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Afterwards (I didn’t know)
Had a broom once which I bought from a store Came with a handy blue plastic tray I still have Swept pieces of the smashed plate into it, the smaller pieces I couldn’t pick up by hand Outside, somewhere, that old useless sweeper sits I barely think about it anymore. Didn’t know leaving the broom outside would ruin it Didn’t know snow could mangle a handle Didn’t know time could tangle bristles Didn’t know sun could do that I didn’t know. Bought a vague-brand rubber broom via Amazon Prime Had a 4.6 star average, “Good for pet hair, dust, food” Thought it’d be perfect for the kitchen; for my nights listening to anti-MLM podcasts while frying fish and mashing sweet potato. Didn’t know I’d be sweeping pieces of dead fern Didn’t know I’d be searching for tiny ceramic shards Didn’t know I’d be picking up whole slices of turkey bacon Didn’t know I’d be working in broken silence I didn’t know. Had to lift up the overturned, monstrous flatscreen TV Squatted and lifted with my legs, not my back Had to maneuver so I could rip out the plug it got stuck on Wiggled the glass bottom away from a cardboard box in peril Pushed the big red suitcase back into place after that Got my clothes off the floor and hung them back up Brushed the dust off everything caught in your storm’s wake Didn’t know I was that strong Didn’t know I was that dexterous Didn’t know I could do all that through tears Didn’t know what I would do afterwards I didn’t know. The Band To survive, did not let the music die. Needed to write the song when I’d cry. Resolved to live life in tune and rhyme, to ameliorate and replace time. Separated and carved my kneecaps. Made them castanets to savour the life and death cycles. Transformed clicking, clapping, slapping bones. Made a jaunty rhythm out of organic existence; a warm, spiced beat out of frozen bones. Produced vibrations and tones from my tendons. Ripped out, cleaned, and peeled them into slick, sliding strings. Combined gore and melody with dull plucking. Destroyed the tension in my soft body. Celebrated and beautified the sharp, cutting cords. The last piece of the band is the pale flute. Drilled through the bone in my calf for my lips. Smoothed each hole for notes both piercing and dragging. Allowed the rest of my body to stay intact. Won’t cut off anything else, or no more music. Didn’t let the music die—blissfully danced, for I survived. Without my limb, became revived. Imposter Syndrome I am a boulder, not a jewel. Intelligent, not wise. Scholar, not sage. My writing will never be whimsical. Straightforward, though just as carefully crafted. But it will never be flamboyant! No metaphorical curlicues— no words calligraphed with such puzzling wit that it tickles your mind towards a burst of delightful surprise. Nope. I can merely offer you the following: Honesty like a bee stinging your thigh when you sit on it, Enlightenment like blinding sunlight bouncing off a desert snake’s scale, Creativity like a child who draws the monster that lives under the bed. It’s not much, but I try. Is it enough? Stubborn You’ve joy in limiting my taste, preferring to keep my tongue scarred-- thinking that it will keep me chaste, easy to punish and discard. I was the convenient blame and you thought I was yours to shame. Though of the fight I’ll never tire, I scorch with my infinite fire. My teeth bear down against your grit Is this the price I’ll have to pay? Impossible, I won’t do it. You need my words to be erased my pages are ripped, torn, and charred, pretending that my thoughts are waste when in fact you feel rightly marred. You tease esteem as if a game, use cruelty to make me tame. Subject me to a life so dire-- it’s silence you wish you’d inspire. Could I be released of my wit and limit what I mean to say? Impossible, I won’t do it. The sharpest truth you’re ever faced— my wicked piece, the cutting shard has come to light after you’ve chased; you sweat as you draw every card. We feel life’s pain the very same no matter how you try to frame. We’ll all be met by Heaven’s choir though you have named me as a liar. Offer my neck for you to slit and all my tired skin to flay? Impossible, I won’t do it. You tear me out to be displaced and say my fate is just ill-starred, but your lies can now be retraced. You’ll try to freeze your heart too hard. You see me as a blazing flame, refuse to see my heart’s pure aim. I’m pulled right through the deadly briar and threatened with the hottest pyre. Grind me down until I submit so that my colours turn to gray? Impossible, I won’t do it. I know that I am made of clay. Am I supposed to live this way? Burn myself to keep your house lit or abrade every edge to fray? Impossible, I won’t do it. Hard Baked Truths To open myself and set words free; to reveal my truth, beauty, and love is to pull apart freshly baked bread and see the steam billow out like smoke. The hard crust surrounding hot softness is strong and vulnerable like me. Take a bite out of my fresh, hot bread. You are here with me. A part of me. We two fools are so vulnerable. We openly hide from the hard truth, To surround ourselves with a softness. It tastes beautiful; our love is strong. Then you pull me so crudely apart! Open me and fill me with hot smoke-- hard truths about myself--surrounding yourself with hard crust while you get to be set free from my beautiful love? Your strong words leave me vulnerable. Earth’s thin crust restrains billowing heat. Vulnerable humans are not strong. We can barely break the ground apart. The rock, though, cannot see its beauty, while we can make words to speak our love, truth, hardships, and manipulations. Hot words can burn the strongest to ash turning truly soft ones like myself into baked, then burned, then smoked bodies… Is there beauty in surrounding pain which can transform my fresh skin into a hardening, crumbling crust? Opening fresh love towards myself, I now live to bake our bread daily. Freedom comes with soft dough and strong crusts. Hot steam billows out of the oven. There are no truthful words to describe tasting the bread that I made myself. I bake hot and fresh words: “I love you.” You might pull apart my soft bread, true. I want that vulnerable beauty. The Villanelle If I could address myself, old or young, wrecked or anchored, Bay or Sea. I would let the song roll itself off my tongue. All signs point to memories that clung. The earbuds in the car meant my safety. If I could address myself, old or young. I’d sing myself Hair—I loved the way the songs stung, and the song stung from within, where it must always be. I would let the song