Recently, I’ve had a thing rattling around in my head. Yesterday, I finally sat down and got it out on paper. It’s raw, and so am I.
I don’t really have anything else to say about it. I hope it speaks for itself…
Old blood stained the feathers she wove into her hair. They brushed the skin of her neck as she stood. Black mud caked her copper skin to the knees as tears cut tracks through the paint on her face. But she kept dancing.
Beneath her feet, the deck canted. The sea bucked, an unbroken mare, the ship its rider. She hugged her babies close, pressed kisses to their hair. Eyes closed, she remembered the baked earth and sweet grass scent of their homeland, and continued singing.
Fat raindrops pattered against the brim of her hat. When the wind shifted, they struck her face, colder than the spit of a man passing by. She lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders. When they took her away by force, put her behind prison walls, pressed the plastic feeding tube to her cracked lips, she turned her head away. Even strapped to a chair, she stood immovable.
Sweat prickled along her brow and in the creases of her elbows where they were locked with women on either side of her. Their skin wasn’t quite the same hue, but in the eyes of men across from them, they were all too dark. The police had guns, dogs, water hoses. But she had sisters, and a heart, and a will. She went on chanting.
The sharp ammonia smell of urine stung her eyes as she changed the cloth of her daughter’s diaper. Freshly swaddled, she held the girl on her lap, stirring the rogan josh with one hand and turning the pages of the little book with the other. Her voice was quiet, her lips forming the letters against the child’s ear. Outside, the men argued while she pressed on, teaching them both the shapes and sounds of power.
Seltzer splashed across her arm and the front of her pants when her drink was knocked from her hand. She couldn’t hear his words over the thumping music, but she could read them in the twisted snarl on his face and the redness of his cheeks. The beautiful woman at her side quivered, fear in her eyes. Fierce, bright delight filled her the moment her date stepped closer instead of pulling away. As his fist flew, she held tight to her partner’s hand and refused to let go.
Classmates sneered at her worn Chucks and baggy jeans, the backwards baseball cap she wore over her cropped hair. Guys shoulder-checked her in shop class, and spat on her when she went hard in gym. They didn’t notice her flirting, called her a dyke, wanted her to be less than herself. The principal issued a dress code for the dance, but she showed up in a sharp suit anyway.
Her mascara ran beneath the shower’s warm spray. She scrubbed the makeup from her face, wishing she could remove the skin beneath that often didn’t feel like hers, or wash away their words so easily. What they saw, what the mirror showed her, didn’t match the way she felt. Inside, she knew the truth. No matter what they said. Dry again, she lifted the eyeshadow brush in her hand and painted on a stripe of color, revealing her true self.
Chill air reddened her cheeks and the sound of the crowd was a rushing river around her. Some people were already calling them sore losers. Cry-babies. Snowflakes. If that was true, she felt like they were in the middle of a blizzard. She tugged her hat further down over her ears, hoisted her sign, and kept marching.
Around her, old men coughed, their faces pinched. The wood of the lectern was smooth and cool under her hands. Her eyes followed the neat black type on the page before her as she spoke another woman’s words from another time and lamented their continuing need.
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.