Guest Post: On Rewinding by Mel Xiao

(I will preface this the only way I feel appropriate: it will be very clear that this was written by a high schooler trying to be mature.)

I like that saying, “You spend the rest of your life rewriting the first poem you ever loved.” To be fair, I’m a sucker for any and all Tumblr-esque quotes on galaxy backgrounds (a side effect of being a teenage girl, I suppose). Unlike most sappy typewriter messages, though, that one really meant something to me.

I came into writing poetry late. While my friends were already experimenting in middle school, playing with phrases and being uncomfortably meta, I preferred reading to writing. To write poetry was to be vulnerable, I thought. It meant prying your chest open, tripping over your own broken legs, screaming from the top of the Empire State Building with your toes gripping the edge. My metaphorical tendencies should have indicated that I would write eventually, inevitably.

I was afraid of writing. I was afraid to be honest in the way only poetry can be. In the end, it was poetry that had to come to me.

In my freshman year of high school, my long-standing depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder resurfaced, and certain events got me sent – shipped off may be a better way of putting it – to a psychiatric hospital, where I spent my days lying on a bed, staring at a crack in the paint in the wall for hours. Self-pity came to me pretty naturally; I let myself wallow more than I should have, and I like to say that that was why I started writing. In a plain marble notebook, I started jotting things down: the new kid on the floor, how cold my room always was, the way the turkeys in the woods outside always woke me up at five. They were phrases, no more; I hadn’t yet reached the level of sophistication known as stanza.

Then I stumbled upon Doc Luben, a performance poet. During the hour we had daily to use the internet, I would watch his “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes” over and over again, committing his words to memory.

14. I was never bold enough to buy bright green sheets.

                        I wanted them, but always thought they were too brash,

                        even with no one but me to see them.

                        I bought a set yesterday and put them on the bed.

                        I knew you would like them.


The first poem I’ve ever loved.

It would be an overestimate to say that the poem saved me, but by the time I was back home, I had my very first poem written – “Rewind” – and was crying 70% less. Doc Luben’s verses stayed in my head, pushing me through my darker days and into the brighter ones.

Fast forward five months and find me with shorter hair and better style.

A friend had encouraged me to set up an account on TeenInk, and as of then, “Rewind” was the only thing on there. I hadn’t written a word in those five months; I had hit the ground running after leaving the hospital, making up work and visiting doctors.

On a whim, I logged back onto my account, curious to see how many views I had gotten. To my disappointment, there were only thirteen views. But there was a comment underneath from someone named hello.lovely:

I read this to a friend as she was considering suicide to show her how much we would miss her. It saved her. Thank you.

Today, I have been published seven times and am one of the most decorated student writers in my grade. But knowing I had helped someone from the pits I had been trapped in not a year before – that is the highest honor.

I still stand by what I said earlier, that poetry is vulnerability and honesty and being brave enough to tiptoe right up to the edge of yourself to look at what might be hiding there. It’s throwing away your pride to be able to write about how you almost died, and how it was your own fault.

But it’s also remembering, and loving, and remembering what you love, so that you can live and pass your Tumblr-esque wisdom onto someone else.


Mel XiaoMel Xiao is a high school student from New Jersey with a penchant for instant noodles. Her writing has been featured in Black Fox, Cicada, Apprentice Writer, and more, and she was one of the featured student poets at the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival. She hopes one day to find the motivation to write that essay for school.

Mel’s poetry appears in Black Fox Issue 14.

1 comment to Guest Post: On Rewinding by Mel Xiao

  • Loved your story. I’m glad you were able to allow poetry to help you heal. And yes the highest honor is for your words to resonate so very strongly with someone else. Kudos. #loveandink

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