They tell me to be at peace.
They don’t notice that I am in pieces.
Regardless of the blood that drips from my lips.
Regardless of the bruises that shackle my wrists.
They wrestle control from bloodied fingers,
and crack my knees against the floor.
They wish to strip me of my strength,
and trap me in my voice.
They wish for me to cease,
gagging me with dirtied money.
They think it will stop me,
stuffed mouth unable to speak.
Her shoes were made in the year 1977. They belonged to her grandmother when she was
a young woman. They were wingtip derby dress shoes in a size 8-and-a-half with a very slight
heel. She’d been granted permission to wear them to work after filing a special request with her
employer. She’d made a very thorough case for the shoes. They were in beautiful shape,
closed-toed, and sturdy. They’d made her bring them in to prove that she could sprint down the
hallway in them. The shoes were made from alligator skin, her favorite animal, said to still roam
free in the half-drowned Atlantis that remained of the Southeastern American wilds, where her
extended family had once lived, just outside of Miami – what the shoes lacked in utility, they
made up for in history.
Tip-tack-tip-tack, the shoes used to go, smacking tiles as she walked back and forth
across her grandad’s deck like America’s Next Top Model. Now they made almost no sound at all,
just a faint thup-thup-thup. Principal Ndongo’s allowance of the shoes hinged on the condition
that they be appropriately dampened – several spaces in the facility still had hard, lacquered
floor, namely the cafeteria and gym areas. She paced around the empty facility, poking her head
into all the rooms that would be, any time now, full of human beings. During her extensive
training, she’d participated in several full-occupancy armed safety drills, but those always struck
her as falsely urgent, bordering on ridiculous. They were meant to further complicate an already
fabricated scenario, like trying to catch someone off-guard while playing Simon Says. Simon
Says get the fuck down, now, now, now.
I find redemption in the contours of your back
Weighing heavy on the breadth of your shoulders
A map to vengeance, peace, freedom
written in the notches of your spine
Each freckle I come across
a landmark, a victory
I find hope in your hands
Sprinkled throughout the callouses
A warm cradle for actions, consequences, victory
Found in the cup of your palms
Each finger slots into mine
A safety net, a promise
Pass the salt. Say grace at the dinner table. Say this could be something.
We eat quietly by the window under sunbeams, listening to the music of a
songbird’s serenade. I can’t remember the last time we had a meal like this, together
and yet still so alone. If you could speak to me for the first time, what would you
Do you want to light the candles? I ask, and you shake your head. They’re just
there for decoration. Of course they are.
The food is stale. Still, I eat because you have made it. This cooking, though
unappetizing, is one of the purest forms of love. I will not turn it into one of shame.
When we finish, I notice the chipped edge of your plate. Even in this silence
we share it screams, I am here. I am lived in. A smile spreads across my lips, thin and
wry. Today has been good to us.
Neither do I belong to those fetters of fragility
furled around my feet, nor do I belong
to the shallowly strength depicted
by utter superficiality;
I am the daughter of clay,
and of callosity,
crafted with the competence
of being fragile and fortitudinous
all at once.
Getting mascara on your eyelid.
Smudging your nail polish because it takes too long to dry.
Not knowing how to receive compliments.
Knowing how to give them.
Allowing yourself to be girly in a way that isn’t ironic or making fun.
Allowing yourself to not be girly, not just to be different.