Congratulations to Emma Camp, who won First Prize for this poem at the WORD UP! Spoken Word and Poetry contest at the Birmingham Public Library on April 10, 2016. Right in the middle of National Poetry Month!
You will get told you are like a kumquat—
pockmarked and bitter, a fruit destined for
birdseed and roving fingers. Round and
orange—your fate is to be plucked off of high
branches and defiled by foreign teeth. You are
expected say nothing because you cannot reject
something as ingrained as agriculture.
I would tell you not to believe that you are as fragile
as petalflesh, but I too find myself tearing at invisible
seams. My only remedy is to learn to sew and find
thread in the cradle of your palm, weave armor red
and black like blood won from raging battle. Teenage
girls are only easy targets because we tear out their
roots while they’re tender—strip away flesh with fork
and knife but deny we’ve stolen footing.
In these forming years there is nothing you can do right.
Accept this, learn to find yourself in the communion
of rough edges—A bit of earth to call your own in this
orchard determined to harvest you—plant seeds of your
own creation, violets purple like the circles under your eyes,
pomegranates pink like the nailbeds rubbed sore form clawing
upwards. The first time you are called crazy, as much as it
may bruise you, do not listen to the voice determined to reduce
you to a halved tangerine, to a citrus whose frustration
is bite-size, a grievance somehow easier to stomach.
Get used to the sound of your own voice—When
they call you shrill don’t stay quiet to pacify ears
unfamiliar with a female register—after all it is the
sopranos who break glass ceilings. When the shards
are thrown back at you, refuse to swallow them like
permissions, instead gather them up like fresh
blossoms and weave them into a crown of your
womanhood, an empress of sinew and hipbones.
When your femininity makes nymph in male
mythologies, forge a blade in your orisons—
Never forget that your purpose is more than as muse
For tragic poems. Passion in young women is regarded as
sorcery—while we no longer burn witches they still
find away ink over our spells. If all else fails, write
yourself garden. Knit thickets of words you handpicked
like strawberries, plant verses like tulip bulbs, poetry
to harvest in the fall. Make yourself the master of an orchard,
the captain of dirt and petalskin in your palmlines—A Queen of this domain
despite the pitcher of rosewater you were meant to drown in.