The Shriver Report – The Debt – A Poem

Special Edition

The Debt – A Poem

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.

Lovely Umayam is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Lovely is the founder and chief writer for Bombshelltoe, a website exploring the intersection of arms control policy and popular culture that won first prize in the U.S. State Department’s Innovation in Arms Control Challenge.
Also from Lovely Umayam: