You will be a strong woman born into a world that values your silence.
I don’t want to tell you to fight,
Because these words, this message, comes with a price as vulgar as the fingers clamped over your mouth, and I don’t expect you to choose one over the other.
I want to write a poem that will tell you that you are beautiful,
But how can I do that when I spent the first 15 years of my life attempting to shrink my body
like an old cashmere sweater.
Children cannot grow in a world constantly telling them to be smaller,
Little girl speaks when spoken to,
Little boy goes to play outside.
What’s the point of writing poetry about flowers
When you cannot flip through a magazine without being reminded that
The world would rather see you starve than flourish,
And for only 9.99 a month.
I want to write you a poem about worship,
About finding temple in the soul,
But how can I ask you to seek solace in faith when faith
has only ever been used to imprison you?
When God himself found women impure, seductive creatures,
How are you supposed to think anyway else?
When a man shouts at you from the other side of the street,
And you feel your 11-year-old body shake with fear,
Do not shout back.
You will want to,
For you are made of quicksilver tongue,
The way our mother always said I was,
And you will be angry.
You will feel the scream build up in the back of your throat,
But you must keep it there.
You must not allow them the grace of your voice,
Nor the justification of their attack.
You are too pure to end at their hands, still soaked with the blood of the last girl too
Stupid to bite her tongue.
You must keep walking, chin tilted toward the stars that birthed you,
Red anger still balled in your throat like a fist.
Later, allow the sprint built up in your legs
The flight to slowly leave your body,
And cough up the ball in the back of your throat in the sink
While you remember your science lesson about fight or flight reflexes and
Wonder if you are the bird surrounded by wolves.
You are not the bird.
You are the sky,
Vast and limitless,
All the metaphors in your favorite poems were made for you.
You are the moon,
And though the wolfs, with their claws and sharp teeth, may howl,
You will always be just out of reach.
Even though it will not mean much,
Let me tell you that you are the sky.
And there too is a god for you,
And she is grace,
And she will undo the words they carved into stone,
She will tell you that you are not taken from rib,
You are taken from tree, rooted in the belief that you can survive
Lightning strikes and war,
And remain plotted and strong.
You did not bite the apple, and if you did,
It was because Eve was so used to being told that
“Do not partake” never REALLY means do not partake,
It just means partake when the apple is smart enough to keep its mouth shut afterwards.
And you will never escape the images
Media bombards you with,
But you must remember never to hate the models you are told to look like,
For they are trapped in an industry that equates less of them to more
And they never wanted to hurt you.
You will meet women who call themselves feminists,
But sometimes they are not so.
Sometimes the anger twists their fingertips into needles,
And they will
Teach you to hate men,
But remember that hate had never left (not sure what this means) in the presence of opposing hate.
And they will tell you stories,
And they will be true,
But do not remember the men on the corner,
Or all of them since then,
Instead, remember our father's hands,
And the way he kisses our mother's forehead and stays home to
Make curry for her
When she is feeling under the weather.
How sometimes he presses the rice into a
Tight ball in his fist,
The way his mother did,
And gently pushes it into your open, eager mouth.
That a man’s fist is not always destruction.
Remember that feminism is not one size fits all.
Remember that feminism does not have to mean you stop wearing
Makeup, or shaving your legs,
Or falling in love with a boy with sparkly eyes.
You do not have to be the feminist up here screaming a poem that won’t make a difference,
Or the one who marches down the streets of New York City shirtless.
Think of our mother,
Whose brand of feminism
Is tilting our chins toward the stars and telling us to reach for them.
It is “Don’t hate the skinny girls”
It is “Every woman deserves to live”
It is “If a man ever treats you badly, leave.”
It is the face of a woman who
Is told that as a stay-at-home mother she cannot possibly represent equality.
Well, let me tell you something.
Your mama stays at home because she knows you need her there.
She stays at home because she can only tilt up our chins when she can reach them,
Maybe the working woman does represent an equality movement
But you can never let them tell you your mama is not a working woman.
She works to make sure you are never treated like she was,
Never become a statistic about teen pregnancy,
A statistic about poverty,
A statistic about spousal abuse.
And yeah, maybe you can’t pay the bills on that,
But you can’t pay the bills on 75 cents to the dollar either.
So who has overcome what?
And you cannot ignore the plights of your sisters.
The Hispanic girl in your English class who can’t pick up the language fast enough to say no to the boy sitting next to her.
OR the black mother whose son was shot down, reduced to a hashtag
That will trend just long enough for the state to find his killer not guilty
Or her daughter, who will not even find justice within 140 characters on Twitter.
For your sisters of color, your 75 cents to the dollar becomes 55 cents
Your name is too black for this position,
maybe I could be persuaded.
You can not call yourself freedom seeking when you hope only to free the people who look like you.
I know that it is hard, hard to grow tall in a box,
Hard to flower without despising the brightness of your petals for drawing so much attention
Hard to love the girl next to you when she represents everything you have ever been
Told you lack,
But they want you to hate her,
Want you to jab slut underneath her fingernails so they don’t have to.
And love the girl who sits in the corner with folds of extra body crawling out over her jeans like
An invading army,
Set on destroying her.
Love the girl with scars,
And love the girls who glare at you in hallways,
Who stop to wipe your tears off in bathroom mirrors,
Who teach you the best way to get mascara
Out from under your eyes
After a boy you call friend makes your body his joke
And tells you that
If you don’t want to be attacked you shouldn’t wear shirts so low,
And you don’t want to tell him how long it took you to be this comfortable with your body,
So you laugh and excuse yourself to the bathroom to claw at all the parts of you his eyes touched.
Love the girls who don’t laugh,
Who shoot daggers through their eyes,
The teacher who lets you leave for as long as you need to,
And most of all,
When you are standing there,
The bathroom mirror filled with what will always seem like too much of you,
Love the girl you are.
Love the way you kiss your grandmother’s cheek,
And the way you pray, even if faith took you a little while to find
And love your parts that you wish you hadn’t given away,
Including what was taken from you by men on corners and boys in classrooms,
And love the way your ideas are bigger than the walls that trap you,
The way your little brother peers up at you through his eyelashes, as if you were
The surest thing in the universe.
Like you were the universe, all he could possibly know of it yet.
For you are the sky.