Poetry by Farah Lawal Harris

Posts tagged “voice


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


on my birthday,

i got a long voicemail from a friend.

midnight approached as i lay in my bed listening.

in the message, one thing she said was:

“I’m happy you’re alive…”

to my surprise came unexpected tears.

maybe it was how her voice cracked when she said it,

showing her sincerity

or just that

when someone who knows exactly how


you’ve been to death

acknowledges just how


you’ve come

simply by still being here,

life seems even more


Never-Ending Poem

if i could spit a never-ending poem,
i would speak of black womanhood–
of a little girl whose dark-skinned father
looked at his dark-skinned seed and told her
that there’s a secret to erasing their skin:
“Here, wear this cream and the blackness will go away.
Boys will like you more and jobs will open doors
and people will let you in with smiles.”
i would speak of that little girl-child,
how she listened to her father
and observed her light-skinned, beautiful mother
and rubbed whiteness on her skin,
how lightness did not come,
but instead painful bumps and itchy rash
and tears in the mirror and her dad who said,
“Maybe that one was too strong. I will get you a gentler one.”
the girl who shook her head “No”
and accepted her darker fate…
kind of.

i would speak of that girl
who grew up with big titty-denial,
of the time her best friend pulled her to the side,
looked her in the eye
and told her “Your bra is too small.”
the girl who prayed and prayed for pubic hairs to grow,
who searched her mom’s medicinal herb books
for a recipe to start menses.
“Maybe if I drink a tea or take a vitamin,
blood will come and I’ll be a woman.”
blood came in its time
and so did boys
who ignored her face and got lost in her breasts.
as years went on,
they got lost in her booty, her hips.
more years went on
and they got lost in her smile, her eyes, her skin.
more years went on
and they got lost in her hair.
more years went on and they got lost in her “no”
that was too quiet.

i would speak of her insecurities
that helped men mold her like clay
into a woman who appeared strong with a mean face,
but crumbled like wet sand castles upon touch;
a woman who craved touch so much
that it hurt her
so she exchanged touch for God,
then back for touch,
then back for God,
then back for touch,
then traded it back for God,
and then back for touch,
and then back for more touch,
and then back for touch,
and then who was God?
there was only touch.
and then touch got too much
and then what was God?
and then touch fucked her up
and then where was God?
i mean “Who is God?”
i mean “What is God?”
i mean…”There is God!”
“Here is God!”
“Wait…where is God?”
i would speak of her questions
that rolled on and on,
her definitions that changed,
and how she got different,
but stayed the same.

if i could spit a never-ending poem,
i would speak of black womanhood,
of my own stories,
those of my sisters
and all the things we’ve seen,
felt, loved, cried over, laughed about,
screamed about,
of moments where death wasn’t near enough,
and then those times where love filled us up
but i’m afraid
time just isn’t enough,
our stories are too much,
my voice would dry up.

Despite Poetry

if i could drown in your sweat,
asphyxiation wouldn’t be bad,
appealing even.
i would swim in the bliss
that you’ve graciously given me,
salty water from brown skin
that despite poetry,
i cannot describe vividly enough–
strong like boulders, yet soft
as my hardened shoulders become
when you make me laugh.
tension releases as i breaststroke
through sweat flowing from your throat–
your affirming voice,
calmly speaking depths of my life’s meaning:

so THAT is why i had to cry,
experience heartache and shame,
renounce God’s name
and learn how to say it again,
this time honestly
so that when i saw Him in you,
i would recognize glory and majesty.

i am a queen in training,
but i bow to you,
create love to you,
create love for you
and me to share greedily,
that despite poetry,
i cannot describe vividly enough.

Medicinal Value

as much as i try to ignore it,
i am a writer at heart.
words are my medicine.
on any given day,
i can refuse to swallow the pill,
choose the little one,
or even the monster horse one
that hurts my throat
but makes me feel better.

words, like pills,
leave funny tastes in my mouth
right at the back of my tongue,
an area resistant to my efforts to rinse away
and mask the remaining flavor of bitter.

a quiet girl like me
finds solace in words
because they speak
what she can never say
on pages that give life
and voice.

Discovery Haiku

my tongue has been bit

for so long that when i speak,

my own voice scares me.

