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When the women joined our course, ranging in age from twenty one to thirty five, they came at varying points in their writing practice. They came as strangers, excited and a bit fearful for what may be presented, and what may arrive and erupt. The day before they began, I sent them this description: Digging Deep, Facing Self is a month long deep dive into our painful memories, fears, long held beliefs about self, and how we can transform these experiences into power and confidence. Through reading, writing prompts, action steps, reflection and sharing the journey within a safe space of women, we uncover the elusive how. This course is for women who are both writers by passion, and women who have never dared keep a journal tucked into their nightstand. The exercises have entry points for building a solid portfolio of honest writing, and also for private and sacred self examination. There is no requirement to sign up, no writerly title you must hold, no prerequisite aside from a dedication to yourself. With our many reasons for approaching this work, one thing is certain: you will emerge from our 30 days together more open, on surer footing, with a greater sense of self and purpose, a strong understanding of how to face each day with confidence and anticipation of joyful growth, and, of course, a great batch of writing. Whether you chose to take that writing outside our small circle is entirely up to you. As with any journey we undertake in life, we get out of it what we put in. I have provided the tools, share my own inspiration and help kick start the process into motion. The real work will occur when you step out of your skin, peel back the layers and look unflinchingly in the mirror of your own written words. Honesty will get you everywhere in this program, and the best part? You only have to be honest with yourself and the handful of women here on the same journey. Here is where the pain blossoms into beauty. Here is where we begin to reshape how we see ourselves and interact with the world. Oh, and commitment is important. Otherwise, why bother? Our women came in all shades, sizes, cultural backgrounds and arrived from all over our planet: Miami, New York City, Maine, Virginia, Kenya, London, San Francisco, South Carolina... Having a virtual community was a wild, frightening and freeing experience, a safe space with strangers to discover where we mirror one another, to share stories in communion across cultures, to notice where we overlap and where we can learn from the other’s unique journey. It is important to note that not all women from our course are included in this anthology, a definitive choice, as part of our work has been to honor our peers where they are in their process. To our women that opted out, we uplift and honor your voice in spirit, and we will be here when you are ready to share. It is also important to note that these pieces, by and large, were submitted without time for rounds of edits. The poems were handed over as gems in the rough, with a lot of trust and love that the audience will understand we just wrote these. In many ways, I feel this makes the words feel more urgent. They came from our

depths and they are here, unaltered, their truths living close to the surface. I trust, reader, that you will honor them with sensitivity, openness, love and light. That you will be another ball of energy gathered in our precarious and beautiful and building avalanche. It is now my distinct pleasure and honor, after a tremendous and transformative 30 days of breaking, reconstructing, shaking in our boots, celebrating racously (and cautiously), uplifting ourselves and our community, purging pain, sitting in loneliness, feeling deeply connected and every other human emotion you might imagine bubbling up and spilling over... we are HERE. Each poet who chose to be included wrote over thirteen pieces in this course, and each are only sharing two of their bevy of treasures with you. Quite frankly, dear reader, you are lucky. The energy, honesty and bravery behind each of these stories is palpable, each pulses with a rawness of spirit that can only come from disrobing and stripping off a layer of skin. Many of these writers were terrified of putting their work in front of an audience when we began, and here they are, showing off their words in full glory. To say I am proud would be a gross understatement. I am beaming, turned inside out, changed for the better. I know you will be, too, after reading. Read courageously, read openly, read ready to see yourself somewhere in these pages. And if you believe in the words, if they have touched you somewhere deep in your spirit, than share this with everyone you know. Help our women fly. They deserve it. Enjoy. ENJOY. <3 Caits P.S. Join us in the next round of Digging Deep, Facing Self by visiting



WHEN I SAY COME TO ME, I mean, my heart is a door. Come inside, I have been building this fire under the mantra of your name. No need to remove your shoes or breathe in any particular pattern, so long as you are alive, I will lift my voice to yours like a goblet of finest wine. When I say our humanity is tangled what I mean is, we know what living feels like, you and I. The tingle on our skin in the morning air, the chill riding up our backbone to the nape of the neck, the way we break into an ocean and then, stand up, sculpted in sand. We know the tides. The way water relieves our raucous thirst, the relief of any kind of release, whether bowl or scream or dance. When I say the past is a fantasy, what I mean is I was a depressed child. Each adult emotion rattled my six year old bones, lonely. There was no better time before, I promise, there was only this body, a ship in the night searching for shore. When I say I found dry land what I mean is I have learned to love, but I have not finished. What I mean is I will never finish. Horizon is always a million miles away and no peddling will bring me to the precipice, it will only bring me deeper into self. When I say self I mean this strange and tremendous tapestry of organs that work without thought, that don’t give up when my being is too tired to celebrate, this spirit on a string loose on a little girl’s backpack running home from school. Pull the thread. Behind it, a history. Behind it, an ancestry. A memory prehistoric. Behind it, everyone I have ever loved or jolted or spat out with a sour taste on my mouth and dirt on the skin. Behind it, this safety of knowing the worst is the end and the end is truly never and one day may I grow up out of the scorched earth as an orchid on a remote island. May birds dip their delicate beaks into my face to drink my nectar and take my leaves for their nests. May I know that whatever love is, it must be fluid, the way mom told me god was everywhere, in the bee’s tiny wing and the wooden organ from Gramma and the mountain’s worn trail. No separation. No boundaries, except to keep the dam from breaking and destroying the town. May I always know that I am more love than water, even. That whatever form, it leaks like silent intoxicating gas. I have a seat in the finest room in the house reserved for you. It is in front of the mirror.

