The very first time I considered this was a few years back, in a letter. A friend of mine wrote to me and told me, “You are hard [on the outside] and soft [on the inside].” However, over time, we realized that what she truly meant was that I had an equal distribution of both tenderness and ferocity. One did not overpower or yield to the other but rather, displayed equally and blatantly, proving that we did not consist of just one or the other.
For an unfathomable amount of time, this irked me. How does a human being live both softly and fiercely at the same time? How do we balance it? Why can’t we be one or the other? Through perception, first judgments and a sheer naïve mind, I imagined everyone as one or the other by the way that I perceived them. If someone was very kind and light-hearted, I stamped him or her as soft. If someone was bitter, loud, passionate or eccentric, I claimed fierce and completely voided the option that somewhere, they were both. What I failed to remember is that even those who are quiet and soft to the touch have shards of glass somewhere on their insides that make them angry. I failed to remember that those who are bitter and relentless sometimes come home from a long day and cry in the bathtub. Was every angry mother who ever snapped at their children in the grocery isle really just on edge because their heart was aching from sadness and exhaustion from raising her children alone? How often in our lives would we underestimate the quiet ones because we assumed they were not passionate, only to find that they held more grit than any determined lion we’ve ever met?
– Codi Ann Thomsen
And this is how we danced: our mothers’
white dresses spilling from our feet, late August
turning our hands dark red. And this is how we loved:
a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in the attic, your fingers
sweeping through my hair—my hair a wildfire.
We covered our ears and your father’s tantrum turned
to heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
into a coffin. In the museum of the heart
there are two headless people building a burning house.
In case of rain, there was always the shotgun
above the fireplace. Always another hour to kill—only
to beg some god to return the seconds. If not the attic,
the car. If not the car, the dream. If not the boy, his clothes.
If not alive, put down the phone. Because the year
is a distance we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say:
this is how we danced: alone in sleeping bodies.
Which is to say: this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue
turning into a tongue.
– Ocean Vuong
the year of letting go
of understanding loss, grace of the word ‘no’
and also being able to say ‘you are not kind’
the year of humanity/humility
when the whole world couldn’t get out of bed
everyone i’ve met this year says the same thing
‘you are so easy to be around, how do you do that?’
the year i broke open and dug out all the rot with own hands
the year i learnt small talk
and how to smile at strangers
the year i understood that i am my best when i reach out and ask ‘do you want to be my friend?’
the year of sugar, everywhere
softness. sweetness. honey honey.
the year of being alone
and learning how much i like it
the year of hugging people i don’t know because i want to know them
the year i made peace and love
– Warsan Shire
warm philadelphia night. blue bruise across the sky. groceries in hand. i dreamt last night of honey. my grandmother called me into a dream, like she used to call me into a room. she gave me honey. honey for you. you, who will not talk. who will not swallow the news. who will not let anything near your throat. but, i can find you. i can find you even when you are there, in morroco. even when you have flown through your eyes but not your body. when you are holding me, and i am practicing being limp with restraint, because i am really holding you. when you refuse to change back from water and want to fill our whole house with the sebou. i know, my sweet. we have talked about her the entire length of our love. she was in your eyes the day i met you. remember, you and i. on the floor, you teaching me of how she eats. three fingers on the right hand only. i have worn her clothes. ate her language from your mouth. and i knew, i knew when the phone calls came, and the tv started shrieking, and our house turned into weather, i knew this would break some of our bones. but my love, it is drinking us down to our teeth. i can not see you anymore. your smile, your legs, your heat, is lonely. the honey, grandmother said, is for your blood. it is to bring you back. but, she said, i must first ask ‘if’ you want to come back. and though ‘if’ is a razor to my neck, i must be brave, i must know. so i am not asking ‘when’ you will come back. because, i can take it, the swimming in your body, the lostness you like, your appetite for doors. i am not asking when. ‘when’ is not something you ask someone when the body of their aunt can not be found. i am asking ‘if’. because i am here. dangling from your left ring finger, ringing oceans out of my skin, and coming home every night. i know, she is the love you are, the land you are made of, and she is hemmoraging. war is eating her heart. but, you are losing yours too, my love.
– Nayyirah Waheed
i must first ask ‘if’ you want to come back. and though ‘if’ is a razor to my neck, i must be brave.
a lost love is still in Iraq, a dozen years in. i ache for him now. for what we went through. my war is over.
Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.
– Clementine Paddleford
you were last seen walking through a field of pianos. no. a museum of mouths. in the kitchen of a bustling restaurant, cracking eggs and releasing doves. no. eating glow worms and waltzing past my bedroom. last seen riding the subway, literally, straddling its metal back, clutching electrical cables as reins. you were wearing a dress made out of envelopes and stamps, this was how you travelled. i was the mannequin in the storefront window you could have sworn moved. the library card in the book you were reading until that dog trotted up and licked your face. the cookie with two fortunes. the one jamming herself through the paper shredder, afraid to talk to you. the beggar, hat outstretched bumming for more minutes. the phone number on the bathroom stall with no agenda other than a good time. the good time is a picnic on water, or a movie theatre that only plays your childhood home videos and no one hushes when you talk through them. when they play my videos i throw milk duds at the screen during the scenes i watch myself letting you go – lost to the other side of an elevator – your face switching to someone else’s with the swish of a geisha’s fan. my father could have been a travelling salesman. i could have been born on any doorstep. there are 2,469,501 cities in this world, and a lot of doorsteps. meet me on the boardwalk. i’ll be sure to wear my eyes. do not forget your face. i could never.
– Megan Falley
her grandmother called her from the playground
“i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old
but the little girl didn’t want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn’t say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent on her spirit so
“i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying “lord
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does
– Nikki Giovanni