Refinding Voice

The bright California sun burns the space between where your
knotted hair scratches the side of your cheeks:
sweating tears.
Your throat silently screams for water, but your
parched lips have grown shut from mornings
just like this,
where his preaching plays loudly over sleepy memories of
the dreams you didn’t have time to write down,
and today your lips close like a dam holding back water, pressure building as he tells you not to
speak to him again.

But those lips were not always sewn shut like the bottom of your mother’s jean skirt you tore as
he pulled you over a barbed wire fence.
You came out of her shrieks in bloody sheets,
screaming in a language no one could understand yet.

You grew out of sundresses every month, barefoot under canopies of redwoods,
putting your face against the bark, breathing in pure oxygen.
Your lungs filled with cold, ocean air, so when you spoke,
it sounded like waves crashing, pulling in the body standing before you.

You were forced inland, where you sat in hard, plastic chairs, goosebumps forming beneath your
ironed, uniform skirt,
told to listen under fluorescent lights, breathing in leftover chemicals.
The other girls in ironed skirts reminded you of the pulsing in your throat in shallow
conversations, and you began to look just like them.
Your arms ached from raising your hand as a request to speak, and so the waves that filled your
lungs stopped in your mouth, leaving it salty and dry.

One day a boy looked at you like you spoke in currents again,
and you breathed oxygen straight out of his lungs, full of the smoke of his favorite brand of
cigarettes you promised your mom you’d never smoke and you felt anything but pure.
But you loved like an artist – painting every muse on the edges of your waist and the sides of
your thighs.
He covered every paint stroke with a new uniform that hid the half-moons residing in the borders
of your body which you used to love,
and you grew your knotted hair into two braids for each of the men that still wanted you to be

So now, with the sun beating down on your disheveled braids, tangled after nights of restless
you are sweating and crying a whole body of water out of you;
Empty legs in a tattered uniform sprawled on the clean sheets of a silent room.

But with every July sunrise your legs will stretch longer.
fill your body again with water;
and you will start to grow under a new canopy of oak trees that hold you like your mother on
warm afternoons.
Becoming, at first, in spite of him, and then without him,
beginning to paint again, but this time with words meant to send the storm back to sea.
You will fill a windowsill with every small bit of oxygen you can find in a nursery, so there is
growth in every corner of your room, and you breathe again with the tides:
your lips wet with anticipation by the end of August,
seeing before you every sunrise you will watch on an overgrown rooftop,
speaking to those whose words atone the washed-up parts of you,
and let the dam break
over a city who only knows new eyes

because this is the redemption of your voice.

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