Come in. <3 Caits

POSSESSIONS Giselle Buchanan I’m in debt but the marigolds in the garden mist the air with their sweet faces. My fingers are laden with lapiz and brass rings. Hillary, the girl with bells on her ankles has just jingled past me. My fingers clutch blue icing from the cupcake I shared over tea with Rex and I am warm with a light that does not rinse off. I’ve never been in love with a man but I have a shuffled deck of gold rimmed tarot cards. Fubby graced my altar with a thick bundle of sage before she left for good. I have rooibos chai. Goliath mugs I can fit both my hands around. A Guatemalan beaded necklace in a peacock of colors and millions of uncountable stars. The American dream ain’t what I envision for my life but I have a case of watercolor dyes. A pad of gessoed canvas. A cup with red sable brushes awaiting my nimble limbs. Giggles.

A comfy nook in every room I sit in. Warm argyle knee highs. Printed textiles and a stranger who said, Giselle, you are such a light and I leave tomorrow but can I hug you? I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have savings but I have fat fists of quartz and amethyst. Thin white curtains. Open windows. The dance wind teaches my blinds. I have a lake in walking distance. A yellow bucket of smooth sea glass. Ivory bangles clanging together. A life of soft, damp clay. I have the bull frogâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sad moan in the mornings. Lotus flowers opening up their mouths when I stroll by. Wooden earrings and candle wax. I have a galaxy of spiders above me before I sleep. Have even given some of them names. Atticus, Isys, Astrid. I have a globe that has been spinning since before I was born and still has not crashed, not once.

ANCESTRY Giselle Buchanan The women in my family know how to chop callalou and steam salt fish. Know how to deseed ackee and scoop an avocado clean from its skin. Their hands knead bread dough. Leave finger prints in soil. They turn cleaning toilets into prayer. Kneel and bow head while shoving elbow forward. They bite into figs. Roll loose the cherry flesh from its pit. Pour milk from coconut and boil it with the rice. The women in my family know how to call Gods name. Know how to ask for help when the children canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hear. Know how to keep the lights on when a paycheck loses its hips. The women in my family know how to shake the men loose from their sofa cushions. How to change locks. How to love children that look just like their fathers. They know how to soak their feet in dead sea salts. How to fill the bottom of a Christmas tree. Know how to split the body in half. They know how to part scalp and grease it with lavender and tea tree. How to slice mango. How to brew sorrel.

A LOTUS BLOOMS Khadijah Coonrod Day 1 Today the sun creeps through your curtains. Your daughter’s tiny hands cover her mouth while she laughs big. You two are signing to each other and her hand keeps saying beautiful as it goes across her face. Where do those who get lost in the quicksand sink to? Where do you sink to when you get lost? Inside the metallic painting from an old friend living in Germany is where I know we’ll meet. What if we encountered aliens and treated them better than our fellow human beings? The bright green painting with yellow sprinkled across and the huge deep purple mural With white abstract birds painted who fly all around the dark backdrop With bamboo plants beside it sprouting their own babies. If my future love knew we were headed for the Bermuda Triangle, Would he care that we probably wouldn’t make it back? A calendar of Italy because you couldn’t find one of Argentina where your mom is buried But you remind yourself often how you want to travel there some day and visit her grave. Who will take your place once you’re gone? Who will watch your daughter? Will your son ever want to meet you after you gave him to another family who couldn’t conceive? Day 24 Perhaps quicksand swept away lost souls so they could find themselves The Bermuda Triangle may just become a paradise for those who go What if Amelia went there and never left because she found peace? Explorers who found the place they weren’t even searching for The lily bells’ message for those who receive it, You will become unfailingly happy If the lotus thrives in mud, imagine where you would thrive The homeless who hold out their hands and receive spare change Reflect when I, myself, held out my hands to receive spare food During those long but few months while living in a car Beautiful writings by favorite authors Art drawn and painted by friends, strangers, and myself The beach in a jar, the flowers on the wall, and the plants giving new air to breathe My daughter’s tiny hands cover her mouth while she laughs big Her laughter fills the room and echoes songs being sang even when she is mute

ESCAPED SOULMATE Khadijah Coonrod The scent of Somali Rose body oil along with the residue of bidi smoke is left behind. The luminous soul wearing a body with the gloved hands, two pairs of goggles over layered bandanas That covers long dreadlocks to go with the unique militant variations of vibrant colors. That drawing of you with my hand offering the lily bell which means, you will be unfailingly happy. Your lyrics were always invisibly attached to each written piece of mine. The lovers who hold hands which split once an intense fight erupts that can’t be forgotten. These crowds don’t know if these hands will meet again. Soul mates with a love that ignites questions from strangers, who can tell just by seeing them Separated from across the street how they are indeed together even when they are apart. Souls with hands that haven’t touched in years and eyes that haven’t seen the other either. The world was not meant to contain our bodies here forever. Our souls are too much for it. Every soul was meant to move away from this Dunya and into a new one. The Dead of Night prayer kneeling, silently speaking with my head on the ground While my hands touch the one who created a universe filled with seen and hidden love. *Included are Urdu words. In Islam, muakil appear after the recitation of certain verses/surah which is why it’s advised to recite in moderation. Asaib/aseb are demons. Unlike jinn who can be good and mean well, asaib are purely evil and violent.

