Behind Red Lines

After all that I’ve been through,

I sit here, in the stillness of a Winter afternoon,

unable to move, barely breathing,

holding this pen in front of me.

My fingers are knotted, bent;

veins protrude through my paper-thin skin.

My body is failing, you see;

once a kingdom that ruled disobedience

over every corner of tamed gardens,

but now, my body withers,

like an aged tree, slowly sinking

into the ground. 

My roots are shriveling,

etched with too many lines,

crisscrossing over dried rivers,

and forgotten scars.

After all that I’ve seen, little girl,

my memories elude me,

whispering the stories of my life,

as they slip away,

breaking into fragments,

pieces of ash

that I once used as fuel,

for my disobedience.

I marched alongside so many

like me, between gated streets,

looking through to bolted doors,

denying us entry.

Men looked down on us,

as they sat in their ruling seats,

perched proud and high;

so stiff, so proper,

with high collared shirts,

silver cufflinks around their wrists;

the same colour that chained our hands,

and bound our feet.

We became silent,

raising only fists in protest;

no one wandered alone;

no one remembered their given name upon arrival.

I became a woman in a time meant

to be buried in history, 

yet, traces of black and white rules still linger,

as my mind ceases to remember. 

All that I learned,

I taught myself; 

by the single light of a crescent moon,

when others had closed their eyes,

slipping sideways into a dream,

and at last feeling the peace life had denied.   

I now arrive at my last lesson,

that I give to you, little girl. 

I was unaccompanied in a class under a canopy, 

sat in the back, to the left,

hidden, invisible,

from disapproving looks and closed books.

My skin wrinkled, calloused,

from decades of weaving my way,

through roads meant to keep me

standing on invisible grounds.  

But, I unleashed my voice,

over all who dared command my fortresses.

I crossed to the other side, and raised the pen

they deemed unfit for my burnt hands.

I moved forward, 

trespassing territory,

counting each lonely step,

away from dark beginnings.

I lectured. I taught.

I questioned the hierarchy,

and rode the blades of reason,

until my feet became vessels of victory.

They called me troublesome,

reckless, for wanting to break through

narrow corridors.

I forged my own path in a curve,

framed my own lines around high shelves,

peeling back layers of conformity,

listening as they cracked and crumbled

beneath me.

Despite all that, I struggle now

to hear your joyous songs of laughter,

your sweet voice calling my name,

awakening traces of motherhood that I once carried.

I attempt one last time

to block out the pain of writing,

forcing my fingers to form words,

as proof that I existed.

After all that I’ve been through,

I sit here, in the shadows at sundown,

willing my arms to keep steady, 

holding this pen in front of me. 

I roll it across the floor,

with great effort, with great tension.

I roll it with shimmers of hope to you,

little girl.

It is time for me to lay down, rest my head; 

I won my fight. My body aches from a life of defiance.

My heart beats wane, a fading eco,

pulsating through me.

I leave this pen to you. It is your turn

to keep on rewriting our story.

History will remember; behind red lines I stood,

in time you will cross, and they will call you free.

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