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.


you strain your voice, calling God incessantly.
if you spoke quietly, you would hear that he’s already
talking to you.
he operates rhythmically like your heartbeat,
coursing and consistent as the blood being pumped
throughout your whole system.
like oxygen in your lungs,
he is airy and light and moving,
waiting for the point when we are attentive
instead of missing him,
dismissing him
by choosing talking over listening,
picking ignorance, which is life threatening
and our own words,
which are deafening.

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.

I Used to Pray

i swear i used to pray daily
but then one evening before i went to sleep,
i stood up and saw that the skin on my knees
was crackly like sandpaper.
so i stopped stooping down so far to the ground
and prayed laying down
but i would be traveling to far away towns of REM sleep
before i would even complete thoughts
or say “Amen”
and then
i’d be awake and what i wanted to ask for would not be.
it’s been so long that i’m scared God won’t wanna hear from me
like he’ll find my voice ugly
or unrecognizable and tell me i dialed the wrong number
that i should try again and next time call my selfishness
and if she hangs up,
reach out to my cynicism
and get on three-way with my doubt
and click over and talk to vulgarity
because she is always on the other line.
i stay up for hours every night talking on the phone
to the identities of mine that have made a home
in my psyche.
i’ve sent eviction notices but they won’t leave,
tormenting my every steps
and i never know what will come next
and all the fighting leaves me perplexed
and unable to bend down to my knees again
for wanting to avoid the experience
of hurting myself by hoping
for the uncertain.

White Noise

on a sunny spring afternoon
during my freshman year of college,
i found my voice.
not the voice of assertion or anger,
but the true revolutionary in me.
it was as if
someone dropped a piece of burning coal
inside my arteries
which steamed my soul,
sizzled in my mind
and simmered on the tip of my tongue.
the flame was sparked
by racism.
and i spoke!
little old me who was used to letting things slide
opened up her mouth with eloquence
and spoke with pride as i openly identified
the ignorant sin committed against me and others.

i was so excited that i told my lover,
sharing every detail about the incident.
i reenacted my response and waited for him
to affirm what i had expressed
but instead, he said
“Baby, the world ain’t that serious. Who cares about all that?”

my strong black coffee self
turned into decaf,
i was diet store-brand cola with melted ice,
a deflated balloon.
he turned and kissed me
and said, “Forget about all this silliness and focus on now.”
and when he pulled my pants down,
my whole psyche dwindled to the ground.
my victory now felt like personal defeat
and i realized that i had made a fool of me
by attempting to connect with one
whose consciousness flowed
on a different frequency.
our love was static and instead of changing the station,
i got used to the white noise,
kept quiet each time i was ignored,
beat down the fighter i wanted to be
all for the sake of him loving me.

thank God i’m free.

The Run-In

I had all sort of
images in my mind
of what I would do
if I ever ran into you,
but when the night finally came,
I didn’t know what to do.
I was scared to look back,
fearing that you would be
watching me walking forward
and pull me back
just when I thought I was moving forward.
I have dreamt
of cussing you out
and telling you about yourself,
of killing you
despite my fear of going to jail,
but when I saw you
I wondered what the hell
about you made me shrink within myself.
I wish I could go back
and use my voice this time around,
but by the time I worked past my fear and turned around,
you had disappeared into thick city air
and now I wonder
if in fact it was you that was really there.
If it was,
then I’m glad our reunion has come to an end,
but if it wasn’t,
I’ll live in the anxiety of seeing you again.
I hate you and wish your life would end
so my time of scared life will stop so I can
breathe again.

I am Running

as much as i run from it, i can’t escape it,
this sacred obligation assigned to me
by the deity i choose to follow.
sometimes i don’t want to follow,
thinking that i can be exempt because
to put things simply,
my life is hollow.
a path that used to be full of hopes and dreams
is cut off and dammed up by confusion and screams.
hate has caused my levees to break but
my flood of tears is tired of trying to release itself by crying
so instead i shake
and run.

this obligation used to be fun,
used to be my number one choice
but how can i share stories if i have no voice?
my course has been interrupted because my throat is hoarse
and don’t you dare tell me to just drink water,
don’t hand me your suggestions
because you can’t answer the questions in my mind,
you can’t pull away and hide the remote from God and press rewind
to revert back to my past.
my dreams were so vast and wide and now
they are locked in the prison of my insides,
banging on my chest,
burning behind my eyes,
building bars to barricade my heart,
bringing lumps in my throat and those
inmates keep me up at night.
they want to escape,
they want to be free
but they can’t since i’m still trying to pick up the pieces of me,
pick up the pieces that he
may have scattered inadvertently,
still trying to hide the signs of stress and the fact that i’m depressed
from showing.