things you should probably know. Ahmani DoDoo i. bring lots of mangoes. peel and chop them up, sprinkle them with salt & pepper. ii. when i tell you that i push people away because i’m afraid of bleeding, tell me you have stitches & a first aid kit. iii. ask me about carla, about brittney, and shannon. ask about him, especially. ask why all of them laced their boots and sprinted away from me. ask why i never blood-hounded their scents. iv. dance with the four a.m. butterflies in my belly, to the strum of a joe brooks song. remind me how good, how extra good it feels with a glass of cabernet sauvignon mixed with moscato. v. feed me almond milk, goat cheese, and rice on sundays. for every other day of the week, learn that the laughter of tears will suffice. vi. i will tell you that my brother is a cauldron of anger and regret. remind me to love him through his ptsd, him groping the white lady, and his drunken babbling because when he’s gone i’ll unwillingly inherit the ladened black pot he leaves behind. vii. visits to jamaica, will consist of reading junot diaz on the verandah, as a croaking lizard scurries on the wall. my grandmother will tell me she likes my thighs because they are the fairest part of my ebony skin. tell me to remember the stranger, human enough to make me feel love. viii. in the car, when i’m by myself, i cover born sinner, 4, parachutes, and the shining. i play our version of events,

sing in vibrato, and become any person i want to be. if i ever forget, remind me these moments are afternoon clouds. ix. fridays are made for dipping fingers in nail lacquer, or sitting in a kitchen with mumsie, brewing coffee, frying fish, talking of growing scallion and chemotherapy. remind me i loved the silence and the bursts of conversation. x. chartreuse is the navel of yellow and green, remind me how vibrant it shines beneath the lens of my nikon. xi. my hands cramp sometimes, i worry the nagging tendonitis will ingest every single nerve in my palms, tell me to suck it up & keep writing. xii. some days i will look in the mirror and remember being bullied for the inflections on my tongue, the shoes that covered my feet, and even the way my skin made its own freckles. remind me of mondays and the courage it takes to let a stranger know he left his car lights on. xiii. i looked into my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes, spilled iced tea over her smooth chest. neither a scrutiny nor an inquiry ever escaped her lips. remind me that acceptance and love, feels like my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s snug, merciful embrace. xiv. when i am fragile, donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t tell me that pressure builds diamonds or that success is how high i bounce when i hit the bottom tell me that once when the sky was belching something heavy and torrential, i saw elfidio trodding through the storm. xv. the nights when my body forgets to write thank you notes across the blue comforter on top of the bed in my room, remind me that the sun will creep in the window and scorch the tips of my toes. this too is a blessing.

animal instincts Ahmani DoDoo as a child, i never feared God, but the fain eyes of strangers chewing past flesh. the wolf with my carcass in its mouth now i find them so beautiful, even when they are conspiring in their cubicles, makes toothpicks from the bones, hungry for friendship, loyalty, & truth. much the same way i found yours sharpens its teeth against a stone. rummaging to find peace in yourself. you did not know you, anymore than you wanted me to. you have its eyes - yellow, sharp, mysterious there is trampled soil beneath my chest, the banyan trees do not grow there, anymore. its mouth - fanged, snide, ravenous, bloodthirsty. dandelion seed heads, the white peacockâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wings, collapse under the callused hands of your lies forgive me, for making a meal of myself in front of you. hollow-point bullets destroy the body the same way in pieces. betrayal feels much like this: i think i finally understand that you never learned callused hands, hollow-point bullets, trampling feet all designed to disrupt the body, used to kill the soul. to ignore the cravings to swallow your prey. i shouldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve what an art you have mastered: to kill and have gotten away with it. reminded you: i have always had a phoenix of a spirit.

IGNIT Dorothy Santos Sipping beer, you showing off a crooked toothy grin Mixed company, wooden benches who knew something would drudge up things Things that aren’t fun to talk about One was asked how it felt to have a brown girlfriend The Other was asked what it felt to have a white girlfriend The fun stopped between the One and the Other One thought it was cool It was different It was nice, refreshing It was never an option Except for this one time but One didn’t really like her The Other thought it was hard It was challenging It was isolating, depressing It was never an option Until now because the Other thought she found the One But the One made a grave mistake asked the Other Why does it mean so much to be a womyn of color? The Other stood, contemplating this question :: Are you serious? You fa real right nah Your dumb ignit ass really don’t know You dumb bitch You don’t have to worry You don’t have to care About proving yourself

On two tracks {intelligence} and [struggle] I wonder if anyone has asked you Why is so important to you, you know to be a white woman? People think you’re down You gotta pass for coolness You gotta girl with color So different, so exotic You poor ignit woman I can’t believe you done asked me that question! You really asked me THAT You even had the nerve to To comment on my ink Telling me that I am something Without my Mother Bitch, you know NOTHING about my | struggle about my | father about my | mother I TRY so goddamn hard to listen to YOUR trauma deal with YOUR trauma help heal YOUR trauma But the minute I start talking, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m just some angry. brown. girl. :: The Other, after moments of thought ...Internalizing ...Processing ...Internalization ...The Other on the [verge] of speech.


The Other told the One, "I guess it’s just important to me, I don’t really have an answer. Maybe, in the future, I’ll have a better idea."

SOLE(S) Dorothy Santos I hurt too, you know I really do I didn’t know I would hurt you Lips moving Our hearts sore Our hearts soar Into a frenzied state My frazzled curly hair Your straight black do Tears rolling down our faces prickly feelings in our chest My throat feels constricted by words I haven’t even spoken yet We cut into the other with ease as if a blade through escolar I wish it were different I wish I understood completely I never will I can’t but I tried It was just a question I don’t know what it feels like To be a womyn of color I’m some Irish, Scottish mixed thing I don’t have color All I want to know is Why is it important To colorize and classify...everything? You’re the first person of color I’ve ever been with I don’t exocitize you I don’t think you’re a fetish Please understand my queerness from down South traversing this country with parents who didn’t love one another

