Poetry by Farah Lawal Harris

Posts tagged “fear

Love Letter to My Dreams

to get to you,
i will jump–
into an ice cold pool,
not knowing how to swim well, stay in my lane
or hold my breath for a long time;
not knowing the difference
between a breast stroke and butterfly,
only having a loose plan to freestyle
and hope i make it
with my pure unadulterated desire,
naive hope
that somehow,
i’ll stay afloat.
they may need to push me in,
but damnit,
when that time comes
i’ll happily oblige,
doggy paddle for miles and miles,
tread water just for the chance
of grabbing a thread of the fiber of you,
that same fiber that makes me


i still shiver
when fingers touch my neck without forewarning.
if a man tries to whisper in my ear,
my body freezes
like the temperature just dropped.

this body used to be
raw honey for black tea,
good music for a weary soul.

my voice used to sing simple songs
about my day or foods i like.

but this tongue grew numb
and i still get nervous
when the weight i purposely gained
slips away.

i’m still suspicious of strangers;
plot escape plans
when i walk in alleys alone:
if i’m wearing heels,
i practice in my head
how i’ll stab a crazy man in the eye;
if wearing boots,
i plan to knock him down, stomp, and run;
if any other shoes,
then knee must be used.
all this preparation for a woman
who’s never been attacked by someone she didn’t know;
all these thoughts of violence for a woman
who thought love conquered all.

but i had one failure,
trusted when i should’ve been cautious,
stayed when i should have left,
entertained when i should have ignored…

and sometimes i still

False Start?

“I love you” runs
to the tip of my tongue
only to be halted
by fear
of being penalized for a false start.

i don’t wanna jump the gun
but i find it hard to explain
how when we connect eyes,
my soul is certain that
you are the one,
how with you i can be my genuine self
as if that were the only version of me
that was ever acceptable.

you raise a standard
i hadn’t realized i had set so low.
and you’re making me high.
do you not see me floating past my past?
do you not see me biting my tongue
before i allow myself to speak too fast?
for now, words will rest at it’s tip
until the opportune moment when they come alive
on my lips.


when i was a little girl,
i was not afraid of the dark,
but of shadows.
cluttered closet in Mama’s room
influenced the curious mind of a girl
too soon scared of the unknown.

i saw witches,
evil ones with big noses
and if i closed my eyes for long enough,
i could kind of hear them cackling.
maybe they concocted brews
and poured them into my orifices
once my restless eyes were rescued by sleep.

that is the only reason i can think of
as to why twenty years later,
shadows in my cluttered bedroom
make me turn on night lights.
shadows turn into figures in my overactive sight
and figures transform into men
lurking on the corners of my memory.
only this night,
i win.
i will sleep.

Retrospect for God

i think in life,
some people are just meant to go through things.
and for whatever reason,
one of those people is me.

even though he allows me to get beat,
i know he loves me.
even though my heart breaks,
only to be put together again
so it can fall apart in new ways,
i know he will always be there
with a roll of duct tape.
although he sees me cry
and is sometimes the source of tears,
i know that i am my happiest with him
and there is no one else i would rather fear.

abusive lover of my soul,
if only they could see the bruises i hide
behind make-up and made-up moods and affectations.
if only they knew how i face more mornings than i can mention
with hesitation, afraid
to even open my eyes to see the reality before me,
thinking that some days would be better spent sleeping,
dreaming of a better next week,
skipping over tomorrow;
longing for laughter louder than
the heaviness of sorrow;
hoping that my scars will one day heal
and one day you will
stop allowing me to get so beat.

but i think it mean just means that you love me…

Without Love

where would i be without love?
perhaps shivering naked in a closet,
never having experienced touch;
or sleeping on park benches hoping to get mugged
because violence is at least physical contact
and physical contact sometimes simulates
or at least emulates

where would i be?
mouth devoid of four-letter words
and heart symbols to connect others to me,
interactions without laughter,
days without passion,
existence without meaning,
living without being,
a heart that’s not beating,
a soul that’s not healing,
a mind without imagination,
exchange without compassion,
summer without sun,
winter without Christmas,
holidays with no family,
a brain without sanity,
bare bones and flesh without a body,
eyes without tears,
no fun in conquering fear…

how could i possibly live there?!

i will build a house of love even if
all i can afford is a cardboard box without a roof
and newspaper to stuff the holes in my shoes.
i will clothe myself in patience,
waiting for love despite
my wrinkles and creases in the wrong places,
chase it til it strikes me like lightning
and just as i’m dying,
my eyes will be shining and i’ll know
it was worth trying
because life without love is death
so as i take my last breath,
i’ll just float away to live in another land that is safe
and enter the gate for those who chose to take the risk
that always comes with love

and be home.