i am running,
dodging, sprinting from my calling,
trying to rise up, yet still i keep falling
and somehow through all this i still hear God calling
but i’ve reached a point in this race where i just want to push “Reject,”
turn off myself and send all calls to voice mail cuz this female
is busy moving her feet on a track that never ends
and it’s hard to carry genuine ties when i live having to pretend
so my God and my dreams sit on the sidelines
until the day when i cross that finish line
and by that clocked time,
i pray that i’m not too late to reclaim the mission of mine
that i painfully left behind
because i searched and tried and the only solution i could find
was to keep

Not Here

i’m not here.
please leave a message.
i floated away when
no one was looking,
disappeared because
no one was looking.
your call may not be
returned in a timely
manner because i’ll need
to find myself before I can
muster up the voice
to answer anyone.
i’m not here,
please leave a message.
hopefully it’ll be
a nice one since
i have heard enough
unkind words,
seen enough
uncompassionate gestures
to never want to pick up
the phone again.
i’m not here,
please leave.
a message
saying I’m not here
is right before you.
what will you do?
continue to call or
hang up the phone and
figure out that I am
right in front of your face
asking you to leave a message
because i am
not here.

I Command You

i command you at this exact moment to
don’t think about it–
just do it…
let the floodgates open
and allow the tears to rush through your eyes
and onto your face
and into the wails of your voice.
don’t think of what to lament for–
just cry until your mind explores
all of the reasons you should shed

cry for every person who should still be here.
cry because you have full use of your eyes,
cry for every time communication wasn’t clear,
cry for every store that didn’t have your size.
for every child born without a mother or father,
cry for every homeless person you’ve walked past with dollars
in your pocket, and the fact that you didn’t bother
to help.
cry for yourself.
cry for the pursuit of love,
cry for a connection to God above,
cry as if the only way to make it to heaven
was to pour out a blessing
of your own tears.
cry because you are still here.
cry until reality is clear and all that is false

cry for every word you should have said but didn’t.
cry for every hug you should have given,
for every “i love you” that you’ve hidden
in your heart.
cry as if this is the start
of your life and you have just entered this world
naked as the day you were born
and you have just been torn
from the safety of an umbilical cord.
cry as if this is the day you are dying
and you still haven’t figured out what you lived for.


release all that you have pent up
that has kept you stuck.
it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it since your were 5,
today i order you to cry.
cry like your dog just died.
cry like your best friend lied
to your face.
cry as if a plane crashed.
cry as if the love of your life just said goodbye
too fast.
cry as if this is the last
possible time in this universe
for you to explode with an expression of your hurt.

and after you’ve poured out so much that
the water doesn’t come any more,
wipe your eyes and your snot,
inhale and exhale and realize
that it’s not the end of the world
just because you took a few moments
to acknowledge what is inside.
that you can’t walk around
with all that frustration in your mind
and not expect it to influence your life.
and after you feel the relaxation from the sensation
of purging all that will be, is, and is gone
and only after you have done
all that you can to fully embrace this moment,

i command you
to move on.

She Didn’t Want to Be the Cause

she said
she didn’t want to be the cause of
another black man goin to jail.
she said
“my men have come from such a tough journey.
their rights
have been taken from them
and they have been stripped
of their masculinity.”
she said
“he is a victim.
i don’t want to be another factor.”

now i can understand
where this woman is comin from cuz by all means,
black men have not had it easy
as i stared in the mirror
at her scratching her stress-caused hives,
observed her fidgety movements, how she
even though it was warm outside
and saw tears welling up in her eyes
that she refused to cry,
i begged her,
implored her
to think of herself,
to consider her mental health
and the effects
of not speaking up.
i asked her
if she wanted to continue to cry in fits
and pray for the end of her own existence,
if she wanted to live in fear of re-experiencing this brutal sin
or be so afraid of men
that even gentle touch made her cringe
and she was silent.

she couldn’t think straight.
she couldn’t breathe
but she mustered up enough courage to see
that even though she didn’t want to be the cause
of another black man goin to jail,
she could no longer stand
the heatstrokes and dehydration from living in hell.
she felt bad
because he is a victim
but she had to admit that she was a victim
and that if she didn’t speak out,
the victim she tried to love
could potentially create a mass of new victims
who like her
were terrified to tell
because they didn’t want to be the cause
of another black man goin to jail.

