surrounded by wind, trees, silence

I didn’t know you could find it here

But I’ve discovered, it is here

I just have to search for it

In the secret song of the birds high above the houses

In the beeping of machinery far across town

In the shush of the trees like a distant rain

In the constant ripple of the water

Where the ducks and geese glide

Peace isn’t only found in the still of open prairie

In the whisper of grass in hilly pasture

It’s also found in towns, cities, and villages

In the sound of lawn mowers and bird songs

The jingle of the rope on the flag pole

There truly is peace here

It doesn’t come to you

You have to find it




I am from the winding driveway, with trees on one side

And a flowing canal on the other

That leads to a house surrounded by a grass moat

With a windbreak on one side, hiding pallet forts full of memories

And a pasture on the other side, where adventure is hidden in plain sight

In the hills where the cows graze and the view stretches out for miles


In that house, a family has grown

Where I learned to walk and talk

And the Baldwin piano sits past the living room

Collecting each note in the wooden frame

Sealing them in with each touch of the keys


In the second room down the hallway

Where the yellow paint has been overtaken

By new colors to fit my changing wants

Where the old lamp lit the pages of books

Home is here

where marks on the wall show my history in height

I see so much between those lines

I see home


There is Beauty in Sea


Backs turned to the rocky beach

Gazing into the stormy sea, as rigid as the water

Words bounce back and forth

Like slow shooting stars in war

How, they ask, can something so beautiful

Come from a day of disaster?

They stand still, waiting

Until the ocean urges them to leave

Leave, just like everything left them