By Amina Castronovo
Discussed: difficult topics surrounding mental health
This poem is dedicated to “re-becoming” during the healing process.
It follows a narrator torn between acknowledging the truths of their past and growing through honoring honesty and dishonesty.
You knew from my birth that I would be taken. I’ve looked for the bird, The “tiger place.” I remember the ache so clearly, but When I get hungry enough, what do I see? All I’ve found is the cenotaph of my past selves Who couldn’t re-become anymore, Who disintegrated into sightless ghosts Overcome with the haunting that is eternal knowing Of the molting self— I am the most sensitive person I know. I am the most dramatic. I am the most caring. I am the most intuitive. I am the most loving. I am the most passionate. I am the most. I am I am I am— I can’t rest. sometimes i get a terrible feeling like i died a while ago and i'm only realizing it now. perhaps i was just born, but i— i am exhausted from the sound of my silence, the constant Rage, Terror, and Nothingness that is existing between life and death. it whispers: after you have ruined yourself, what will you become? Please, just make me good! For a moment I considered rebellion: I could never go back. Those girls were from the bad old days. They gave me the knife and They told me I died for a while but it didn’t work. And that is why women are so dangerous. That is why we have to have our feet bound, That is why they broke me with my own tongue, That is why they said not to commit suicide, But to live hungry instead. When I get hungry enough, then killing and falling are dancing too- a masochism of hunger— When eating can’t be a habit, then neither can seeing; The knife twists and punctures my chest— A creeping, sour constriction snaking its way into my throat. Like a cat with an overdue hairball, I’m choking up everything— the expectations of my father, the pressure to be perfect, and the reminders that my fire—the resistant ache within me— is a self-imposed purgatory. “When you were little, all you had to say was ‘I’m not a bad girl,’ and you could make yourself cry,” well Being bad will kill me, but so will being good. After so long of hiding from the bird I find myself trying to resurrect Its remains— Who was I before I was taken? Very early in my life it was too late, I tried so hard to be free and that is why i am lost in the tiger place, And that is why I am akin to no one. At first, my body didn’t know where I was. i looked at my neck— Red teeth crevices, Bruises welting from mortality’s climax- and i wanted to cry., i stared at my body and i was horrified by what it had done, what it had consumed, who it had consumed— What has it become!, and how can a place that feels like home push me further from myself? Alas, one day may my people understand the resemblance so I can return to them. May my chest and throat return to me So that I can scream at those who witnessed my creation, Sitting back and watching the world unravel, revolving— “Revolution!”— Naming it makes it seem too small. It is infinite, Like the first orgasm a womb blood on a newborn a knife .the end of the fucking world. so we burn. it is unifying and catastrophic and the only real thing we’ve ever felt. Now that I’ve returned to the tiger place I am watching the centuries pass in a moment because suddenly I understand time, I know what the ghosts were whispering all along. Perhaps I see two birds in their consecutive moments, Holding up the well I tried to drown myself in So that a catharsis of my reflection stares back at me: “Which would you rather be? A ghost who is constantly wanting to be fed? Or nothing?” Nothing!, Always nothing. Yet I am the most everything person I’ve ever met and I, I’m tired of the tigers, Of being the taken one. I can never find the fucking bird So I pretend that everything has wings Because turns out, I’m not as strong as you raised me to be. I can lead everyone into battle except myself and i will drink myself into oblivion before i learn anything from you. But I know how to sit in my vulnerability because it makes me stronger. I know when I need to write like I know when I need to drink water. I know how to make eye contact while being intimate, even if it lasts forever. And I know when my soul is screeching for the tiger place, It screams at me through an etching surfacing on my skin: just two black strokes— The bird.
*Note to reader: All bolded text is from “The Woman Warrior” and “No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
The process began after I read “The Woman Warrior” and “No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston in my Asian American Literature class. Although some of the literary elements are subject to criticism, the characters resonated with me, especially during this period of growth after Covid. I took lines from both literary pieces and worked it into a personal poem. I find myself coming back to this piece, not just for revisions, but because it is brave in its voice and doesn’t ask the reader to be perfect. Instead, it demands that growth and healing be recognized as a cycle with time.
Amina is a junior in high school in Manhattan. She is a Field Advisor for Our Climate, a core member of the DOE’s Sustainability Youth Leadership Council, a member of the Climate and Resilience Education Task Force’s Youth Steering Committee, and a co-leader of her school’s environmental club. Amina is also a lobby lead with New York Youth Climate Leaders and part of New York Renews’ Media Strike Team. She is a mentee at Girls Write Now, and she has been published in multiple publications. Amina has started an internship with Councilman Mark Levine’s campaign for Manhattan Borough President.