If This Is

beauty meets tears
and invites them to a dance with steps
only memorized by the magnificent.
if this is history,
then i wonder what tomorrow will feel like.
if this is reality,
then how peaceful will my dreams be
when i close my eyes tonight?
if this is joy,
then i cannot wait to experience love.
the thought of it gives me goosebumps and fear
because my heart is already swollen
with pride.
it beats louder than ever.
i am alive again.
i didn’t even know i was sleepwalking
until now i have experienced
real life–
the emotion, the struggle, the achievements
and all that could happen
by just believing.
overwhelmed i am
so blessed i am
here i am
breathing, feeling,
being, existing,
growing, changing,

i thought God was absent
so i could only imagine
how great would His presence would feel like.

Why Cry?

when i
consider the amount of potential
that lives in my insides
and then wake up and see
what is really outside,
tears well up in my eyes
and i cry.

when i
think about all of the uncured disease
and all the money that’s made in pharmacies
and the people who live off of painkillers
instead of cures,
tears well up in my eyes
and i cry.

when i
think about how the boys in blue
are supposed to protect me and you
but when i needed them,
they treated me like i was the criminal
and my assailant walks the streets
and breathes the same air as me,
tears well up in my eyes
and i cry.

there is so much to cry about
and some days,
i have to search for laughter.
i have to remind myself
of other chapters in my life,
the dog-eared pages of past stages
when life was sweet
and love was constant
and happiness was not a long-lost friend
but something that lived in my pocket
that has now slipped away as easily as lint
in a pair of pants
that are too tight for me now.

some days i can’t even cry
like i have some strange infirmity
from all the fucked up things i have seen,
like my eyes no longer produce tears
so when fear mounts, i shout instead
with a poetic voice loud enough to wake the dead.
the dead live in my head.
their corpses rot in their tiny grave plots
and their headstones read:
and FEAR.
the soil is soft and pretty flowers live here
and sometimes their scents break through with pollen
that causes tears
and i cry
and cry.
and cry
until there is no more inside
and until i feel alive
and the frustration subsides
and then i can finally breathe
and finally see
that crying was a necessity
to move past all that is upsetting me
and live on.


this poem won’t be remembered.
i guarantee it won’t be a masterpiece
but it very well may be
the most honest piece
of writing i have yet to complete.

there’s a passion burning in me
so strong and fiery
that i can’t do daily activities
because my fingers are singed with third degree burns
of what God whispered to me.
i would do it for free,
scour the streets looking for pennies to sustain me
and eat crumbs that fall from heaven
if that was all there was to feed me…

the truth is that my pride consumes me
as does fear.
i lack faith that i will ever do any better
than what exists here
and can’t trust that which i don’t see.
does that make me faithless?
or more frankly,
i lost trust in a God that i loved because
He disappointed me
and i can’t help but think that if He,
all knowing and loving
let me face such pain and anguish,
that life can’t get any better
than it is now.

i am Atlas,
pushing a boulder that threatens to crush me.
i am Jonah,
stuck in the belly of a whale of irresponsibility.
i wish i could be Jesus
but sacrifice seems just too much for me.
the passion burns me
and i possess the hose to put myself out
but don’t believe the water will really shoot out.
so i walk with half empty buckets
held by a broomstick across my back
and earn splinters in my shoulders and neglect that causes death
all because i am too scared to live.

what kind of punishment is this?
what kind of nonsense is this?
ruled by fear,
ignited by dreams
that seem too far away to touch
because i am afraid to reach.

Throw Shoes

i wish i was brave enough to throw shoes
and yell out the truth.
i am a quiet soldier,
one who wears a uniforms with ribbons of
unknown significance.
one who marches and stomps loudly
only when among comrades
but when in enemy territory, holds back,
fearing that people might get mad and attack.
i have guns that i don’t know how to use,
and am still too scared to throw shoes,
bullets i am scared to load
and fingers that are too shaky to pull triggers.
i get smaller as fear gets bigger.
i shrink and my mind deadens
and my heart slows and the next thing you know,
i am not even a fighter at all,
would be exaggerating to even call myself
a soldier.

