Lovely Umayam wrote and read this poem at “The Shriver Report LIVE” event on January 15, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
It was said
that with a rib came the genesis of woman.
Entire flesh made from bone.
My wholeness pieced together by only a fraction of one.
Perhaps this is why I never seem enough,
and feel a burden of debt —
a sense of existence to exist for another,
the way Eve is only possible after the Sun sets,
how daughters give rise to sons
but they’re never permitted
to shine quite as much.
This feeling of debt predates me.
With history as witness it had weighed others before
with a force that sinks hearts.
They can never find their right positions again.
When mothers are told to leave their passions in the kitchens,
better to break dreams near the sink
to avoid a larger mess.
When women are left wanting for their worth,
searching nooks and crannies
to fit the definition of labor.
Or like strained dough, we stretch
to make space, but often reach a breaking point instead.
Girls are taught they are only tall
when their heels click the floor, to walk
with grace even when it feels more like
treading on eggshells.
“The taller the shoe, the better,” they say,
but there are no warnings about low ceilings
and the discomfort of being boxed into a label.
Perhaps it would have been better to stay small.
Sometimes, there is no distinction between debtor and transaction.
For centuries women swapped spaces,
switched time zones to trade ourselves
both willingly and by force.
We create patterns swirling in and out,
up and down the blues and browns of maps
with no particular Polaris.
And with all of this, women have depreciated.
No place in the guns and butter calculus
because our powers of production are a given
in a world where demand for guns is high
and everyone else can eat whatever they want
except for me.
I have to look out for my figure
in order to be counted.
Still, we are magic.
Despite the debt we choose to live free.
Profit is nothing but a number —
we rise from heartbreaks
not out of love with another,
but from learning how to love ourselves
this is what makes us rich.
On a budget, but we gamble anyway —
I want my daughter to take risks
so she can make change.
Made of bone, we create life, the bedrock of the universe.
We surpass value
As we are the genesis of everything.