Words and chains
I love them.
I hate them.
you hurt me.
into a million pieces.
but I still like you.
so damn much.
every time I hear your lips moving,
curling into a sneer,
or into that damn charming smile,
I freeze up.
don’t ask me why.
it’s like a goddamn chain
immediately locks around my wrists
and I freeze,
rooted to the ground,
nowhere to run,
locked up in the prison
created by your
and vain taunts.
But I still like you,
I still try to pull you in,
although all logic screams at me not to.
it’s not fair to be locked up,
by the person,
you hate and goddamn love at the same time.
Why can’t I get over you?
Why do I allow myself,
my innocent soul,
to be locked up,
in a damn
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
P R I S O N
plain and simple,
I am a loser,
in love with you.
Beaneath the pounding surge,
they're swept and tossed about.
White-capped waters, violent,
drown the pleas that splutter.
Within a raw abyss,
no starlight can be seen.
They remain indentured,
kneeling on the seabed.
A seismic shift revolt
rode lava to the shore.
Rainstorms lash on exit,
hissing hate with fervor.
Their anguish burns the ground,
A voice whispered in the room. It told her to get up & head to the other side of the room. She walked toward the whisper and asked, ‘What do you want?’
It replied, ‘come a little bit closer.’
Then she almost tripped on a tiny box.
She bent down to pick the box up and slowly opened it~
A mighty gust of wind blew around her.
She heard a voice laughing from the shadows.
It chuckled and said, ‘thank you for releasing me from my prison.’
She gulped. What had she done?
It watched her reach for the box. ‘My dear, it’s too late to try and fix what you’ve done. Once I am released from the box- I can’t be pulled back in.’
This was not good at all. She stood in shock as the dark shadow now took on a new form. It smiled and waved at her before leaving the room.
She fell to her knees and tried to let out a scream— but the thing had taken her face.
In a little while, her body started to take on a different form. Her body was just a shadow creature and it was being pulled into the box.
1st June, 2020. ©
A prison of sorts...
I am not certain when I realized I lived in a cage of my own making. A cage built of reassuring smiles meant to keep fear and hatred – other’s fear and hatred of the color of my skin, that is - at bay so that I might live with a modicum of peace.
Was it when I was four and discovered that my skin and that of my father was different than my mother’s and that apparently ours was not desirable? Who told me this? I don’t know. I remember coming home from nursery school and asking my mother if she was white. (She's not; she's light-skinned.) I am not even certain I understood what I was asking.
Was it when I was six and started avoiding the summer sun because my [light-skinned] aunt made fun of my ‘tan’? Hahaha, been in the sun, huh, Danny?
Was it when I was eight and I called my cousin freckle-face and she called me blackie?
Was it when I was ten and my best friend’s mother made me leave their home the first time I went to play? Or, a year later, when I heard her tell neighbors who asked who’s the darkie, that I was her daughter’s friend and that I was different?
Was it when I tried so hard to be different, to be invisible, to blend into a background where I would not incite hatred or fear or, God forbid, violence?
Was it when an old woman screamed for help, having met me in the stairs of our building, simply because my skin scared her?
Was it when a man yelled from a pick-up truck as I walked to my off-campus apartment that I should go back to Africa? A continent I have never seen.
Was it when a friend in graduate school asked me what I preferred to be called and I said Danielle and she said, no I meant, African American or black…and I said, I know what you meant.
Was it when I walked down the street with the love of my life and was lambasted endlessly by people of both races?
Was it days after my son’s birth when I heard my father-in-law exclaim joyfully on the phone with relatives that my son’s skin was white?
Was it when I cried endlessly holding my son, worried that one day he would grow to hate me because my skin would make his life more difficult?
Was it when a four year old boy told my four year old son he had to stand in the back of the line of other children to see some new toy he had brought to school…because his skin was slightly darker than his?
Was it when I had to deny my husband the opportunity for a better job in Texas because as a couple of mixed race, mixed religion, mixed culture – in what neighborhood could we live comfortably? Safely? As someone who grew up in another country where he would never think about where he might live, this was a difficult conversation. He couldn’t understand that we were (I was) tolerated, not accepted.
