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Sitting in Mrs. Goodman’s fifth-grade class,
red-faced and hot from lunch recess,
I bent over my Spanish/English dictionary,
the one we’d made from lined paper,
folding it in half lengthwise, stapling it down the middle,
English on one side, Spanish on the other,
our first foreign language,
hola, hello, roja, red.

The yellow pencil slipped in my fingers
and my cursive writing was crooked and messy.
My first thought was, “I hate how this looks!
I’ll have to re-copy it during summer vacation.
Make it perfect.”

Because that was how it had to be—perfect.
My box of feathers in the closet, sorted by size,
arranged one on top of the other,
hawk, Stellars’ jay, even the tip of a peacock feather from the zoo.
I’d take them out and stroke them,
return them exactly as they had been.
Butter in every hole of my waffle on Sundays, then syrup.
So I knew this homemade dictionary
was going to make me unhappy—it already had.

But then, jagged as a lightning bolt in a child’s drawing,
came the thought, Who cares?
And that was the beginning
of not trying to be perfect anymore,
seeing what spilled over the edges,
letting it all remain just as it was.

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