When my knees were small and knobby
and the trees all called my name,
dirt smudged my cheeks
and I’d linger in the rain,
I was told “just be quiet”
when the thunder rolled in me.
I was told to layer my small breasts
so that the boys didn’t have to see.
When my hands were light and little
and my nose a button still,
I was told to help my mother
as my brothers “manned” the drill.
I was told to be obedient,
I was told “don’t make a fuss.”
I was punished when I hollered,
if I spat or if I cussed.
As I grew a little older
and began running to compete
I was told, “It’s not fair to boys”
when nipples hardened underneath
sports bra and athletic tank
as if the fault was mine
that the boys were taught my body
was either dirty or a shrine.
And I grew a little older still
thinking my body was a sin
for simply just existing
in the beautiful skin it’s in;
thinking that my words
weren’t as important as the boys
that my enthusiasm
was just irritating noise.
And so I’m still unlearning
what I grew up to understand:
that my body is for sex or shame
based on the judgement of a man;
that my words must be gentle
in order to be received
because if I speak too loudly
it isn’t “lady-like,” you see.