Was it when the father of a friend of my son’s – in our northeastern town – called my smart, athletic, kind, polite beautiful boy a racial slur, in the midst of an end-of-the school year pool party – for no reason other than because his skin was slightly tan? Stay away from that N- he told his lovely daughter.
Was it when I had to tell my adolescent son he had better stay away from trouble because if he were ever with his friends and stopped by the police, they might go home, but he would go to jail?
Was it when I didn’t travel with my son’s soccer teams to various tournaments around the country because I didn’t want the team to be treated poorly simply because I was present?
Was it when I visited my son at his Ivy-league college and was followed around the town by the local police?
Was it when my son’s best friends invited my husband and me to their wedding, a wedding my son had the honor and privilege to officiate, but I was too afraid to feel uncomfortable and unwanted by their less open-minded family members?
I don’t know really when it was. I know it wasn’t yesterday when I read about a woman who attempted to use the color of a man’s skin against him when he had done nothing wrong, when indeed, she was at fault. And I have little doubt had he not been recording the incident, he would now be sitting in a jail cell.
It wasn’t this morning when I read about a reporter (brown) and his crew being arrested despite showing their credentials and politely asking the officers to just tell them where they wanted them to go and they would move. Filming the whole time. Meanwhile, a white colleague was left alone.
It wasn’t as I read about the senseless violence of rioters and looters who are minimizing the voice of peaceful protesters, perhaps ensuring that the voiceless continue to be unheard. Violence begets violence…so, too non-violence, as has been shown over and over again.
And so, I sit here in my cage, terrified that it won’t keep the bad out anymore….that the river of tears I cannot seem to stem will drown the smiles, leaving me unprotected in an increasingly turbulent world.
My heart is breaking behind these bars.
The bottom of a dumpster is no place for a baby hummingbird. But there she is, shielded from wet newspapers and heavy trashbags by the branch her nest still clings to. Did you know hummingbird nests are made from spiderwebs? It makes sense, because they’re so small, and soft like cotton. But cotton doesn’t grow in California suburbs.
She should be dead. But instead, there she is, in the last place you would expect to find her. She’s breathing tiny little breaths illuminated by the green feathers starting to come through on her back. And if you lean in, you can see her chest rising and falling quickly. Some of her feathers are missing, and her beak is opening and closing in the near-darkness, and setting sun barely lights up the trash around her.
Half of me wants to push the branches aside and pick up the baby and her nest. Do the right thing. Call wildlife services and save her. The other half of me wants to scoop her up and place her on the hot concrete of the parking lot and crush her. She’s the size of a golf ball, and a thousand times more delicate. I would feel her tiny bones crunch beneath my foot like toothpicks. Her beak would break, and it would be quick, and afterwards I would poke at the smear of her body with a stick.
I wonder what condensed spiderweb feels like.
I reach down to pluck the nest from the branch. There’s something in it. Another baby hummingbird. It’s dead. I jerk back and drop it like it’s made of ember. One of its wings is pulled back over itself, bent in an unnatural position, and it’s stiff. It falls delicately through the leaves and lands next to the other. She doesn’t move, just breathes and breathes and breathes and stares at the body of her brother.
I watch her watch it.
I close my eyes, drop the heavy lid back down onto the dumpster with a clang, and walk to where her nest used to be.
The mother is flying around. She’s been circling for the past half hour, undoubtedly looking for her children. It’s sad, watching her. Imagine leaving your children only to come back to find the entire neighborhood gone. I wonder if birds even feel things. Does she feel panicked? Or just curious?
I walk back to the dumpster and crack the lid open. Neither of the birds have moved. It smells like the space under my front porch, and I wonder how many dead things are inside and under.
I close the lid, gently this time. I’ll come back to check on her tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe she’ll survive.
Grounded mind, part 2
Welcome to Telepathics Anonymous, don’t bother introducing yourself.
Over a decade ago.
