By: D.S. Kheder
Reflection on the Wall
When I was thirteen, I sat in front of my mirror,
once, twice, too many times, seeking assurance that my reflection
still looked pristine.
I looked at the girl behind the glass, a little confused, I asked,
who should I be? My mirror answered and showed me
the face all wanted to emulate.
I saw her, surely, as clear as destiny, with her eyes like jewels,
so bright, so green. Oh, but her hair, so long, like a waterfall
of golden shimmer, cascading down her narrow back.
When I was thirteen, I saw her for the first time,
walking down a crowded street. Vicky Vaughn was hard to miss –
her very essence begged people to notice her.
And I did; I was the little girl that sat in the corner, every afternoon,
waiting for the red painted toes to make an entrance,
and leave their scarlet marks on the pavement.
I watched her in awe, wondering what it would feel like
to step into her high heeled shoes, even for one splendid second,
and encompass a tiny piece of that space around her.
What would it look like? To be at the center of all the commotion,
leaving little trails of light for people to follow –
and I thought, Vicky Vaughn is a lucky girl.
Her days were spent perfecting her sleek locks,
for she never stepped out unless she lived up to that expectation,
of a cover without any cuts or scars.
Little did I know about the turmoil beneath the façade;
she was, after all, Vicky Vaughn –
an untouchable, unbreakable, radiant doll.
When I was thirteen, the most beautiful woman spoke to me;
crouched in a corner of the street, her words hit me like fire,
exposing my well of insecurities.
My skin too dark and my hair too big. My face too long and body
too curved. But she! Oh, she is a beauty, a slender queen,
and I, in my lonely adolescence, was nothing more than a thick wall of fears.
Her grandeur was noted, her sway admired! I sat shaded, hidden,
stumbled upon by accident, bumped into, as if I was invisible
to their glances that always fell a few inches short of reaching me.
Years passed; Vicky Vaughn grew into her mask.
I met her when I was thirteen,
but now, I stand tall, a full-grown woman.
I found solace between my books and bared my emotions
until they became raw and free. I uncovered stories behind my tears,
diamonds in my tunnels and dimension around my edges.
I am no longer thirteen, but I find myself sitting in front of a mirror,
and the ghost of old doubts re-surfaces,
I ask, who should I be?
Then, I saw her, for the first time, in a long time,
in a moment only fate could have brought –
Vicky Vaughn’s reflection filled the mirror.
She has reached midlife, her face less recognizable
without the vibrancy it once held. I see her hair,
frayed with age. I see her skin, wrinkled beneath fabric.
And her eyes, her eyes are vacant, her smile no longer existent.
So concerned she was with chasing the Sun, she did not explore her nights,
nor the life that could have been.
She sits now, drowning in pieces. The mask she carefully crafted,
lays broken and shattered. I take one last look at her wispy blonde locks,
realizing the fragility of the flawless Vicky Vaughn.
I did not have the courage then, but holding the power of this pen
in my grasp now, I smashed that mirror to the ground,
turned my back and walked away from the reflection on the wall.
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,
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,
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
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
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,
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.
The Hibiscus Flower
The last time I saw him was at eight in the morning,
walking away from my apartment, holding the Hibiscus flower
between his hands – a reminder of the solitary nights we shared.
I said, once it blooms, I will return. Keep my memory in a box;
keep my keychain, and the echoing sounds of hope beside your locks.
And that was the last time I saw him,
alone, with my Hibiscus flower, before he left.
I stood there shivering, trying to grabble with the loss
of what I just had in front of me, and the memories came trickling in.
Oh, the verses of romance I recited, smiling to myself,
thinking of us, entangled, in semi-darkness.
But he always left, at first light,
and I wished he would stay and keep the fire ablaze.
And now, everything is finished,
I am leaving this city.
I was dropped off at the airport later that day,
I was sure he would come and grant me one last goodbye.
I ran around in circles, searching frantically between all the faces,
looking for those hungry eyes that always left me breathless.
My eyes burned,
drowning the yearning of my desperate heart.
This was it and I wished to be taken back,
I wanted to hear his voice tell me he still cared.
No one came, and I collected my things
and boarded the plane, dreading the destination.
the passion we found in each other lay dormant.
Until last night, when he wrote me;
do you remember who we used to be?
And the regret of the last five years came rushing in,
the broken promises burned and crumbled between us.
How could I forget? My heart has not yet mended –
he never came back.
Our fragile flame became ashes instead,
that spelt out everything we did not say.
