Imposter Syndrome

 Somewhere here, 
 we’ve got the trophy,
 proof we’re not “one of them.”
 You know who we mean.
 The guy twirling the sale sign
 out front by the furniture store,
 red arrow pointing the wrong way.
 But what does he care? 
 It’s less than minimum wage.
  
 Or the day laborer waiting for work,
 fingers black from soil and cigarettes,
 jeans barely held up by a cracked belt.
 Certainly we’ve bested that, yes?
 Moved beyond our fathers’ humble 
 lip smacking and smiling,
 mouth open like people with bad teeth
 aren’t supposed to do?
  
 We hide our own mouths behind our hands,
 in case the floss missed a speck of spinach,
 in case the whitening didn’t work,
 in case a drop of spittle hurtles 
 like a meteor into the space between us
 as we mispronounce our ordinals: 
 Third Place and Fourth, unacceptable.
 Fifth doesn’t exist, and unless you’re first,
 don’t bother mentioning in polite company.
  
 This is the shame of inheritance,
 of being born in a no-name hospital,
 raised in a working-poor town,
 reminded in writing, “You can do better.”
 You better do better.
 And we have done better. Right?
  
 There’s a trophy somewhere that says so, 
 a plaque engraved with our worth,
 thin line of cursive 
 (names misspelled, but so what?)
 declaring we’re “better off.”
 
 We’re living in strata where diplomas, 
 degrees, certificates and seals 
 still mean the difference between 
 earning a decent living
 and plummeting.
 “We did what we could for you,” 
 say our elders.
 “We gave you all we had.
 It’s up to you to fly.”
  
 No wonder we can’t tolerate failure.
 No wonder we cling to perfectionism.
 No wonder we hold on so tightly,
 like life depends on our fragile ability
 to hide the “we-might-be-a-fraud,”
 terrified of our own thin skin.
 The world demands we win.
  
 -Katherine Gotthardt 

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine is current president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. She has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Her children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 she earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest. While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is a full-time marketing writer for a government contracting company and is published in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has authored nine books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, and Get Happy, Dammit. D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith was released in December 2020.
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