I’m fourteen and sit in a small stuffy room. I feel like I can’t breathe - even though the air conditioning seems to be working. I hear it in the walls, vibrating and circulating. It sounds like it’s choking. I grab my arms tightly and stare at the empty table, then I hear a cough and suddenly feel cold. My stare slowly moves up to a woman with dark chestnut hair and heavy looking glasses with black frames. She doesn’t seem as nice as in the beginning, I am making her lose her patience. Again. She taps a finger against an oversized paper card in her hand. It’s similar to the cards you would play poker with, just bigger. I stare at it and the woman seems to tense up even more. We have been here for hours. She said that it would just take a moment. My stare falls down on the table and the world gets blurry. I feel all the tension in the room and each vibration of our two bodies. Finally, I look up and shrug my shoulders, I really didn’t’ want to be here but back at home, even if it wasn’t my own. Anything was better than this.
Adria, we have been over this before. If you just cooperate we can get this over with much faster. Just try, I know you can do this.
My head moves to the side and I stay silent, the woman’s voice raises.
The head snaps back in her direction, my voice filled with low anger as I answer her.
If you already know what I can do, then why am I even here?
The woman looks surprised but still agitated. This was the longest sentence I have said since this morning. I was hungry and felt confused. What did they want with me? They already knew I was a freak, what else was there to talk about? I think of my uncle that I was left behind with and that I had no idea what was going with the rest of my family. No one was supposed to find me, that was the whole purpose of this plan. Anger simmers under my skin as I stare at the doctor. I feel like crying but I don’t want her to see, I don’t want anyone to see.
Well, it’s good that you remembered you have a voice, and now that you seem more woken up, please use the voice that is in your head. Which card am I holding?
I press my arms tighter, nails digging into the sleeves of my red shirt as my left leg starts to twitch. I’m not sure what to do. Do I give in or just pretend to be plain stupid? I shake my head.
I don’t know.
Adria, we know you have done this before. Now we need to record it for documentation.
I mumble and feel the tears starting to slip. I look to the ceiling, trying to hold them back and working on my calm.
Yes, that’s is what we do. We’re a scientist and need to document everything for our studies. Now please work with me, your uncle is waiting outside for you.
That catches my attention, a gasp escaping my mouth as I look at her, my mind even more confused. How much did they know? The doctor stands up, takes my hand, and makes me follow her. Her fingers are hot and dry. I want to pull out of her grasp but before I can do anything, we are already at the door. She points to the glass that takes up a small part of the door, and I look through it. I see my uncle sitting on a plastic chair outside and two guards sitting on both of his sides, keeping some space between. They look bored, my uncle looks exhausted. I grip the handle but it’s locked. I feel panic spread in my body and tap on the glass, and the doctor doesn’t stop me. My uncle looks up and gives me a tired smile. I breathe out slowly, counting my breaths, and return to the table, putting hands loosely by my sides, and wait. The woman sits opposite to me and nods, seeming to be satisfied by my reaction. She picks up a different card and lifts it.
I stare at it but don’t see anything for a moment. I close my eyes and let myself feel it, taste it. Each card has a different amount of ink on it, it’s cumulated energy laid down in the matter. That’s how my mum used to explain it to me. I didn’t understand it at first; being only eleven when she started to fill me in. But we had a lot of books and family journals that I could learn from, and my mother’s own experience which helped the most. So eventually, things became easier.
I focus on the card, my eyes still closed, making myself find it without actually seeing it, feeling its warmth and moving around the details. The ink feels colder than the paper. I concentrate and see a faint picture, but it’s not enough. My mind lifts a wall and moves to the woman. I touch her thoughts and try to catch them in a ‘net’. The symbol moves until I can place it and put it into shape. I breathe out and look down.
It’s a circle and the next one will be a star.
How did you know that? I haven’t picked it yet.
But you thought about it. I want to say but don’t. That would have been too dangerous and I wasn’t sure how she was going to react. I couldn’t risk it.
I saw it when you were picking the first one. A part of the picture showed.
My shoulders shrug and my attitude changes into that of a rebellious teenager that everyone saw in me. I’m playing my own cards with her, so I don’t lose the few aces I have left. The woman inhales sharply and is agitated again. She should swallow some Xanax, maybe that would help loosen up the stick up her...