I never saw him all that I wanted, his long absence
always left me lonely, with no one beside me, but my Hibiscus flower.
I felt the cold fall air fill my lungs, I was breathing with difficulty,
on this Sunday that will forever remain branded in my memory.
Clutching the plant, I counted my steps towards the taxi,
one, two, three, this love is ending.
And her voice echoed inside me, perhaps for the last time,
my body begged for her warmth, one more time.
I promised to care for it, I told her,
thinking of the fragile little Hibiscus flower she loved so dearly.
And that was the last time I saw her,
before turning my back, remembering all that we lived.
Oh, the nights we spent alone, long after everyone had left,
just us, reading poetry together,
and the morning dawn discovering us,
after planting our silhouettes into her bed.
I never wanted our time to end, but it always did and
I was left to question if love exists.
And now she is leaving, and I will stay behind,
wandering, searching for that missing piece.
I could not say goodbye to her – farewells never brought me any solace;
there is no comfort in absence, no way to fill that emptiness.
Standing behind the gates,
I saw her searching between the crowds.
But fear engulfed me; I watched her instead,
trying to remember the details of the face that kept me restless.
I saw her cry, but knowing what lay ahead for her
kept me from taking her back in time.
I waited until her plane took off, hoping, praying
that she would land all right, and I walked away swallowing my pride.
The seasons came and went,
all but a few of the leaves on the Hibiscus flower had fallen.
My fingers stumbled on an old keychain by accident,
and I wrote her a letter, out of desperation – do you remember?
When we walked together, holding on to promises,
as hope that we would stay like this forever.
We have nothing left but a few photos that remind me,
we crossed paths at one point in history.
I kept busy with work, but all along
I knew, I felt, I saw my mistakes.
But I still clung onto the hope of her return, I watered her favorite plant,
and despite the abundant water, it shriveled and dried, and she never came back.
I am left now to wipe away her name from my heart,
and search for a new Hibiscus flower.
On bended knee,
I come to You, Lord,
with my head resting on Your door,
I surrender myself,
inside this empty cell.
There is no refuge in the visitor’s corner,
sitting in this glass room,
wearing this orange suit,
holding a receiver to my ear,
as if the sound of another’s voice
will bring me solace,
but there is no peace –
I am missing life outside;
I go seek the life inside.
I have been here before,
too many times to count;
the marked scratches say it all,
but now, in my final hour,
I seek redemption,
for my sins and crimes.
I stay awake,
pacing back and forth,
listening to the eco of my thoughts
between empty walls;
everything is cold and lifeless –
his ghost still haunts me,
toying around with my tarnished morality.
I had no father,
that taught me right from wrong;
that would keep waiting for me,
all night long.
My heart cried from a deep loneliness;
I found no comfort,
in the dried up tears on my pillow;
there was no joy in bare windows –
I was stuck,
So, I shattered the glass;
I broke all but one of Your commandments;
I drowned innocent minds in red rivers,
and watched my hands bleed from sorrow,
while my tongue wailed for mercy –
I found none,
So, I kept on raging,
causing mayhem on every block I walked,
losing myself in a complex of homes –
each unit more deprived than the next.
I treaded lonely streets,
watched everyone retreat from fear;
Menace was my name,
playing the Ace of Spades to my heart’s content was the game.
I remember it all;
I live with these memories,
all day long;
oh, Lord, I regret ever stepping out,
I wasted my youth on cheap currency,
and greedy souls –
what did I know?
At fifteen, I lived for the thrill,
and laughed at every rule I broke,
hoping it would fill the emptiness,
I sold my possessions,
for barely any return,
sat up contemplating afterwards,
when I realized –
the approval of strangers mattered more,
than my own happiness.
Yes, I realized all that,
but too late,
when the clock struck midnight,
I fled, and the hollowness grew;
I missed out on the comfort of home;
I longed for a complete family.
So restless I was in my desire,
retracing old memories,
looking for clues,
for an escape from this ache,
I changed the layout of my room,
rearranged everything in my sight,
looking for order,
a sense of normality,
of finally fitting in.
I walked between shields,
but I was a child still,
yearning for a good night kiss.
My voice projected across all,
yet, the lost boy inside,
still searched for the missing piece.
So, I come to You, Lord,
on bended knee, alone,
looking through to the other side,
of this empty cell.
I do not find myself weak –
there is no need for sympathy,
nor am I a fool –
I do not seek any pity.
This is my final plea:
I found myself too late,
tomorrow my jury will decide,
but You, alone, will be my last judge.
I seek repentance,
in my final moments,