A mother who told me my desires were an abomination She would kill me if she knew But she doesn’t know because I left her a long time ago Whether you believe it or not I fell in love with you because We laughed, smiled, liked the same movies, sang the same songs, you completed my sentences Not because you were some cocoa caramel brown sugar fantasy for me to play with, show off You knew me You wanted me More than anyone else But my curiosity killed more than a feline Taken the wrong way We were zigzagging in opposite directions Your voice stifling Wasn’t my wrongdoing You were too angry to utter even a sound... NOTHING until you spoke... But you weren’t telling me the truth Barely as a matter of fact You could have, should have been honest Banging away at a wall between us trying to break through Our glasses fog and become wet from our tears and our heated frustration hoping to be heard, shaken somehow I want so badly for you to understand my misunderstanding of understanding you misunderstanding me

so much Hana Riaz i. at nine, your body no longer has room for you. it swells into an unruly discontent, breasts too soon and a heavy too overwhelming. the playful, boystress girl falls silent, there is no longer space to play with your brother and father on the weekends. slowly you stop swimming at school, your self-determined fear of the swimming pool is a fear your body will get caught out: the girls will see the way your belly hangs, the hair sprouting your now cruelly hairy body, your breasts welcoming themselves into a world you do not want nor are ready for. ultimately, they will see all that brown against their white spaces, their frail and fragile and protected bodies. that awkward summer you hear your mother speaking a quiet confession into the phone: "i don’t know why she’s started so early, there must be something wrong with her". you do not know what it is to be a grown woman yet but the way it feels speaks volumes, it is uncomfortable, regulated, watched over. everybody now has a claim to it but you. ii. at thirteen the first boy who likes you professes his love as you both lay sprawled out on his bed. looking up into the ceiling he says: "your brother told me all the boys think you are fat and ugly but I think you are beautiful." it begins an unshakeable word association.

iii. at sixteen your first boyfriend is the only other south asian boy in the group. your romance is two brown bodies pressed into one another, a gaping silence of anything relevant other than melanin. but in his presence your puppy fat shrinks a little, your mother says you’ve grown into your nose, you have finally learnt how to tame your unruly, thick, black hair. he loves you a little closer until you leave him for another boy at the back of an immortal technique gig who can appreciate your thighs. iv. at twenty-three, you are a masters degree and too many failed relationships. your last lover, abundant in his brown skin, tells you to become smaller. he makes his way full feast into your mind, between your thighs but asks you to become smaller. your body, he explains to you, is not what he is used to. and you can no longer tell whether it is your placid brownness, not quite-white-not-quite-brown-enough, whether it is the way he tells you your legs are too rough from the hair that grows back barely a day into shaving, or just the size of your waist, those mounds of repulsion – your love handles spilling over into everything, the sag of your breasts that are too large and peculiar for your frame, your ass, flat and undesirable, that forces him to want more than anything your mind or heart or spirit can offer.

you try shrinking, watch the mirror, change the clothes, hold your breath and still your body ashamedly has no room for you or your story. it sits large and shrivelled, slouching to the face of every person that looks at you, wondering if like him they too know all your secrets, all your unwelcome, all your to attempts to compensate with a mind that nobody values. how heavy it feels to keep carrying all that ugly weight into the world with you. v. at twenty-four you begin to come to terms with how your body remains a site of unbelonging. it is your brown girl thighs that are an assault to all the white spaces you were forced into, it is the violence that comes with that, it is the way nothing about you confirms to your heritage – your body unruly, untameable, storm like does not conform to their shrinking, hipless, breastless, thighless bodies afraid of what the sun might render their skin, it is the way your body does not fit into the imagination of elsewhere – in this landscape it is either too much or not enough, it is wrong, unworthy, not needed, it is the discomfort with what is supposed to make you a ‘woman’, of the feminine your sexuality does not want but assumes even in your queer relationships, it is the fear and rejection of anything too sexy, too wanting, the way you cover it up and hide behind cloth in the hopes of rendering entirely invisible, it is not being carefully looked at, not longingly, not lovingly, not ever.

GENERATIONS: LA FAMILIA Christina Denise Rodriguez father: he watched his father weaken the land of his mother over bowls of arroz y gandules. he slapped her face she slapped sazon, both tenderizing alimento para los ninos. my father only did what he was taught, open palm against my mother giving her money to cook a pernil.

mother: she watched her mother as she spoke to the cops stopping by on atlantic avenue. ĂŠl es un hijo de puta trampa y voy a cortarle. knives narrowly missing pops head as she watched saturday morning cartoons, waiting for afternoon where mr. softee granted credit for a tribe of eight. sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll visit him in the land of coqui and scorpions years later, remembers how he narrowly missed a knife. she will not ask him to rescue her from creatures as she stands her ground, shaking with kitchen knife. her mother knew in San Juan, the cowards will keep on crawling.

daughter: she was scared to scribe all the tragedy, kept it locked in her head. she watched him beat her both eyes swollen shut after she sent chairs swinging in curses. her pen is her path to their histories they foolishly put in a child of ten. they did not teach her spanish, so she snuck it in as a ghost at kitchen tables. grandmothers with tongues of swords swiftly retold tragedies in an alphabet she struggled to master thinking la nena would never learn patterns if she was a little more gringa instead of boriqua never realizing that she squeezed herself between the munecas and rocking chair soaking in flailing hands and broken hearts to skipping needles

of Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz. years later her late night feelings boiled down to everything she learned from home sweet home, the only prayer she can roll off her tongue as she shook with the possibility of history repeating: dame la fuerza para encontrar un beso en este mundo.

WOMAN Christina Denise Rodriguez (inspired by Sonia Sanchez) i. shy smile tugs the hearts of my lovers

ii. curves dragging eyes from door to edge of seats

caramel sticky skin wished for cupped hands

iv. laughter of bells down to earth bangle adorned wrists





ease of lips etch-a-sketched in hearts instantly

warm fleshed out rib cages heave in tune to banter

coiled lock & finger around the base of your neck

viii. balmy, loose air of her comfortably leans into your frame

ix. i can see why sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perfection. i can nearly love her too... if it wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t for you.