Can we proceed now without disturbance?
I just nod and wait. Another three hours pass before we are done. All I want to do is eat and go to bed, wanting to erase this day and the last couple of months from my memory, pretending they never even happened. I needed to pretend because the reality was too unbearable to take in.
After some time, I am ushered into the hall and walk up to my uncle. He wraps an arm uncomfortably around me and I use him as a pillar that I can lean on and don’t collapse. My eyes close as I inhale the smell of this place. It smells of machines and tension.
Mr. Morgenstein, the tests are completed for now. You will be called later for further evaluation of Adria.
I look up and see his jaws clench as he nods. I look at the woman in the heavy glasses and stretch out my mind. It expands until it reaches her... and then it goes right past her. Damn it, I think and close my eyes. I was too tired to see any of her thoughts. Maybe if I could touch her or if she was tired as well, but in this state, I couldn’t do anything. I stand straight and grab my uncle’s hand. It’s warm and I can feel our family bounds giving me some balance and a little strength. I let my thoughts out and wait until they reach his. My mind is uncoordinated right now, so the message I send him is just a feeling, a way to show him my support, letting him know that I am okay. He looks down and gives me another weak smile. He squeezed my hand back and I finally let myself breathe.
Just a little.
From the outside, the scene must have looked normal. A niece and her uncle supporting each other in times of need. In truth, I was sending him signs not to do anything in desperation. He needed to be the calm person here because he was all I had left right now. If mum was here I could have done so much more. We had similar powers and abilities, together we could have increased them - but now it was just me. A little fourteen-year-old freak that got caught.
I wake up with a pounding head and a dried throat. I was parched and desperate for any kind of liquid. I lift myself up to my elbow and look around, then groan. Still here and without a way out, stuck as always. I move to my knees and try to get up, stumbling, and falling back on the ground. Damn it. I think of that small room almost twelve years ago and groan once more. Some things never change in my life. I spend all of this time constantly running away and being caught over and over again. Sometimes fighting them in every step, at other times faking willingness and cooperating. All of my attempts failing just the same. For nearly four years after that day with my uncle, I was put in a special school so I could be observed and controlled. They were watching my every move, observing how my powers we increasing and changing. Testing how my age and physical growth affected my powers. Every couple of months I was checked and made to do new tests. Each session recorded and saved.
But on most days they just watched from the shadows. They did it so well, that over time I let myself believe that they didn’t exist, once again pretending in an attempt to rescue my mental state from more damage. I made some friends in the school but mostly kept to myself. Somewhere in the back of my head, there was always a thought that they were spying as well, so I didn’t want to get to close to them. It was a sticky and thick thought that never let me alone. Yet, I tried to do the best with what I had, even with all the limitations. That was also an act. I was getting ready for my eighteenth birthday and at the end of school, planning how to escape before they put me somewhere else. Somewhere much worse, that I would never run away.
I get up from the floor and this time manage to stay that way, sliding my hand against the wall., reaching the window and looking out. The light behind the big oak tree is barely visible. I notice a glimpse of the sun rising and frown. I got here yesterday in the early afternoon, which means I must have slept for around 18 hours, give or take. I watch the sun slowly rising and stare at all the beauty before my eyes. I tap my nails against the glass and it starts to vibrate. The light of the sun reaches my face and I take in the warmth that it offers me. The floorboards start to vibrate as well. It’s a very low sound but I feel it in my entire body. I put my entire hand on the window and hear a tiny crack.
The door behind me opens and the vibrations stop at once. I notice the little dent in the glass - my mother’s words filling my mind. Good feelings that grow inside of you are much more powerful than any anger you ever felt. Rage will destroy you, peace will make you a queen. Focus on your heartbeats, not on the venom that could kill them. I turn back and look at the man with the tray. I don’t move, just watch him, not trying to reach his mind, just waiting. I don’t want to lose this state that I am in, this feeling of calm and gratitude. Not just yet. The doctor walks in behind him, and I concentrate on how the sun felt on my skin. I can’t let them win.
