Freeing the Scapegoat

I want to hold myself accountable
for all the things I’ve done
to lead me where colors are scarce
and dreams only have one direction

but all I see is you
and the ways your warped sense
of love had kept rear ending
my illusions of control into
the kind of bad decisions that
you would blame me for afterward

on and on like smoke
through a wrought iron grate
spiraling down

evils we unleashed that won’t
be so easily put back in the bottle

and so I’m working first
on forgiveness

of myself

for trusting you

Toxic and Unfiltered

She loved us too much
it was like fumes
from burning rubber
filling up a narrow tunnel
with padlocks on the exits

we grew up choking
and coughing violently

our eyes were constantly
stinging with tears
and we learned to keep
our heads down
and our mouths covered

She loved us too much
she held it against us—
every too-late dinner
every too-early breakfast
every dream she gave away
every trip she didn’t take
every day that we were sick
every ounce of compassion
that we didn’t ask for
that she gave bitterly,
distilled into poison
that she drank
with her morning coffee

And now that I’m free
I sometimes still
don’t know what to do
with all the clarity

Though My Shield is Cracked and My Armor Sundered

The truth is
I only barely escaped
a place of fear
on my way here

fear of falling short
fear of never
being good enough
fear of living
in the shadows of
everything I will never
do right
fear of the weight
of the words of my elders
crushing my future
ashes of expectations
prophecies that have a way
of fulfilling themselves
as soon as they are spoken
like poison
waiting to be inhaled
into the unprotected heart
so hungry for affirmation
so hungry to believe
and believing so willingly
what I am told:
that I am selfish
that I am irresponsible
that everything I touch
will fall apart
and everything did
fall apart and became
that crushing fear I
have come to use
to define myself
under their critical eyes

and the truth is
a part of me will always
call that place home
and confuse that fear
for comfort
and crave it

but I escaped it, once
I escaped it
and bringing you into this world
is an act of courage
I thought I could never
afford to make
and loving you makes me brave
and loving you makes me
want to reach for
what was once impossible
for my small soul

and I pray that if
I could give you just one thing
it would be this,
an audacity of spirit

and if I ever
indulge in the injustice
of succumbing
to the old voices,
and if I ever let their
tainted echoes touch you
and make you feel less
than all you can be
you, my stab at heroism
you, my brave
please forgive me
please forgive me

Asymmetrical Hummingbird

I have a limb that is dead.
It has stopped serving me long ago.
It has festered under the surface
for years and now
it is dark and immovable
and rotten at the core.
It is my bane and my handicap
and at times it still
throbs and ails me
and spreads poison
to the rest of my body.
I could have left it behind
as a kindness to myself
but I carry it around with me
and dress it up
and make it look pretty
and pretend
there is nothing wrong with it
for fear of disrespecting you,
you who have killed it
slowly, with the kind of love
you thought was best for me
and if I ever choked
and if I ever begged for relief
you’d accuse me
of being ungrateful,
feed me with guilt and shame
and cut yourself
and bleed for me
and tell me
it was that limb that did it
so I just learned to bear it,
taught myself to live with it,
live with the marks
that were slowly getting permanent
left where your brand of love
had pressed its fingers
to stop the flow of blood
until it stopped fighting back
until it stopped breathing
stopped being mine
but yours
but this was your token of love
the only kind you knew how to give
so in honor of that gift
I keep it close as a souvenir
can’t bring myself
to cut it off, this limb that
freedom and inspiration
can’t touch anymore,
the part of my soul
for which water and sunshine
and beauty and poetry
and any measure of saving
is too late,
but the rest of me grew
and the rest of me bore flowers
and the rest of me learned to soar
in spite of it all
while you
continue to nurse that
one lifeless limb
and believe that as long as
you can hold it,
you still possess me
and sometimes I suspect
that when you look at me,
that limb is all you see.

Hang Up

I wish I didn’t know
that you would run my life
for me if you could
so that when you’d tell me
you loved me
I could believe you.

I wish you showed that love
with less words
and more silences.

I wish I hadn’t seen you
cover up so many truths
just so the world around you
could admire that love
you claim to feel.
But I know their admiration
made you feel good.

I wish you talked less
about the people
whose lives and children
you wish you had instead.

I wish you had told me no
a few times
when I’d asked to go out with friends
instead of letting me get dressed
and lecturing me a full hour
right before I left
and ruining the whole night
for years to come.
I wish I had one date
when I didn’t receive a dozen
text messages reminding me
how worried you were.
Maybe then I would have
understood better what trust was.
Maybe then I wouldn’t
have gotten so good
at lying and hiding things.

I wish you had listened harder
and remembered things I’d said.

But there were only your words
so many words
so many
and memories of me
unable to hold my head up.

Eight thousand miles
and I still cringe
when the phone rings.
I wish I could have said
or done
something sooner.

With Your Permission

I’m sorting through
the voices in my head.
Some belong to me
and some belong to those
who would have me believe
free will is treacherous
and the price for change
is always too high,
indistinct echoes of hate
in the halls of the house
where my childhood
was drawn in crayon
and my growth was
in spite of chains

I am tired of respect
on a one-way street
and I will not spend my life
dragging my heavy heart
where the sun cowers
before the gray and
any work on my identity
can be undone
by something you said,
where I can’t escape
the pain of your disapproval,
how it festers around
the joy I try so hard to keep
above the murky waters
of your stereotypes,
your fear of gossip destroying
you more than gossip
and facing the world
is so difficult when I can’t
face you with pride
and my vain wishes
of belonging here
have handicapped me,
I who have become strong
on my own, I who am free—
but only outside
of this place I called home

So I’ll put a geographical distance
between my love and your racism,
you who would not be silent
you who would stalk me
with names and judgement
along the corridors of
all the choices I’ve made
and all the truths under my feet

because I am your daughter
and I will not break your heart
but nor will I turn the other cheek
and pay tariffs
on what bliss I crafted
with my bare hands
and the only kind of beauty
I could believe in,
the little of it that’s left
untouched by you