There are many ways to tell a story, and when I started this anthology I thought I would be telling a sad one. In my head, my life was all about struggling to fit in and never quite making it, and it made me feel bitter and angry. I didn’t think to look at the story of my life with a different lens until I read a poem by the incredible Lucile Cliffton, titled: won’t you celebrate with me. It is a beautiful poem and the first one that made me feel utterly bare and completely understood.
In school, the poems we studied were historically relevant accounts or romantic sonnets. We rarely read anything by a black poet and nothing by a black woman. The representation I found in Lucile Cliffton’s work genuinely changed my life. I had always felt that my story was marked with trauma, and I had never looked at it another way. In reality, for every bit of sadness in my life, I needed equal amounts of strength to fight back.
I never subscribed to the idea that we had to suffer to learn or grow- so much suffering is pointless and gets no consequence- but I had also not focused on how hard it is to get through suffering. When I looked back on my life the way Lucile had I realised that my story was one of celebration, not sadness. I couldn’t look back with anything but wonder. How on Earth did I get through my childhood? How did I make it here? I was so proud. Younger me didn’t have a diagnosis but she still had pain, and now I had the help needed to heal that pain.
Writing this anthology forced me to look back and confront my past, and it made me realise I wanted to celebrate. I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to see beyond my trauma, but I could. iv I survived, and that meant something. I often experience enouement, which is the feeling you get in the present when you cannot fulfil the urge to go back and tell your past self that it’s all going to be okay. This anthology is an attempt to deal with my feelings of enouement, I can’t go back and tell my younger self there is a reason to keep going, but by living 13-year-old-me’s dream I get as close as I can. However, that was only possible when I realised that my story belonged to me alone.
When I began to take the time to be thankful for the people, skills, lessons and tools that helped me through my worst times I realised I had to change my anthology. I am not the same girl I used to be. I have a family, good friends, a support network, work I am proud of and goals I plan to reach. I deconstructed my anthology completely, going through the poems and showing a different story: one of hope.
Therefore, I encourage you to read the poems once and feel all the emotions inside of them. Connect to the sadness, loss, and anger. Consider similar moments in your life, remember your own struggles as much as you can comfortably and just react. Then, go through and read the anthology again, through the lens of celebration. Look at the growth in your own life, and the strength it has taken to keep going. The fact that you are here is proof that you are strong enough to keep going. I hope doing this will enable you to get as close as humanly possible to going through my life with me.
Go once through these poems as I did, scared, alone and unheard. Then go again through celebration, and see the strength and power despite it all.
There are many ways to tell a story. This is mine, and it is a celebration.
Go back home
The other day, a man told me to
“Go back home!”
I wanted to tell him,
“I am home!”
But then I thought
There’s no point
To this man, I am just an ungrateful visitor
my red passport,
none of that matters to him
to him, I don’t belong here
maybe he’s right
if he belongs here,
I don’t want to.
I don’t know
The night is playing with my mind
laughing at my tired eyes
bringing back old memories that make me shudder
the shadows growl as they cross my ceiling
the air in my lungs is beginning to freeze
time isn’t real
maybe I’m not either
if I am dead, do not bring me back
I wish to slip into the darkness
I long for peace
My god, my God, where are you?
I am not asking for anything
I just want to know if you are there
And I would have followed you into the valley of the shadow of death.
I would have…
Opened my arms to your knife, Let you sink the blade in my waiting spine, A willing participant to your betrayal. Clothed myself in your red flags, danced around the warning signs you put up. Happily, turned my blood into water for you to drink. Eagerly cursed the land with a plague against all men and animals to please you. I would have followed you into Tartarus, I would have let you swallow me completely in your darkness
I would have…
Held hands with you as you burned your home to the ground. Sat and roasted chestnuts in the flickering, fantastic flames. Thrown your papers in as kindle, watched as your deadname turned to Ash. I would have left home for you, chased through dead streets, deadly alleyways, deserted desserts to find you.
I would have…
Willingly covered myself in boils and hives, rolled over the ground in mourning for your love. Drowned the world in a hailstorm of fire. Covered the sky in darkness for days on end, just so everyone could feel the pain of you leaving me.
I would have given you everything you asked and more, ripped my heart out and eaten it raw, chewed through my own veins, swallowed myself whole, on my knees before you.
All I needed was your love in return. Was that too much to ask for?
Now I look back and I don’t see love: I see obsession and indifference. I thought I was in love when I was really just slowly going insane.
Yet, your name still leaves my lips, eager to summon you.
My therapist said I’m repeating abusive patterns that I grew up with, that I am accepting less than I deserve because I don’t believe I deserve love at all.
What does she know?
If you came back I would do it again.