The Unheard “No”

*Written July 5, 2008*

she cried “No!” but her voice was not loud enough.
it was quieted by her past,
her first boyfriends who taught her how to kiss
and sneak into quiet staircases to explore her newfound womanhood.
her voice was clogged up by times she spoke and was told to shut up,
to quiet down because her opinion didn’t matter.
she was stifled by yesterday, drowned out by
the noise of moans of pleasure that came from relationships of pain.
she had learned to get used to her yells being whispers,
only to be heard by her and her alone.
she tried to turn her voice into subliminal messages,
tried to use facial expressions to convey what she really meant,
hoped that her body language would translate into
the denial, affirmation, confirmation or discomfort that she faced in daily life.
she thought that maybe she could get through life without speaking,
just holding onto the images of what she wanted,
afraid to verbalize them for fear that they would be
crushed, stomped upon, or thrown out in the garbage.
quiet was kind of okay after a while–
it made her seem mysterious, like a special box that needed to be opened.
but on that night when she said “No” because her box,
which was meant to be a precious gift, was being ripped apart,
she was not heard.
she tried to push past the raspiness in her throat
from unspoken thoughts and opinions
but nothing came out.
as she felt her canal widened with foreign flesh,
she wished that she had taken those opportunities in her past
to use her voice.
as sweat rolled down her forehead and stung her eyes
and trickled down the curves of her spine,
she wished that she had a glass of truth
to quench her dry throat so controlled by lies
and glossed over, acceptable responses.
she wished she could go back and take back each and every instance where
she shrugged her shoulders
or said “Yes” or
“That’s OK” or
“It’s not that serious” or
“I’ll be alright” or
“I forgive you”
but the hour had passed her, escaped her life.
so here she was flying out of her own body,
searching the universe for the “No” that she never spoke that was just
seconds, moments, minutes, hours, days, grades, hesitations away,
hoping that the next time she used the word,
unlike this time,
it wouldn’t be too late.

Job Interview

*Written July 2, 2008*

forced to hide a part of my identity as if i had a deadly disease,
i smile, divert subjects that would lead to a litany of lists
of how that passion really is my life.
but let me quiet that and explain just how much i am excited to be here,
how suited i am for this job,
pretend as if a crucial part of my life doesn’t matter
cuz no one really wants to hire an actor.
the stigma of instability and lack of dedication is attached to this profession,
so inevitably i will hear the question:
“If you’re presented with an acting opportunity that would
conflict with this job, which would you choose?”
now if presented with the opportunity to get paid for my art,
see the world, and change lives
or sit in a dusty cubicle staring at a computer screen all day,
and counting down the hours til i get off at five
it’s obvious which way i would sway
but the fact of the matter is that today
i need this job.
i need to pay these bills,
i need my independence,
i need to move out of my parents’ place one day
so if i have to slave for the man for a while and sit and smile
while that voice in my head tellin me i’m an actor is mumbling,
i remind it that you need money to keep your stomach from rumbling
cuz money makes the world go round
and until that day when money is no longer a factor,
i’ll sit and fake and gloss over the fact that i really am an

