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Caroline Johnson

--for Megan (and Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all about you
are gossiping, lying, or planning a coup.
If you can wear bright colors, purple or sky blue,
but not be ashamed to show the real you.
If you can swim through changes, but stay afloat,
not worrying about what people may say.
Or, being lonely, throw others a coat,
then offer to sew up their tears the next day.

If you come up with a dream, and study it for hours,
then throw your heart into it with full aplomb.
If you gamble on desire but aim to empower,
never letting your enemies see you give in.
If you wink shyly and flirt, yet muscle a smile,
eye boys with glitter, but choose them wise,
Youíll grow into grace and create your own style,
forgetting the hype and futile disguise.

If you can steer your heart to a direction thatís true,
and never let go of sweet innocence,
If you drive the distance and stay worldly too,
and keep your head full of practical sense.
If you go to university and study life,
hobnob with the rich and poor,
If you observe all around you with keen insight,
yet always stay hopeful at each open door.

If you can trust your instincts while staying sober,
yet still navigate the City of Love,
then make new friends when the party is over,
never blaming someone else or God above.
If you can fill each minute with adventure and joy,
without trying too hard to please,
yours is the world and everything it employs,
and whatís more youíll be a woman, my niece!

This poem first appeared in The Poet, "Childhood" Anthology, Vol. 1 (Winter 2020).
Used here with permission.

Caroline Johnson lives near Chicago and taught English for 20 years before becoming a college advisor. The author of two illustrated poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Motherís Artwork, and a full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018), inspired by years of caring for family members, her work has been widely published and, in 2012, she won the Chicago Tribuneís Printers Row Poetry Contest. Caroline is currently working on a manuscript about cancer; learn more about her at

Post New Comment:
Lori Levy:
Beautiful poem.
Posted 03/10/2022 06:59 PM
Very nice!
Posted 03/10/2022 01:20 PM
Caroline, What wonderful advice in this poem. Very inspiring.
Posted 03/10/2022 12:50 PM
Nicely done!
Posted 03/10/2022 12:12 PM
Its never too late to take this poem to heart.
Posted 03/10/2022 10:20 AM
Wilda Morris:
Good advice for all!
Posted 03/10/2022 09:52 AM
Poetry inspires poetry!
Posted 03/10/2022 09:29 AM
Wonderful takeoff on Kipling, Caroline. This poem helps me "navigate the city of love." Thank you.
Posted 03/10/2022 09:03 AM
Larry Schug:
We all know what young people do with advice from elders, but it is important to share our experiences with them. We also know that later in life this advice might resurface as wisdom. This poem is full of good advice and, indeed, it is a fine poem, too.
Posted 03/10/2022 07:59 AM
Great effort and sentiment. Randy
Posted 03/10/2022 07:54 AM
Lovely take on the male version! As a man I can only try to relate, but I do think wearing colors is a very womanly thing to do. Thanks Caroline.
Posted 03/10/2022 04:54 AM

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