Which One Am I?

why do fools fall in love?
and since i refuse to do the above,
does that make me wise?

if so, at times i wish i would be brave enough
to be a fool again,
to take risks with the chance of falling on my face,
to have another opportunity to make beautiful mistakes
and memories that keep me awake
because sleep could never compete
with the dream i’d be living.

why do fools fall in love?
and since i refuse to do the above,
does that make me wise?

perhaps if wise also means burned
and fearful
and doubtful of the possibility.
i will be wise for the rest of my life
it means no one could hurt me;
even if it leaves me solitary,
gaining excitement solely from following stars in the night,
pushing me toward what i know is right
and ignoring all that might
take me out of my knowledge
and consume me with the most nonsensical emotion
to ever exist.

i’m too young to be wise
yet too hurt to be a fool;
too scared to be in love,
yet too optimistic to be cynical.
i am neither of the two–
swimming between both islands of maturity,
hoping that by the time the land touches my feet,
i will be comfortable where i am
and just be.

The Silence

i am really scared of being alone.
i think it’s the silence
that frightens me the most–
creaks in ceilings and walls that could mean
an intruder stalks the hall,
though more than likely,
it’s nothing at all.
i can’t foresee having nobody to say “good night” to
and maybe even embrace, kiss on the cheek before i sleep
and see their face when i awake.

i want quiet but i don’t know if i can deal with
the kind that makes me jump when the phone rings,
out of excitement and anxiety,
the kind that makes me start talking to myself freely
or walking around naked since no one visits me,
but still scared that a stranger is peeping
through my window.

i do crave the silence a little–
the room to think and process
and cry and digress
and grow to see progress
brought on by quiet sweetness,
not so haunting and scary
but crucial and necessary.

i’m almost ready.

Like a Fool

you call me in my nightmares
and i answer,
fearing that this will be the last time
i get to hear your voice.
i thought the last “i love you”
would be the last i thought of you,
but fear haunts my insides
and hikes on all sides of my brain.
what would happen if i never heard from you again?
i say that’s what i want
and the full truth is that i want
you to be alive, well, and happy
and that i place so much importance on my presence
that i almost think you can’t
survive without me.

i’m so vain,
i actually thought your life was about me,
i’m so vain,
i actually thought that you’d die without me
without me…
out me….

out of the sorrow of my heart
comes the desire to run to you
out of the sorrow of my heart
comes the knowledge to stay away from you
but like a fool,
i draw close to you.

Victim vs. Victimizer

i used to be so afraid of you, man.
my biggest fear for so long
was running into you on a dark street,
alone and scared with no one to help me
and no options of what to do;
that i would be forced to be victim once more
to the fleeting whims
you love to succumb to.

but you looked so weak–
more like a house mouse than a dirty rat,
more afraid of me than i am of you.
as you stood staring at me, i smelled that
fear was seeping out of your pores
and your pheromones filled the air,
and just like how you treated me–
they stunk.
but they gave me strength to continue
to stand taller
and feel stronger
as you stared at the woman whose life you ruined
for a little while but whose smile
now lives on.

i have become superhuman.
i am stretching back to the size
i’m supposed to be in this world,
reclaiming my territory
that you so selfishly stole,
and now you have no control.
what you did
has no control.
the pain you caused
has no control.
growing my strength and power
is my ultimate goal
and i am closer to it now
more than ever.

arch nemesis,
i’ve fantasized for many days and nights
of the different ways i could end your life,
but now i laugh at you.
you thought you would ruin me,
tried to take the best of me,
but now if finally see
that God was just preparing me.
where i’m going
i gotta have my powers to know
that whatever blow comes my way,
i’m meant to feel the pain today
so that i can see tomorrow clearly.
tomorrow, i will look at the scars of tears and sorrow
and not repeat the mistakes of yesterday
but fly away without looking back.

thank you for helping me
sprout wings on my back.