Adria, nice to see that you are up again. I have been worried about you. Over 40 hours of sleep, a new record I suppose. Well, at least you are rested now. Perhaps in a better mood as well.
I looked surprised at her. I have been out for almost two days? That would definitely explain why I was so thirsty and stiff. The way I couldn’t catch my balance and felt lost on time. The drug that she gave me must have been stronger than I thought. I glance and the woman but don’t speak. She nods once, not surprised by my reaction.
How do you feel today?
I croak out and walk up to a tray, picking up a water bottle and drinking all of it in one turn. It’s warm but feels like pure heaven. I don’t think I ever tasted anything so good. My stare falls on the food, but I leave it. My stomach still feels upset - and besides, I don’t want them to watch me like a lab rat while I eat.
And here is a link to part one for those interested in reading more.
Photo credit : Taya Ivanowa
Prisoner of the past.
The camera image is clear and the screen resolution is detailed when I Skype call her; which means I can see the worry lines on her forehead and the dark circles under her eyes as clear as day and I wish there was a camera filter, popular on Snapchat or whatever the kids use nowadays, that could blur both our faces to a fuzzy cuteness -bunny ears and all.
But she's distressed again today and even over the internet, her worry is contagious. So I start to worry too. I knew quarantine would be hard for many but for my mother after spending two months cooped up in the family home, (mandated by the health service because of underlying health conditions) with an emotionally absent husband, a 30 year-old kitchen and worn out carpet, it really has taken its emotional toll.
She starts the familiar dialogue again now, the same repeated words, almost verbatim, that I've been hearing for over a week, since realizing daily calls were an absolute necessity.
"I've made so many mistakes. " She says, her voice an octave higher than normal. " I should have done better. I should have done more. I should have..."
I don't hear the rest, as the connection falters but I know how the sentence will end. Whatever decision she had made in the past, no matter how small, she was now berating herself for, mulling over, regretting , drowning herself in guilt. Any and all past decisions are used as weapons to beat herself with, and for a week now, no matter what I say or what I do, the cycle of inner turmoil is unbreakable.
"I should have listened to your dad and got the carpet changed when we had the chance. " She continues on the verge of tears.
"Don't worry about that mom. We can sort that after the lockdown. You still have so much to be grateful for." I respond, trying to inject some positive thinking.
"I know. And I can't even be grateful. I should have shown gratitude before, I should have spent more time with you kids. I should have...."
The connection pauses again and I helplessly watch her worried face, which is now pressed into her hands, freeze.
When the connection comes back, I try out a phrase I had picked up from a self-help book, about the past being a prison.
"Mom," I say kindly "the past is meant to be a lesson not a prison. We all make mistakes and it's important to learn from them and then move on. "
I watch her troubled face on the screen and wonder if the connection has frozen again. But then I realize, she's looking at the screen but not looking at me.
She's no longer present.
Her sad eyes, which once used to be full of life and had emitted a kind maternal glow; eyes that were once full of warmth, wisdom and framed with well- used laughter lines , were now distant and empty, glazed over with newly formed tears.
It wasn't the connection; she was stuck in the past again, frozen in some lost moment of time.
She was still in her prison, I realize, with a foreboding sense of sadness.
And I didn't have the tools to get her out.
Introduction to Time
Shackles dangle between wrists and ankles,
conversation subdued, almost non-existent,
the ride, quiet,
I know what the story is.
Herded like cattle to slaughter,
my name, my dignity,
sliced away like an unwanted Cancer;
I walk the yard with
strangers all dressed alike,
Nothing to do that matters.
The outside world a breath away.
City reminders surround me;
a cruel joke no less.
Night falls quickly,
sleep, my most precious friend,
amidst eighteen-hundred other numbers,
in this concrete jungle we now call home.
Herein; every day the same,
every night, a longed-for supplication
in a land of excuses,
a word spoken in silent whispers.
Two Steel Rings and a Heart of Gold
"There isn't enough money left." said Mrs. Stevens in hushed tones inside the kitchen.