SHAMING A SISTAR Jeannie Williamceau Short sleeves With too much pride I used to believe you were Jezebel herself Sometimes I wanted to berate you to cover up those razor kissed arms you’d hug me with Your peepshow of breasts Venus of willendorf I wanted to hide you Under the heaviest Of midnight Like the weight of a burka And if I could Beg the universe for you not to exist In the same room as me You wore The beauty of sad girl hurt very well As if you asked for All the cat calls you Collected off the streets REVELLED in all the questions From the nosy and carnal men we’d run into at the cornerstone Or bus stop And hands like black magik would grope you In the back of Churchills Pub Or at house parties Where the air was too thick For you to open your eyes Inebriated Teeth pearly Smile as wide As the gap I’d Front between us With tongue too loose To say NO but MORE I would crave if you liked for them To hold you by the throat Roleplaying "gag for breath"

while they only persisted to show how hollow your blood flow prayed. But you hurt The way you would describe that Every day it was always raining dogs Or how the scar tissue would dance on its own like a domino effect and make way for your wrists and buttered thighs I wanted to draw out my own My own blood My own heart to see if you could even forgive me but It was too quiet I kept alone And you needed to feel Used again Though you were aware of the Spirits around you To mute every other twinkled eye In sight Violin in hands And a sway like Arabian grooves stardusting Your lower half I could never help But picture you a ragged dart board for everyone to claim the middle of and oh, I too wanted to feel the same.

NAY’S SCARS Jeannie Williamceau “Scars like diamonds forever we share…. Me more than you, because I was built to bear...." the makings of me are rusted knives my heart and I befriended along the way If only you knew these feelings of me Belonged to mine like the rumble of peppered cloves you held under your tongue every time a man candied me my worth If only you knew the moon herself loved to ease her way Slow like honey Between my thighs a battlefield of quicksand marshy moonstrual her tears doused every man who grew bottomless I could have strutted around you dripped naked in your shame For I never abused The magic of the moon She planted inside Of me If only you knew the taste of love juices a blood orange

sucked back pulp as viscous like a time lapsed tidal wave "gagging of breath" was just the numbing of ice If only You knew My scarred tissue Is everything And birthmark chromatic scaled survivor I am the rings imprinted on the wood of my bare bodied violin and If only you could count how many layers of self I conceal just to Enjoy the bitter silences With you.

PORTRAIT OF UGLINESS Kemi Bello The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice They said, with nods and mischievous smiles and winks, And you knew better enough to file it in the bulging folder you keep in your head Of Things People Say That They Do Not Actually Believe. White is right, but try as you might, you will never be more than an Oreo, Devoured at whim by one community or the other never to achieve the Cultural Comfort status of that humble apple pie. You are junk food, to coat the palate but never quench the thirst, To be caressed underneath sheets but never paraded as arm candy in daytime, God forbid you get even darker under the unforgiving sun. You wear your skin like the uniform of every negative connotation Of darkness there ever was – Soot from coal, barks of tree trunks, clumps of dirt – The epitome of unclean that does not wash off in the shower No matter how abrasive the sponge and chemical the soap. Bleaching creams were as much a childhood staple as books, Both meant to make your sharp and raggedy corners fit into The smooth holes of Expectation, Gifting you Smart because they don’t make your shade in Pretty. You never think of it as a Serious Life Problem Until you realize one day that you never show up in pictures They way they do, always a shadow of suggestive features Rudely interrupted by the Too Bigness of your smile.

And so you slink out of photo ops As if Darwin himself told you it would be the only way to survive.

I AM HER Lisa-Marie Dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Mello Red is the blood that flows through her, like the luscious lips that line her mouth; Teeth peeping through in laughter Black, blankets the back of her head, And caressing the face of her lover midst orgasm Voluptuous and supple are her breasts, Like ripe grape fruit ready to be eaten The brown lines that mark her body are testaments to her strength and her story Like cryptic texts in the lines of holy books Her skin, like baked bread awaits sunken teeth Her open arms call for an embrace She is an Indian goddess in her fury, the result of a millennia She carries the memory of her forefathers in her veins Their strength their courage and their resilience to survive She will not be destroyed, She will grow blossom and bear fruit. She will live with purpose and give purpose She will love and be loved in return She is a force majeure!

THE METAMORPHOSIS Lisa-Marie D’Mello I waited on your stoop Knowing to expect a tempest And a tempest is exactly what I got Your tongue like a knife Slit my soul in two My anatomy was exposed; Raw, murky shit spewing out Doubt, fear and sorrow incased me in a coffin of self doubt Like flies on a dead carcass I could not seem to get you out: "Who are you ? I don’t even know who you are" The putrid stench of something deceased Now became our friendship Like a phantom limb I couldn’t seem to shake you off How long had this been going on? And why now? The rain finally did come and my face poked out from behind the curtain like a butterfly from a cocoon Beautiful wings grew out of me And the ashes were gone A new cycle, a new birth, a new me.