And So the Truth Comes Out

i sometimes find myself moved by
the misery of others
and in these slivers of time,
i now wonder
if my emotion is birthed from true sympathy
for what they are experiencing
or the fear that their tragedy
will happen to me.

an honest answer is like a kiss
and as someone who likes to lock lips, i can’t resist.
if you ask whether my tears and sadness
sometimes come from selfishness,
the answer is

What Am I Afraid Of?

i’m so scared of pursuing my dreams.
i don’t know what it is that
i’m really afraid of.
it’s not failure
because i know what that feels like
and i have learned enough strength and felt enough strain
to stiffen my back and jaw
and start over again.
is it success?
not quite sure.
i rather enjoy the opening of new doors
and my brain craves the territories i could possibly explore.
i think what it boils down to is that
i am afraid of me.
i am not only unaware of my own potential,
but my own depths.
i usually only express the surface level of each facet,
afraid to drill in deep.
i am a frozen body of water–
when my ice is broken,
my disturbingly cold interior is endless
and i’m scared it’ll kill me.
not literally, but figuratively
to state it simply
i am afraid
of me.

If You Could See

she said she wished she could be me for a day
and i thought, “honey…
if you could see what was really in my heart,
it would break yours.”

i am not who they think i am.

things are not always what they seem
and though i’m not a thing, but a mere human being,
this cliche somehow applies to me.
i grip me so tight
that my fingers don’t feel right no more.
they are too numb to even fight for more.
the little bones have been cracked
from holding out my heart on my hands
and offering it to the finest bidder,
auctioning off my soul and body
so that my tiny self-concept could grow bigger.

after malnourishment and gluttony all intertwined,
i determined for me that i will no longer
give away my mind.
i used to be kind
but now i offer very little assistance to those in need
because i am afraid that consumed by greed,
they’ll grab at my possessions
with all their strength
and make me feel misused again.
so now i got me
in the pockets of my tight jeans.
i hug my own curves and trust my own touch.
foreign fingers and feelings at this time
are just too much.

so if you still feel inclined to take a journey through my mind,
enter the horrors and smiles left behind,
climb the caves of  laughter caught in my throat,
cover your ears when you hear my agony note.
and on your last day,
rip through my flesh and find
those bones in my pelvis that used to relax and unwind.
and as you depart,
watch your step
so that next time, you won’t regret
wishing to live in my skin
and hopefully i won’t either
and i’ll come back again.

He Would’ve Had Me

he drove off and waved at me
with a smile that would’ve broken my heart.
this dark-skinned young man
with an old familiar soul
attempted to enter my life
and i walked away,
talked my way out of explaining that
if i had met him five years ago,
he would’ve had me.
but instead i smiled,
summarized my busy lifestyle
and used it as an excuse:
“i’m trying to make moves” and
“time is money”
but part of me now questions if
that’s all the way true.

if mr. right stepped into my life,
would i push him the other direction?
not only for my fear of love and affection
from strangers, but the danger
that would ensue from being knocked off of my tracks,
that the fast-moving train of my life
would derail, leaving all of my accomplishments
in the rubble.
love burns
and i don’t want to have to dig
to find all that i worked so hard to fix.
i don’t want to find no survivors
and hear on my mind’s TV that the only casualty is me.
i can’t be casual anymore
so now i lock doors before knobs are turned,
divert conversation before my heart turns
into a traitor and tells on me.

so as mr. not right now waves at me,
i recall that five years ago,
a man like him would’ve had me.
but i’m happy with the current me–
i no longer live in regret about turned down love affairs;
the capacity for nonsense no longer lives here.
so mister, i’ll see you one day
even though i knew you in my last lifetime
i’m proud to say
that this portion of my journey is mine
and there’s no room for two on this space shuttle
to the comets and stars in which i belong.
i’ll play hopscotch in galaxies while you sit at home.
i’ll smile at you from the sky and bask in the light of full moons
and hope that one day, maybe soon,
the man of next lifetime will be floating on a planet
that will align with the path in which i am moving.
if i meet him five years from now,
he will have me…
without reservation, hesitation, or waves in
the opposite direction.

