it’s hard to tell,
with the familiar way the sunshine hits your face as you walk outside,
that an invisible danger buzzes silently under surfaces previously thought benign,
and you shake your head every time you remember.

is it here, in the skin most familiar to you,
the breath of the one you think you love?
and even so, i wonder, can you turn away as they lean in to whisper,
to tell you a secret you already know you can’t keep?

is it here, in the handle of the front door to your childhood home,
the same door you slammed so many times both in anger and anticipation,
the one you still expect to see your mother standing behind?

you close your eyes now against the memory of your mother,
and also against the uncertainty,
the collective, slow dawning of awareness that a touch from the wrong hands,
a step too close in any direction,
might kill you, steal your breath, drown you from the inside out.

you turn away from the understanding that there’s no way to map out the forces that seek to harm you,
to rearrange them into structures that your mind can hold,
to say, oh okay i understand now, this is where i am safe.
the pathways are untraceable, the safe spaces unmappable,
you can only try your best and hope that it is good enough to save your own life.

you will learn to shrink, to move away, to keep yourself small, to draw a line around your body and say, this is only for me, for me and not for you,
to cover your mouth and stay silent and hold your words inside,
to shut out the voices talking at you on the radio and the grotesque mouths moving on your television, telling you that what you feel is your fault and no one else’s.

is it here that you will start a new pattern,
where you think and think and think about what it is you need to do and how you will do it?
and yet somehow no matter how much you think,
you will discover a surprising truth: there is nowhere you are safe,
nowhere to relax your shoulders and breathe deeply and remember what brings you joy.

instead of the landscape of safety and protection and surety you are used to,
the powerful ease with which you have always moved through the world,
there is a low hum of threat in the most ordinary of things, things you used to love when you were young,

but—
and this is better for you to know now anyway,
these are conditions that women and people of color have been living under their entire lives.

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