SELF PORTRAIT Elizabeth Capone-Henriquez The roll of white skin across my belly is lopsided. Bread dough for a baguette. Left side left to rise longer than the right. Body consequence of obeying too well. Eager to do everything right. I slept on my left side so well for two pregnancies that my fat sags in that direction. (At least it is to the left.) My middle is soft, sensitive, vulnerable and sore from even the littlest poke. Upper arms and thighs like tree logs. I appear so solid. I am so worried about my place, my ability to stand independently. Worried this bold, authentic, large, heavy self will topple. I am scared there will be no one to catch me; I am always looking to see who is about to push me down. The vericose veins on my legs are river waters going through streams, overflowing vertically, artifact of my lack of circulation. I cannot walk out my dreams on logs. Roots woven intricately through the ground below. Stuck to the past. There are pink and black speckles on my face. The 5 year old who I taught to swim says he likes

the stars on my face. I also want to look at myself and see the stars. But for now there is just the marble nose of judgment, and the black-haired mustache of worry hanging over my every word.

LOVE LETTER TO ME Elizabeth Capone-Henriquez Dear Eli, I know you want it all but that is killing your dream. There is a song, there has always been a song to comfort you and show you the way. Find your song, Eli, everything is going to be okay. Let it all go: the boxes of stuff, the tears, the brown blankets and furniture that hold the drabness in. Make light. You can bring Maine to New York, you can bring New York to Maine; it only matters that you bring yourself. Remember that girl who left high school and built her dream? She is you. She was amazing and suffering. You are no longer suffering. Love yourself: imagine what you can do. Cry it out, cry it all out: the felony, the crappy jobs, the disappointments: cry them out. This runny snot is like

a womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vaginal discharge when sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ovulating. It stretches between her fingertips as she pull them apart. These are the fluids that make life possible. Cry it out, just like your babies, because there is only so much comfort someone else, even a mother, can give.

YOUR HEART Paris Alexandra What happened to you and why have you let this world turn your heart cold? Find your reflection reflection and see more than what meets the face. You never know a man’s burdens and may be surprised that may have matched your own. What happened one day if we dared to shamelessly love each other? but we can’t because we’re too scared. Loving with no limitations forces us to come in contact with the darkest parts of ourselves that need healing and it’s not safe and that takes work. Extending our heart outside our comfort is what brings solace to the deepest parts of ourselves. Look a stranger in the eye and find your reflection. Trust me, you will become better friends with yourself.

SPACE Annette Estevez You are late – again Sentence is 9–to–5, longest run–on ever written No meaning intended to keep you but you’re caught running out of time Today, you run on purpose off necessity You fall into space between stranger’s fingers where violin sings as bow ice skates across its strings; no regard for the rush of hour breathing heavy down its neck The subway platforms are covered in a shifting mosaic of wingtips, steel toes, and rubber shell tops Tapping, waiting, pacing Some g l i d e easy to the tune of a Sunday Kind of Love Others swish hips hard – to the beat – of a Saturday night fling Everybody’s gotta get off – at some point Get on. Get off. Get going. Get over it. On the ride home, your ex–lover inserts his way into the backspace of your open–ended heart – Mind shifts – you pick magenta petals off the roses in your backyard, if it ain’t growing, it’s dying flowery thoughts wilt ‘til suicidal;

love-me-not’s bleed unrequited love over the Williamsburg Bridge Brooklyn answers “LOVE ME” in big red graffiti kissing brick outside the train window Love is everywhere you don’t look! inward passions lead wayward eyes into spaces where days break wide enough to make room for words that breathe your dreams awake Let your mouth never mind the pots calling, this kettle whistles – content with its darkness Besides, you don’t really drink tea, anyway You drink mornings that dissolve yesterdays, like Papá’s casabe dipped into his cafecito – peace of light diving into night Sometimes you swear his joy has reincarnated into the corners of your nephew’s toothless smile so that you and he could relive his happiness You’ll hear some things you wish you hadn’t, but no matter, darling There’s always the night and it’s only natural for its breeze to have its way with your unbrushed curls as your head tilts back in its surrender to the moon There are speakers bumpin’ throwbacks waiting for you to - Step into a Wooorld where hip hop is you-ou-ouuu and for everything else, there’s gin and olives and your partner in awkward to share them with – you, two, are acquired tastes Your heart intuitively belts out 90s baby-making slow jams off-key but in tune with her joy as she welcomes a new love

into her life Is love, life? Mamá’s hands were always shaky but strong enough to hold onto your grandfather’s love for over 70 years steady and onto her life for the past 4 years without him She is in her final days now and I don’t know if your hands have lived enough to lift such a heavy goodbye I do know your hands are hard covers to the good book that makes light of your truth and by book, you mean poems and by poems, you mean stanzas-turned-psalms in your palms that know your lifelines by heart and there is no better space for praise, than this moment Love – is the life that rushes through you when you live in it Yes, love is living and you are alive

SKIN.ME. Annette Estevez You never did replace that mirror, did you? How do you see yourself now? You never even wear your glasses You get too close to people before you realize they arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even close to what you were looking for You are here, can you feel your presence? You felt beautiful again; you felt wanted just as you are here, arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t you? Or there right where he wanted you to be his version of you? He accepted your morals as a challenge until he had you, skinned you, and wore you like a badge of honor What is left of you now? Your body; a bout with self

about-face Are you still here? Can you identify your space? Do you know it belongs to you – yours to keep for the sake of being you? His eyes are not your reflection. Can’t you see you for yourself? Are you beautiful? What is beautiful? Full of beauty or full of a self they made for you? Made you, their image of you Made you theirs Made you exotic Made you think you’re worth a damn Made you up Made you fantasy Made you cave into yourself the makings of selfdestruction What is left of you? How do you see you? As skin crawling away from self.