Coming of Age

my fingertips stink of formaldehyde.
i have dipped them in a jar of “ALMOSTS.”
the container holds
truth that was on the tip of my tongue that
couldn’t escape when i chose
to keep my mouth shut.
in it also soaks
chances that could have been taken
but were not fulfilled due to fear.
swimming in the jar are dreams that seem
so far out of reach
that i’ve learned to not speak them aloud
for fear that i will be broken
by my own impending failure.

my fingertips stink of formaldehyde
because i am too timid
to stick my whole hand in
and way too polite
to pour all of the contents out,
hold them in my hands and soon discover that
these fingers are long enough
to wrap around my fear,
that this grip is strong enough
to sustain me even if i fall
and that formaldehyde is only there
to preserve all that seems out of reach
so that my dreams of being free can be maintained
until i am ready.

the process stinks
but the reward will be so sweet.
the smell lingers on my fingers–
my twiddling thumbs that inform me
that one day, i’m gonna get some courage
to break that damn jar.
forget reaching or gripping–
my hands can destroy too.
they can tear down, rip apart, smash away
that stupid wall that demarcates my happiness,
red-lines my life.
they can forge the path
and be the first step in my claim
that this world is mine.
these fears are no longer my oppressor.

i can fight back.

Consequence of a Storm

my plans slipped from my hands and
plopped into a muddy puddle.
being a seeker, i feel compelled
to roll up my sleeves and fish them out
but being a germophobe,
the thought of getting my hands dirty
repulses me.
i can imagine the grime that would be stuck
under my fingernails for months,
seeping out each time i touched my face
or put my hands together to pray.
i could see ruining my favorite clothes
with stains that won’t go away with two wash cycles
and Lord knows i don’t have money for drycleaning.
so here i am staring at a nasty pile of water
that gets murkier by the minute
and i’m stuck.
it’s raining on my head,
my socks are wet,
and my dreams sink further
than i can see.

The Frailty

when did life get so fragile?

i’ve walked holding this package
forgetting its delicate contents
and shaking it up
whenever the mood hit me,
carrying it upside down
and placing it down
in areas i don’t even inspect
because part of me expects
that no matter what the climate or environment,
my life is a contractual agreement
not to be voided until i say so.

when did life get so fragile?

areas of my social web
crafted so beautifully and symmetrically
have holes.
people i have walked with, laughed with,
and with whom i have accomplished feats
fall through
and i’m sitting here looking at my feet
wondering when the thin material under me
will break
and why it hasn’t done so already
cuz when i look at my mistakes
i see that nothing separates
me from the fallen.

but until that moment when i’ve fallen,
i’ll keep crawling
around the shaky and slippery surface,
praying to God that i won’t be too nervous
or scared to enjoy the journey.
i turn around to look at fellow travelers,
those who started with me
only to discover that some have disappeared
while others dodge the gaps in the road,
breathing in fear
and hoping that with the next rising of the sun,
they’ll still be here.
we all stop to shed tears
for those who only exist now
in memories of smiles,
and ask the question

when did life get so fragile?

(RIP Jennifer)

Unwanted Guest

i thought this stress was
but it seems to be
busting into the seams of my skin
without permission.
i thought it packed a bag and traveled
far away
but today i question if it ever left.
this feels like death
or maybe just illness to the happiness
that i had so much missed
because i was depressed.
but i won’t allow this stress
to control me.
love is so much more
so much stronger,
so i’ll dwell in houses of affection
until my heart no longer hurts,
til my body no longer rejects
foreign objects to which i’m familiar,
til there comes a time when God
heals the wounds,
the frustration, the hurt,
wiping away my tears,
calming my fears,
and whispering in my ear
that stress no longer lives


i live vicariously through her
twisting smoothly
without the burdens I carry.
she carries
as she moves her limbs
in bare skin,
open soul,
light heart,
as the day she was born
matured to a point where she’s
soul months away
from being confidence years old
in a world where age has no
is her expression,
but what is mine?
what sequence of bodily actions
can i do to be free like you?
what motions will carry me
to a place
where I can be vulnerable,
brave, beautiful,
without the fear that now relentlessly pursues
each time i stand nude?
until I find that land,
i’ll just watch and pretend
that her dance
is coming from me
as I sit and live

New York

in a big city,
i feel so small
while wanting to take up space.
i see myself there
and get scared,
afraid of my own potential,
turned off by potential failures and setbacks
but still wanting to step back
to my dreams and go after them.
my day will come, i know
but i get tired of imagining
a day that can come sooner if only
i stop living in my head
and start being active in my life.
much talk, little progress
but i will turn over a new leaf
in this fall of my life
and hope for the season
when my plans will bloom like flowers
and successes will fall like April showers
and my heart will be content and alive
like springtime.
the summer of this stage is ending
while autumn is beginning,
a happy and bittersweet beginning.