"I know. The company isn't paying any salary this month either." whispered Mr. Stevens. He wasn't the only one facing this in the midst of a pandemic.
"If we miss the next payment, we'll lose the house." said Mrs. Stevens as she broke into tears.
"We don't have enough food either." said Mr. Stevens. "That was the last of our bread."
"I'm sorry." said Sara to herself as she put back the second piece of bread back in the empty basket. She tried not to overhear the conversation in the kitchen, but years of foster care had given her many unwanted skills, such as stealth in shoplifting and eavesdropping.
"What should we do?" asked Mr. Stevens sounding utterly defeated. "We'll be homeless."
Only about a year ago, Sara used to scavenge the streets for food. Her previous foster family often forgot she existed other than to do chores. She ate out of dustbins when hunger pushed her to it. Sometimes she would nick a few snacks from the store. She didn't have that much of a conscience, but she felt stolen food never filled her stomach.
She could do it again, however. She could go to the grocery store and steal something for dinner. Maybe get some of the expensive cheese and meat.
"But at least we are together." said Mrs. Stevens, her voice breaking as she hugged her husband. "Thank goodness, Sara is with us and not all alone in this terrible time."
And suddenly, Sara couldn't anymore.
She went back to her room and shut the door, thoughts racing. She needed money for her family. She was thirteen years old. There had to be something she could do to help.
She rummaged through her scarce belongings until she finally found it. Her biological mother's wedding ring. It was gold plated and studded with a small gemstone. Her father had died in the war and mother had died while giving birth to her. Sara rested in the knowledge that she was born out of love and greatly cherished her only proof.
Mr. and Mrs. Stevens had saved her life. Sara was deeply malnourished and sick when she was rescued. She hadn't had the will to live anymore. But her new family wasn't like the rest.
They gave her a small room, hot home-made meals, they talked to her every single day, and they cared, cared ever so deeply about her that she cried.
Mrs. Steven's soft round face made her feel so happy and seeing Mr. Stevens come home from work with a smile, made her feel emotions Sara deemed were worth much, much more than the ring in her hands.
Clutching it close to her chest, she ran back to the kitchen, heart thumping as she spotted her adoptive parents sipping tea.
"Hello Sara." said Mr. Stevens with a smile. His mustache rested easily over his kind face. "I see you didn't complete your meal. Take a seat and finish up."
Mrs. Stevens poured a fresh cup of tea and handed the bread basket to Sara, a genuine smile on her face.
"We-can-sell-this." said Sara in a rush, as she produced the ring and laid it on the tiny table. "The lady at the orphanage said we could get 3000$ for it."
"Oh Sara!" said Mrs. Stevens as she hugged her daughter tight. "We can't sell that."
Sara said reluctantly, "Why not? It's mine and I want to sell it."
Mrs. Stevens looked back at her husband wearily. She wore a thin steel band on her finger like her husband. They'd sold off their own rings months ago.
"Are you sure Sara?" asked Mr. Stevens furrowing his eyes.
"Yes. Please, sell it as soon as you can." said Sara as she split the bread into three parts and handed one to each parent before biting into her own piece.
Perhaps it was the pureness of her action that did it. Perhaps it was because the Stevens were so kind. Or perhaps the world decided that things would get better and they did.
The ring sold for 3500$ on eBay and Mrs. Stevens bought a cart full of the cheapest foods. They would not be hungry again as long as she lived.
Sara helped her bake muffins and cakes and packed them in paper so the local grocery store could sell them. It wasn't much money, but enough for them to stay afloat.
Mr. Stevens got a job as a food delivery man. It didn't matter that he used to be a financial analyst. It didn't matter he had two degrees. His little daughter had sold off her mother's ring.
He worked longer hours. He trudged through on days when the weather was bad. He would do whatever it takes to buy it back.
Sometimes the only price to pay, is your ego and the Stevens had already got rid of that.
Sara thought of her biological parents sometimes. It struck her sometimes, to realize she had nothing to remember them with anymore.
But every night when Mrs. Stevens tucked her in to bed, she knew their love lived on.