Portovenere (2011)

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As rain starts to fall on the town of Portovenere, the scene is set for a suspense film.

The town is walled in by ancient battlements, keeping watch over port, streets and tourist-weary natives. Once passed the gates, tall houses tower and stairways loom at every turn. A porcelain-white cat sits ever patient, not a turn of the head as we pass by. Nor do we acknowledge its presence with more than a word; my left wrist bears the trace of its now-hidden claws – I’ve learnt my lesson. The air weighs down on us as we climb step after step. Only fallen flowers catch the eye as we walk. Laundry hangs white above our heads, out of prying eyes’ reach. A little bowl left out for pigeons is the only reminder of an old mumbling woman we saw the day before, out pruning her plants. In a plea to lessen its burden, the sky finally releases a few drops of rain. Far in the distance, a dull sound echoes.

(As I sit to write, the day’s carillon rings out its irregular tune:  sinister, kitsch, jarred and devoid of melody, it uselessly announces the fourth hour after noon.  Inside the house it is answered by an exasperated groan).

At first the rumbling sound resembles the one heard non-stop as motorised boats cross the Golfo. From dawn till dusk they send dull vibrations into the air, amplified as they travel from island to mainland and back again. Only this time the sound is more insistent, getting closer, covering up the aria of an opera seeping through a first-floor window in the silent, deserted street. For a moment, the woman and the helicopter fight for their voices to be heard until we turn a corner and they both accept defeat. More stairs to be climbed, more “buon giorno”s left unanswered or perhaps unheard. Flowers are still in bloom in this summer afternoon that is yet spring. Cacti point the way and, at the turn of a corner, my eyes level with the view offered at last: the bay, the sea and the island we’ve just come from. As I turn back where we are heading, my mind floats to the castle, up there. The image, fresh in mind, of faded photographs showing two old friends dressed against the wind, walking the old path of polished slabs, pointing at something in the distance, a long time ago. My mind then goes back to a face I’ve only now seen for the first time: that of my grand-mother, my mother’s mother.  Mum in who’s face I now recognise the past they maddeningly fight over. I climb the final steps, pass the wall in pink bloom and enter our shelter, just in time. As the rain starts to fall in earnest, the scene is finally set: white cat, bodiless opera voice, a labyrinth of stairs, helicopter swooping low and a family tragedy waiting to be told…

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I don’t do fiction – “Pretty, Curly Girl” March 2017

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17 billion universes, in each of which I am a thousand possibilities. I carry in me the seeds for a hundred women to flower.

Yet I am afraid. As if a single uncontrolled step might condemn me to a vertiginous kaleidoscope of errors. I reside in a fear that traps me. It is unforgiving. Unrelenting. And so I chase respite, anything to keep the numbing terror at bay. I sing, I sweat, dance to the beat of the drums, drink, weep, stare danger in the eye. I also surround myself with strangers and delve into the depths of friendships. Too much. Too soon. I crave discovery, new, safe touch. I want to be discovered, understood.

 

I should know better.

Still, the one consistency – I need to be needed. Without a target to aim for, in the service of others, I doubt myself. Isn’t that the only way I know I’m alive?

Meanwhile, in another universe –

Pretty, curly, shy girl in the sun. Always a glass in hand, too ready to drink, forget. Pretty girl who’s too kind, too soft, yet oh so strong. Pretty girl in the eye of the storm. Chaos all around, she drags her pain, chained to her feet. Yet she’s a fighter. Pretty girl packs a punch, isn’t afraid to bite. She just wishes she didn’t self-harm, and destroyed the bad guys instead. Pretty girl wishes she were rocked to sleep, held tight and kept warm at all times. Could you read her mind? If so, she wants you on her team. Exchanging of looks, silent vibrations, communication is key. Curly girl wants to be understood. Never to disappear is all she asks.

 

Pretty, curly girl needs to rest. But will she wake? Or let another take her place, another universe, another pretty girl?

I don’t do fiction. So I write other mes.

Turn back the pages – July 2010

A shower in Venice

Wash away years of dust,

Gallons of Seawater

Plastered to your skin:

Only the dark grime

Under your nails is proof

It’s there.

The water runs, and with it

Memories of the day

The gentle lull of the boat

Fingers outstretched

Bridging the gaps in generations

Languages mixed to match.

In remembrance

I close my eyes

Against the sun,

The sting of the soap.

Slowly the waves of water

Win over the other waves

The waves of heat

Breaking against

The shiny sides of a 

“Bateau de Plaisance”

Like a shirt of freshest silk

I don the silvery flush of water

Washing away

Thousands of years of crumbling dust

And gallons of seawater

That we try do drown

With a light mist of

Water from home.

