The Ornament By Riley Zahn

The Ornament

To whoever made the custom ornament my family got me for Christmas.

When you painted those white letters on that blue glass ball,
did you know what they meant?
When you wrote the words “Riley’s First Christmas”
did you think it was for a newborn?

When you painted the R, did you hear the echoes of that old name
that rang in my ears for months after I came out?
Did you hear the frustration in my dad’s voice when he writes
Ryan instead of Riley on a Christmas card.
Did you feel the hesitation as they unpacked memories
desperately searching for names and pronouns, slamming the breaks
On 24 years of inertia.

When you painted the I, did you sense the self-conscious dread in my voice
when I finally willed those words out of my mouth: “I’m transgender”
Did you feel the weightlessness as we
floated in them
like cold molasses?
Did you see the teardrops on my mom’s pillow that night?
Did you feel how much tighter she hugs me now?

When you painted the L, did you feel the uncertainty,
Like all of the questions I still don’t know the answer to
Like, what is your middle name?
Like, will you be able to find a job?’
Like, how did this happen?
Like, did we do something wrong? It feels like you’re dying.

When you painted the e, did you see the red edit marks
on the hopes and dreams and aspirations they had for their son?
Did you see grandkids blur?
Did you hear a father of the groom speech fade to nothing?
Did you feel them letting go of knowing me
better than I know myself?”

When you painted the Y, did you see the avalanche bearing down on me?
made of a hundred questions and a thousand worries
and a society that won’t understand?
Did you see them dig me out of the snow pack, and together
We scaled a learning curve so steep, none of us could see the other side?

When you put in the work to make that ornament,
did you know the work it took for them to order it?

When you painted those white letters on that blue glass ball,
did you hear the story behind them?
When you painted the words “Riley’s First Christmas”
Did you think it was for a newborn?
Or did you suspect that when I opened the box and looked inside,
I would be home for the very first time?

By Riley Zahn


Riley Zahn (she/her) is a trans woman, poet, educator and graduate student from Mankato, MN. She spends her time learning, unlearning, playing nerdy card games, and wondering if the people who work at the Chinese Buffet place are judging her for how often she eats there alone.

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