Confused Mind

*Written July 1, 2008*

i promised myself that i would write everyday
but i see that positive habits are hard to make
and negative habits are hard to break.
somehow living with addiction is the only way some can be consistent.
i bet if i was a porn addict, i wouldn’t skip a beat–
i would tune in to the action,
rub myself for satisfaction as if my life depended on it.
if i was a crack addict i would be on the corner like clockwork,
searching for my dealer for the prescription to heal
the screams underneath my skin that influence my brain
to make my feet walk to where i need to get a fix before i go insane.
but somehow a positive habit doesn’t become an addiction.
it turns into a hobby at the least,
or that thing that you say you’re supposed to do but never get to.
like prayer;
talking to God becomes an afterthought
and somehow important questions like where you’re gonna go when you die
become items on the to-do list with a priority of 5
when number 1 is get money, call this person, pay this bill, send this email.
now don’t think i’m in any way being accusatory
because i am simply using this poem to tell my own story,
a confession of my confused mind that would prefer to stay stagnant.
i don’t want to face the serious questions, the doubt in my heart
because somehow i feel like knowledge would tear my world apart.
ignorance is bliss, ignorance is this
freaking existence.
wisdom is in the distance and i wave at it like a kite flying in the sky.
ain’t it pretty? too bad i don’t possess it.
oh well…maybe tomorrow.
i’ll tap that into my palm pilot and even program a reminder
so that i can remember to find the
answers to the questions that plague me
like God, are all people who don’t accept your Son going to hell,
even the good ones?
cuz in my mind it don’t make sense to think that
Anne Frank, Ghandi, members of my family, Rumi, Kuti, and countless others
who possessed enough power to change the world You created
are burning in hell, and if they are, then well…
is it that bad a place?
God forgive my blasphemy, i’m just a little g and next to you i’m so small.
next to you i have no knowledge at all.
next to you i feel safe, but at the same time lost in this place.
forgive me for my sins and even voicing what lives inside
but this is only an attempt to invite you to permanently reside
in this confused Christian’s mind.

Who Speaks for These Women?

*Written June 20, 2008*

who speaks for these women?
who speaks the voice that contains the words
that contain the hurts
that contain the actions
that contain the lack of
who releases the tension that has been building
past the point of concealing
the scars from the pieces of broken glass from the ceiling?
where’s the peace for these women?
who speaks for these women?
these women
those women
not hoes, but women
some were once girls but forced to grow,
forced to settle for the leftovers of their lives and move on
cuz it’s not easy to be a child anymore
it’s not easy to laugh anymore
it’s not easy to live anymore
when your life has become fragments…
drop a glass on the ground and you’ll see that
no matter how long you sweep
you still risk cutting your bare feet
cuz shattered shards still remain
and some pain can’t be covered by socks so it
cuts the brain, cuts the joy that was
and may possibly never come back
so these women, solemn women are reminded to smile
and think back to when they used to do that,
so these women, scared women
learn the world is dangerous and they have to watch their back
so these women, stoic women
stop dreaming, stop speaking,
stop expressing, stop addressing,
and once uniqueness dies, so does the voice
so again i ask,
who speaks for these women?

My Mental Plane

*Written June 18, 2008*

i feel like i’m meant to be a voice in the world.
a force like Oprah,
like an effing tornado, u know.
like a halo over the evil world.
like a bright light in the midst of a blackout.
like “Lights out, niggas,”
but time is transforming,
lives are reforming, souls are rejoining,
art is dominant,
present in the lives of many.

pearls from pain, blood in veins,
refrain after verses of hurt.
the stopping of thinking and beginning of living,
bringing truth to the masses,
making families for bastards,
becoming a global pastor
reaching the congregation of the unreachable in the past,
reaching my hand thru the glass of prison visitor rooms,
taking over the lies told in classrooms,
i see it.
and it’s not for the spotlight
but so i could sleep at night,
so i can turn what was wrong before in my life to right.

i wanna effect change,
enter brains and leave feelings of un-same.
enter the lives of many, show them a way,
show them hope, show them love,
show them them–the beauty that they already have.
i want to mirror the beauty of the world.
these dreams seem outlandish but they exist in me
meaning that they are me-landish
not he-landish or she-landish
cuz i am the sole passenger on this mental plane.

i was once afraid to dream.
thinking that the thinking of it would
make it disappear, no longer be real.
i was afraid to fly, only taking trains on land
and limiting my visions.
why is it that we hold the keys to our own prisons?
that we are voluntary convicts to our hopes,
voluntary ropes to tie nooses around our own throats?
why do we sabotage ourselves?
run espionage on ourselves
allowing doubt and warnings from others to dictate how we live?

oh i feel like a speecher or a preacher
but i’m merely speaking what’s on my mind.
oh my mind is like a marathon, like a 5k
cuz it stays runnin like Jackie Joyner or
Marion before the steroid confession,
it’s on top of it’s game.
taking care of its frame,
observing all that goes on around me like security cameras
my mind is surveillance.
my body is surveillance.
my life is surveillance cameras on display
so that customers could see,
stay away from me
or be influenced,
be taught, be brought to reality.
be exposed to truth.
come by and never leave the same
once you join me
on my mental plane.