Extract from a love letter – on self affirmation 

But I am a whole, made of good and bad, confident and anxious, calm and angered, sober and excited. I deserve to be loved as a whole, to have all aspects of me honoured, kept safe and taken care of. Dealing with me requires patience, which I will not apologise
for. I will not put myself in boxes to please others, especially those I choose to let into my intimate circle. This is necessary for my mental health, and more and more for my physical integrity too. I am not an embarrassement to be hidden, I am not my illness.
I am a whole. More than the sum of my (partially defective) parts. And isn’t that who you love? I expect to be loved, not changed. This is not to say I will not change and improve, but that it is a process, aided by love and not a question of clicking fingers
and becoming the perfect woman. Every day I am the best version of me in the context I am given. If you love me, you can believe that. 

Boy, don’t even try me.

Just because I’m black you expect me to be exotic. You think my curves and curls make me wild in bed. You like the sound of the languages I speak and want to hear more.

Then, because I’m swiss you accuse me of being a bourgeois goody two-shoes. I am not (and neither are you) my origins (your heritage). More than the sum of my parts, let me exist outside of the boxes you label for me, for all of us. Do I have to remind you never to judge a book by its cover?

So, just because I am a half-black (and yes, half white) educated woman who enjoys singing love songs as well as twerking does not mean you have a right to change me or “put me back on track”. No, my sister won’t play basketball for you, yes, her boyfriend is still with his “negro girl” (true words, heard for real, no joke), and no, I will neither calm down, nor speak in a voice that is not mine.

Why don’t you just stand on your side of the court and take all the balls I ace your way?

I stand tall as your opponent, worthy and unafraid.

Unapologetically Woman

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Kimothy Joy

Today I write. Pick up my pen, later I’ll type, and get to show you a piece of my mind. I write; this is my power, my craft. I am empowered – by words, but also by my mind, my body – as by my choices, my struggles and my skills. All this I have had to learn – tread my own path, pause, return to understand, and inch forward, on and on, slowly, yet, now I know, surely.

I am a woman, and yes, it matters. While I used to think it was more important to find/be my unembodied self, my essence, my soul…now I see how valid, and valuable, my body is. Not something to be brushed aside while I try to make my mind shine. No, I have a body, a physicality, which I choose to use to enhance my performance of myself as Lila.

With this realisation, another is truly vital: my body is mine. And oh how I regret not owning it sooner. It started with pulling my hair into clean, tidy rows, to hide its “kinks”, “unruly” curls, and “unkemptness”. No. My hair will not answer your expectations and beauty “standards” anymore. Let these curls bounce around my face and reflect the complexity of my soul. I am unashamed.

Next comes the pain my body goes through and the blind eye I turned on its needs. No longer will I force my cramp-wracked self to get on trains, to write out tests, to function as if I were a result-oriented machine. When I bleed, I will take my time, and let the world go on while I observe my own essential cycles. We are allowed times of rest, times of reflection and of self-developement. 

In my relationships with others, I will no longer hide or aim to melt into the background. I will use my voice, whether on stage, at your dinner table, in class or in the doctor’s office. You will no longer forget me; my presence will be heard. My thoughts are to be shared or kept to myself if I so choose. My opinions are worthy of acknowledgement. Whether silent or loud, noisy, even “too out there”, I have arrived.

Finally, there are questions of the flesh. I aimed to please, realise others’ desires. I let myself be taken and I gave up ownership of myself. I even ignored rape, telling myself it was my duty, a normal, common compromise to make. The tides have turned. I nearly drowned, but held on, to tell the tale. The hurt is real, the scars visible – these I will not hide either. Used to catering to a partner’s needs, my own are now screaming back. In no hoarse voice, my desires speak their hunger, unafraid to lie back, spread out, grab by the horns or refuse to let in. They are recognised and legitimised. I will continue to explore, choose my bedfellows and revel in the freedom of consent.

I said “finally”, but I’m not done. The state of affairs in my mind is far from settled. You have seen me burst into tears – that was loss, death. You heard about the hospital – that was wanting to die, envisioning suicide. Perhaps you’ve seen me swallow pills – that’s for anxiety, keeping vertigo at bay, to stop being scared. You know my sisters, see my parents – maybe guess at the weight of responsibility I feel, the pain I felt at keeping silent. My mental health is far from trivial, it calls to be shared.

I am a woman, and I’m still learning. This here is in no way an explanation of my flaws, difficulties and bumpy journey. It is a proclamation. To you, reader, I declare my existence, take pride in its complexity and in my resulting self. I ask for help in keeping up, for challenges to my reasoning, I ask to hear your stories, to share your plight. As I look up to Yoncé, take interest in Gaga, read Adichie, write about Butler, follow Laverne Cox and dream of still-silent sheroes, I know I exist at a magical, rich, awesome time. I need not keep back or be afraid. I am a woman, and it matters.

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Women’s March – Liza Donovan