DEAR UGLY Lehna Huie Dear UGLY, Your mouth could never hide in silence. Holding secrets where rotting teeth are tucked behind words that never chose to escape. piled up at that spot where the two bottom ones push up against eachother and ache to release that gold from the pressure. They chatter and chip with each pull of tar threatening to wrangle your heart to its stop. you laugh and the black keys reveal the melodic holes of your beaming... the music echoes, loud but soft notes; your stories; hidden in the back. Still, a cracked smile rises with the sunshine. Afraid to be known, your hairs dart across your inner thighs. Your heart prays he doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel YOU when he goes down there, your ladyparts start to tingle. Once he discovers those tiny rough ribbons- he will know you are not ordinary. They blend in with you- but not so well on just any manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fingertips. Lady, you are not rub-able and you dont want that kind of polished power. a diamond in the ruff You are indeed woman somehow..

LETTER Lehna Huie Lehna, whole wheat toast smothered in blueberry honey reminds you to keep sweet ~ you break bread with your higher self. you are starting this day off different. She is the one you want to love and know. You both atop a mountain, toss a heavy pack of forgotten sorrows. you watch items you once held dear twirl beautifully in the wind. they tremble on thin ice stumbling and trying to hold on to the peaks of your strength- they crumble and vanish into thin air. What was taken? What did you get rid of? finding the whole: She searches under scarlet eyelids staring into the sunlight-travels winding roads with eyes wide shut... Her liberty is found in the breath of woman chanting freedom on the roof of that mouth. Heal yourself with this word of love and light. take this balm and rub it into your mind- it is thick like frosting and feels real good. This wax becomes your shelter- as it melts it fills and molds underneath the pores of your old soul- you are home. It is distinct, this pulling weight that brings elegance to your spine. this lady she flies across the surface of yesterdays moving into new day. one droplet of you falls and scatters in a fountain of dancing dew. your woman as vessel holds you close and lays with you each moment. she knows your blood your endless love your darting memories. Lehna, chant Fury and Love. Your inner saints encircled around this rebirth are your protection. That ease in your stride is your mercy. hot lava- cool air, smooth rolling water, Lehna. Under the huts of your heavy eyes, lies Jamaica; Grandadâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cologne, tassels.

MISS ARTE Melinda Gonzalez (aka Poeta Guerrera) I see you painting images of Puerto Rican oceans on walls. The water is aquamarine, waves rising with suds that once birthed Aphrodite. Whales are swimming in the background with a giant lighthouse overlooking Isabella. Large, black boulders covered in seaweed and moss center your image. You will one day dive from them as bioluminescent bays surround you. You are smacking goat-skinned drums fiercely as you dance plena on pointe. Your white skirt convulses in ocean-inspired winds. Tall like your daddy, I see two giraffes feasting on acacia. Skin - the shade of dried leaves in autumn. Butt plump and firm like unripen mangos. Big copper earrings jingle on your ears with images of Frida. Wrists adorned with leather cuffs and opal accents sewn in by your grand-mothers wrinkled fingers and weakened sight. You are wearing bright oranges, soft yellows, and fire tones, Free spirit – SmilingSmile as the wind caresses you. Be like your father upside-down, shirtless in the middle of a roda. Be the strum of the berimbau commencing a ladainha. Marvel at life like mountain tops untouched by man - flourish. Plant green leafy vegetables with me and TAP TAP TAP to the beat of the drum. Dance with me, hands colliding in eternal bond. Teach me what you have learned from your travels to Brasil, Peru, Morocco, and England. Sing me the hymns of your God. Be bare feet stepping on warm sand – Be the shade of the flamboyan on scorching summer days – Be fireflies in a little boy’s jar. Cry in my arms when you must, but remember,

always, that you are goddess manifest.

Read your favorite books to me and celebrate. Celebrate your woman hood, Celebrate us. Celebrate the miracle of child birth. Touch, smell, taste, and see all that the world has to offer. Bat your eye-lashes, sweetly. Let me see those lips shaped like a half-cut durian.

Kiss me, yes, smile, and pucker up, beautiful. Make the tiny gap between your two front teeth yours. Love it; it brings Bomba beats to my soul. Walk, girl. Stumble like drunken monkeys and fall with your face in mud, but rise, again. Be blue jays free from cages and extend your wings. Let me look into those cherimoya eyes of yours. But, first, go ahead and suck your thumb, girl. Let your fingers roll into the developing curls of your still developing light brown hair. I watch your chest rise and fall, your warmth so very near me. Sleep, dream, smile. Tomorrow, you can begin to grow, again.

MOTHER – WHO VICTIM BE? Melinda Gonzalez (aka Poeta Guerrera) I. The black concrete lay beneath my knees. My skin kissed it and the asphalt claimed it as its own. I had been running behind her, and she pushed me. So, I fell, the flesh was pink and hued white before it filled with red blood. She left me to go dancing. I needed a role model, and she wanted to live. Her fragile wrists painted with lines and dots from accidental suicide attempts would remind me whose will go to be known. My memories are fists to my body. She was green coconuts abandoning palm trees as the wind rustles through their leaves and crashing on naked skulls. II. As I grew, we learned to admire each other. I was a girl in love with big, brown tree trunks layered in small specks of moss growing beige poisonous mushrooms. She was creating beauty with the mere touch of her finger tips, transforming nature into art. One day, she would relapse – A broom crashed against the nape of my neck, the hairs slowly rising as it came down, and I, unlike my once-skinned knees, did not break. I turned, walked away, danced on sun pyramids and turned adult lioness giving birth to young – bald and cone-headed. I - hips mid-birth – bending and contorting but intact. I - strength - in tears, pain-owned, named, and released orgasmic spasms creating new self. I –evolved, victim to I’m vict ORIOUS.

