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.
I’m dreading the day I’ll let you in
When everything you’ll touch will turn to gold
Only to let the dust settle later
Before crumbling – into ashes to the floor
The treasures I keep –
Trophies from these stolen nights,
Are the songs that you play
As we rise from slumbers deep.
Calls from the living,
Summons to the day –
Simone, Cohen, Sinatra and Gaye.
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.
Like burning Charcoal
Being drowned to black again
Like seeing darkness
Swallow all life around
It’s like being awake
When sleep takes over
But most of all (and over all)
It’s like the music playing
Over mourning heads further down the road
It’s about playing football in the sand
And sitting squashed in bumper cars
Or just about playing a thousand new roles
In a plastic-strewn landscape.
It’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters
And having children on our knees.
Everything is chaos.
Battering winds, flying debris,
Blood, bruises, lightning
Deafening crashes – …….
Respite. A few seconds
In the eye of the storm, I stand
And brace my soul for the next
Wave – immerged, submerged, drowning.
And so the cycles waltz along
As I stagger looking for shelter
In any shape or form,
Pure, distilled, strange or familiar (mixted or dry).
Until I’m caught – softly softly
Brought to see the calm & charm
Of these here shores, our own.
There’s a half-moon stain
Deep dry red on the table.
In another room a glass
And the unmade bed staring, empty.
Echos. All that’s left
Of wine, and chills, and new ways
To fix my wavering will,
Gather the screaming winds
And be still.
The river Lethe, two sides
Ice cold, still moving.
But there’s no darkness, just a shadow.
What a strange, warped world, where knowing better is just not the way. Being stupid and slow will save you, being sharp and aware just damn you. Whatever protocols keep these walls standing are built from absurdities and flimsy “certitudes”. Where is the wholsesome place we need? We bruised souls unfit for combat. They herd us in, lock the gate and think we’ll heal. Now why do they believe that cut off from life is how to deal? These brutish beds, yellow walls, airless windows…is that the answer? Rather than my cocoon, painstakingly built, feather by feather, plush by plush. That’s where I need to be.
The whole world
Is on its head
Pupils taking care
Of teachers’ kids
The sick taking care
Of the young and free
To keep me from the lake
Is cruel torture.
To see it glisten from afar
Watch its waves beckon,
Waver in the weak winter sun
Is it necessary?
Leaving me to sing songs
Behind fast glass
Is making my soul weary.
Time scales superimposed.
These same four walls
Contain an impossible vision –
This should never have happened,
Could never have occured.
The universe is warped, twisted
Glimpses of my self in times,
Ages, galaxies long past.
Yet watch me revel
In the bliss of a stolen life
Stood on tiptoes, leaning in.
Is it me? actions repeated,
Words I said, moves I made.
But them! They’re different
Better watch my back.