roll itself off my tongue. I could let a Disney ballad fill up one lung; For respite, the other needs a soulful Wa’el Kfoury*. If I could address myself, old or young. Then it’s a classic filmi** hit I’d need sung, tying myself to ancestral steps of bravery. I would let the song roll itself off my tongue. This stubborn truth has forever rung: Music is wild, unfettered, flourishing in me. If I could address myself, old or young, I would let the song roll itself off my tongue. -- *popular Arabic language singer from Lebanon **of an Indian film, from India Edge of Concern Body and mind can’t live in fear, flying birds know to rest. Yet you will always persevere with your pain in my chest. You are indeed my heart’s true guest even when we all fret, you have torn down your fam’ly crest and no one can forget. More than thirty needles have pricked through from your eyes to mine. More than thirty times I am tricked and left to be “just fine.” If you perceive my voice to whine you’ll cover up your ears, though I have used my body fine -- to keep you from your tears. All feathers are plucked from my skin to comfort your sweet head; all of my patience has worn thin and now I’m full with dread. No more will I bake daily bread filling you up with pride, I will make my own life instead and leave you here to hide. I will journey out to the sands to make the dunes my grave, and with your soft piano hands you’ll have yourself to save. Comparison Screeches are launched from the mouth of an unpreferred daughter. Her own son is climbing, tumbling, rolling onto the prayer rug "AGH! STOP!" she yells. She's trying, struggling, in her prayers but her praying is repetition. Repetition of pitches hit, vibrating in the air for three decades generational cries, passing on. Relatives silently reacted: lips bitten, eyes rolled, heads shaken "Children are to be loved," my aunt commanded from atop her motherly mountain, and the screaming mother is judged. "You should know that, since you're going to start having your own," with her jewel eyes fixated on my face, my breasts, then my belly. Well-meant words, softly aimed, but it doesn’t matter. Each letter of her words scrapes harshly against my soul's skin. I, too, felt like crying out. Stop! September 2020: Its Conquering In September of 2020, my body softened and rounded all its corners without asking me first. Control was out of order in its own order: retching mornings met tears of shame in the afternoons-- the evenings ended the routine with frozen numbness and a rushing heart. My sleep was a delusion. There was no rest. I felt that I would disappear as It would grow, and my conscious so certainly knew in its heightened, vigilant imagination that the It would tragically pull my insides out of me soon like a magician's string of sickening handkerchiefs. I was a sleeve on someone else's arm. It inherited my genetically-obtained force; twin horns of a ram dislodged all of my attempts at protection. I had let pain rip in and out of me at the doctor’s office for nothing. Edibles for the bearing of blackening douleur might as well have been exotic spring water poured down a sink. 99.9% efficacy, but I was 0.01% lucky. The clock's hand had a diamond-edged dagger in it, slashing with each slap as it moved across the face. In tiny increments, pieces of my very self were marbles swirling, draining, rolling down, sucked down into a circle like some kind of joke. I made my choice to choose myself over It. A series of rods, one larger than the next. A plastic elephant's trunk would inhale It out with suction I’d never feel and It would die before the bagging. It was in one of the papers I signed. I would wake in a white light. I stood at the edge of a ravine when it was over. I looked down, I saw new messages in my inbox. New documents. The IUD was dislodged, hanging at the cervix. That I knew. And then came the harrowing, lung-pricking description of--It. It had: ten fingers, developed organs. I have: a concrete body, each cell alive and dying in their natural processes. The dagger, the elephant's trumpet, the drain, not one could deny. I did it. All were witness. The devilish It had: ten fingers, developed organs? Don’t forget: So have I. *Poems written in reflection of life’s power; in awe of beauty and in sadness of it. Reminiscing about times that never existed yet are so alive. Feeling disconnected from life that was, indeed, very real. These are intimate, meditative works that are meant to wash over you the way life does when you are at its center and have no control over it. --Khadeja transformation meditation air skimming across the dew launches it off the blade of grass it’s new role: ground’s fuel. a dew’s descent is a millisecond of velocity dropping, unheard whistling to the tiniest of ears yet a vibration well felt. --- an observation it may be beautiful, but it may not be yours. this is an observation of mothers by one who could be one but made the other choice. to watch emergent life is to watch a known, and yet unknown. it is watching the new life pushing out an orifice, or cracking a shell, even growing out of soil. power, awe, and disgust all spark at once. so dangerous is the forcing of birth, so oblivious are we to the workings, that our breaths rebel against our lungs. our minds rebel against ourselves. and all the while, people are still doing it—giving birth. creation is divine. the child is always being waited for. outside our Mother tends, if not the sweaty, warmth of humanity in one of the other forms: the Earth, the egg-warmer, the web-weaver, or the Queen, so many forms… all of them the same. protecting by fighting until the bursting against nature, time, enemies, and luck. perilous is this endless battle, helpless are we to stop it. hopeless because we don’t want to. we can only learn how to despair accordingly. learn, learn, learn. while teaching! and reveling! what a mess! and then we cannot deny, there is nothing more beautiful than being alive to watch a seed turned to stalk. a moment--an appreciation of the mother’s choice. the choice of motherhood itself, the choice of glorious pain, screeching music, thankless accomplishment, sunshine with moonlight, and underneath it all – a pull that never stops. I sit here, a loving stone, in place. Bio: "Khadeja Ali is a poet and visual artist from Massachusetts who uses her art to explore themes of the heart and the mind. She has a degree in Art History as well as a Master's in Intercultural Relations--both of which inform her life experience and her art. Khadeja is a native of Mauritius with ancestry from Eastern Europe. You can find her on twitter as @khadejalidraw."