JEALOUSY Carola Mecho This is not what I want to write about. Actually it is what I should write about. Just the other day this weird feeling came to me about my best friend. She recently got her heart broken and maybe like two weeks later we meet these boys while people watching in the LES. Some Brooklyn cats…fake ass rappers, but they were cool... One of them is into her. She’s winning. He’s cute too, got a car with neon lights inside and his own crib. Not to mention, I’ve been feeling like shyt this whole time. While hanging out with my friends, I simply couldn’t stop thinking: "why me?" Couldn’t stop feeling abused. Quiet and angry at the same time. "Why cant I get through this?" i’d say to myself. So of course I ma be jealous, if everyone around me seems happy and getting what they want…and again, why not me? Someone who always keeps me on check. Who has looked out for me since high school. She treats me like her sister. She is beauty beyond measures. Elizabeth has hella necklaces, for each occasion. Colorful and different styles. From modern to oldschool to classy, to sassy. Her style is popping but let me minimize this poem. Womyn, gold chain, New Orleans La diosa The lucky one The blessed, most intelligent mind

And heart. she loves hard. Poetry and broken silence. She speaks the truth, her truth, which people cant even handle sometimes. Deep rooted values no one can detach her from She is real and yea sometimes too aggressive. But she knows how to say sorry and feel your pain. Cry your tears, fight your battles She taught me friendship. Safe, protective, fun, exciting Confident, grounded, all the good things you can possibly think of, that is she, and that’s why u can’t help to feel jealous Cuz she always finds solution to her problems Quick too. She’s easy to pick up and go If she’s feeling shity,

she has jewelry and wardrobe that will make her feel like Maxwell’s wife. And in her mind she knows it could happen. In my mind, I even know it could happen. Yes, becoming Maxwell’s wife. I swear her pussy got powers. She is able to send signals and get each and every man that she has laid on. In the seven years of friendship we’ve had, I’ve been there in her Long distance, just a boo-thang, relationships. There has only been one man that she couldn’t catch in her 99.9 effective magic spell.. and guess what name she goes by? Bruja. Yes, witch. She really be knowing. Every time I’m going through something, She comes through Like medicine, Like knowledge Like comfort

Like sister Like love Her jewelry will take you to all parts of the world She is earth, and rebirth. She is constantly searching, rolling, and learning. She is human consciousness She is the four phases of the moon, She feels it when it cold, she feels it when its hot. She is many realities. Tropical essence She is a breath of fresh clear air She is rachetellectual.

DEAR CARO Carola Mecho Dear Caro, Why do you suffer in silence? You have always been there. Yes, you, child, you’ve always been inside me, Crying out for attention for some love and protection. And I am truly sorry for ignoring you all this time. I am truly sorry for neglecting you For not allowing you to express your pain perhaps you felt it will all be in vain And not only do you feel ashamed, But you’re not even the one to blame! So speak, talk, recognize and accept! But what is appropriate to share? you already share that you want to have a house in Santo Domingo you already made a video for IG of that mixture you made this morning with Navajo tea your best friend brought you from New Mexico, ginger along with some other leaves to give it some flavor and some brown sugar. you share the cramps you currently have from your moon cycle you share how good that new lavender lip balm smells you hate it when your mom just sits and drinks beers you hate but love the fact that you spend more time in your best friend’s crib than your own house. Do you even have a home? but you don’t share what aches, what haunts you every night Crying your self to sleep, afraid of the dark. Its been a long time nena, Its time to let it out and let the world know that you have been abused, misused, ripped from your innocence, humilliated, fucked with your consciousness, Your root chakra is destroyed, not allowing to trust anyone, specially not your godddam self. You don’t trust your judgement, because you’ve been fooled way too many times. Why do you feel so insecure? All you want is to be happy with yourself, To enjoy simple pleasures of life Waking up, making some coffee and just be at peace with the way things are. And you have done that. You have been able to control, block, ignore, neglect,

yourself for quite some time now. You are 23. Something continues to haunt you and it will continue there till you spill it! And you’ve already started. Which is why you are here today writing this letter to yourself today, not MONDAY, when this was really assigned, But only you know what went down on Monday, and still going on Those around you could tell something is not right in you. The way you are acting lately. Your eyes were full of rage, and deep emotion. You body was tense, and silent, but boiling inside. Monday you reached your boiling point. you felt that if you didn’t, shouted, cried, the TRUTH, YOUR TRUTH, That you would go silent forever. You felt fatigued, anxious, your tongue felt tangled, unable to spit out that venom that slowly manifested itself in various parts of your life: relationships, intimacy, finance, social gatherings. Ugh, finally you realize that you are not being true to yourself because you’re ignoring your feelings. Before you ignored it because you did not have the words, child, You did not recognize the act that you were too young to even describe You were left on emotional shock, unable to be conscious. But now, womym, you have the wisdom, the words and the sword! YOU ARE FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE. And memories that keep popping up form the most deepest, ugliest parts of your soul. A body that you’ve bee healing since. You have survived thee ugliest side of your life. which brings you to the question, Do demons exist? Because you just cant explain nor find logic behind. Tainted for life. You wish to erase. You were taught by your mother to cope in silence. To forget and move on. Can memories ever go away? Why do some memories stay? More worried about what others had to say. Instead of protecting me and fighting this demon or battle. Child, you are mad. Angry at the world. For having a culture of silence

A culture where there are no room for mistakes Where we all just become enablers of a vicious cycle. Child, wake up and do what feels right. Give yourself the ability to feel. FEEL AND EXPRESS GET OUT OF THE ANEDHONIA That has been keeping you from discovering who you truly are. Break the silence and see how you are not alone. And there is nothing ever wrong with how you feel. Declare your self a writer, a teacher, a preacher, a warrior, an individual. You are the child that survived and I love you. Forever with you, Your spirit of healing and transformation

A Thing Of Beauty Painted By Words  

A Collection of Writings From the Digging Deep, Facing Self Course, July 2013. To learn more about the course visit

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