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we spend the months staring out windows and looking at screens
people are dying in breathless silence, alone
black men are dying in the streets
I have always tried my best to be good to be the person who walked for those who couldn't
I've seen so much of the world but my world is small
and to give myself credit for showing up is like throwing a pebble onto a mountain
then walking away.
and when I walk the streets under the noon sun I have no fear
when the lights dim I may run and seek safety but I have safety waiting somewhere for me
I have the white aura, that card swipe that gets me home
and I have never known a fear of men like I have seen this year.
While I sit at home and pray for health for myself and for my family another three blocks down prays for the health and for the very life of her family
It has never been so hard to hang my head in shame and I have never been so tired of being confronted with a reality not my own
I try to fight for what I believe is right, knowing that I am what is wrong
learning that my fear of men in the dark, of mean looking down, and of society kicking me once again and again for being a strong girl is a legitimate fear.
but I do not fear life itself.
I have never been called to anything greater than good grades and friendship but this year I have been thrown in the water
water that tells me to stay safe, to not get sick and not to overwhelm the hospitals and that there is no ventilator for me.
the water runs cold with anxiety, fear, depression, and fatigue but it runs hot with riots and calls to justice and people exhausted from seeking safety. always.
in the many sleepless nights my eyes wander to the skies where the winds whisper, 'are you doing enough?' the earth coughs and the stars are six feet or six thousand miles away, and ocean away.
I am still figuring out what all this means, what I will inherit, what I will find to ****** my helping hand into.
we are all so tired but we are all so brave and we who have held our heads up and fought this year should be proud. What began with fireworks and glittering champagne glasses descended into coughing and disease, into peaceful protests bombed with teargas and rubber bullets, into fire tearing through forests and families torn apart, into insurrection and bleak holidays in front of screens.
we have learned so much and tried our best even when sometimes our best was not enough.
when we saw others drop the weight from their shoulders, we picked it up and carried it for them.
through the tears and the struggles and the senseless yelling projected into our ears, we lifted ourselves off the ground every day to face the new fight, though fresh bruises and cuts stung us.
our fight is not over yet, but we stand now at the mountaintop looking down
down at what lies ahead of us should we choose to continue
and walk on through the pain
and be brave
for those who never made it
Madeline Kennell Jan 2020
first boy: you were soft like grass and a sweet-smelling breeze on a warm autumn day. we looked up at the stars and i knew that would be the story book page i had always wanted.
second boy: on stage. hundreds of people staring at us. but somehow things fit together just right and i never minded the theatre's vast stage or the newspaper or the barking again again again because it was fun. every time.
third boy: *******.
forth boy: oh, lover. the story of an ivy-covered wall whose leaves shriveled, who crumbled long before it was declared dead. what started so tender and became such a fight. never before had a boy's kisses come after tears and screams. from sweet evenings in the summer dusk on the river to late nights driving with your words ringing in my ears. many firsts happened here and i will never forget. but i hope someday you find the peace you need.
fifth boy: i learned here that what is on paper is not always the perfect song, that sometimes you must take a look beyond the surface to see that what you thought you wanted is different once you've changed. there is no coming back to childhood crushes or flirtatious smoke lingering in the air. learn to let go.
sixth boy: we were a whirlwind. for a few hours at least. i liked how you held me but only for that one night. thank you and goodbye. (also, if you're going to tell the world the story, make sure to tell them that i am a wonderful kisser)
seventh boy: new years. sparkles and shimmers and the gatsby effect of feeling like the woman disappearing around corners. this was never meant to last and that's okay. you made me feel wanted and for that i thank you.
eighth boy: we both learned. life never stops teaching you things, even once you're grown. i have always known what i wanted. perhaps once you figure out what you want, things will be less lonely.
ninth boy: as ashamed as i am to admit it, you may have cracked my heart. you were so perfect, and our kisses were so perfect. but if you decided that leaving that way was the best way, perhaps you aren't so perfect. i will still always see you as a great what if, but someday i will move on from your smile.
tenth boy: you were a bad kisser. i should have stayed home from the club that night.
eleventh boy: so sweet and so strong as we twirled and danced. you were soft and when i think of sweet romance I will think of you.
Madeline Kennell Jan 2020
new year's eve.
I was in college and hopped in a car, rushed through the dark night to a party – a Memphis house spilling confetti from every crevice
champagne and ***** clinking in every corner and millennials draped over every velvet or mahogany surface
velvet and sheer sparkles in an ocean of amicable inebriation
sitting straight up against a wall
i asked the boy with the dark hair if he was a feminist
he lifted a glass and ran his fingers through the forest of his head and said 'i don't know what that means'
took a sip
i took a sip too, rolling my sparkling lashes up to the ceiling and back in front of me
where a fat man in a golden suit leaned closer to me, his gaudy chains clinking together
he looked over his dark glasses into my shining eyes
'are you saying that women don't have the same rights as men already?'
the people in the room froze where they were
like the planets, rotating and revolving, ceased to move an inch all in a moment
you could hear the sparkles and tinkling of jewels swinging from inertia
my chest only rose and fell while i gripped my flute closer
'i'm not sure if you've heard, but women get paid less than men in federal jobs.'
the crocodile in front of me let out a laugh that shook the room and every crystal in it
'you really think that women don't have equality? what world do you live in?'
too small I felt in that moment, shrinking under the weight of my downcast lashes
until I gaze at my feet on the floor
firmly planted, peeking from the hem of my skirt
next to his flopping scaly shoes
and my lashes raise to the ceiling, blue eyes shining light forth like the crown of a saint
I rise above his head as the room gradually cranes their whole bodies forward to hear my words
'it's people like you who make it worse. women are contained and stifled and oppressed into submission by men like you who are too worried about their capacity to keep power through honest means to give everyone what they deserve"
the room closes in around the crocodile, shrinking beneath the shine of truth
"and you will find that someday you will be knocked off your horse by a little girl who has more power

Madeline Kennell Jan 2020
sometimes the struggle is a sigh. three fingers pressed to your temple in a moment of breaking the wall of optimism
sometimes the struggle is a scream. you back away, step by step, slowly to the edge of a cliff, and throw your shoulders around to hurl your yell out into the great unknown
sometimes the struggle is a tear. when you finally close the door, sink down onto the ground, and feel your lashes give way to a series of cascades... it is so difficult to get back up
sometimes the struggle is a gentle roll of the eyes. you shake your head with a grin, lift the eyes up to the bluest sky and carry on with threshold exasperation
sometimes the struggle is more and sometimes it is less. sometimes we can choose to hold ourselves up through it and sometimes we need help simply to stand. sometimes we let ourselves sink to the bottom of the ocean before we rally and push off of the sand. sometimes we need three seconds of anger before we don the reset hat and carry on as if nothing were wrong.
whatever your struggle, we have to keep going... beat on like boats against the current... and we might as well keep going with rays of sunshine bursting from our hearts. we must choose the sun instead of the waves.
  Dec 2019 Madeline Kennell
T. S. Eliot
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
        A persona che mai tornasse al mondo
        Questa fiamma staria senza più scosse.
        Ma perciocchè giammai di questo fondo
        Non tornò vivo alcun, s’i'odo il vero,
        Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to ****** and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the ****-ends of my days and ways?
  And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?

     . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

     . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
     upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.’

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail
     along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  ‘That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.’

     . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Madeline Kennell Dec 2019
pliable paint on the old and cracked window frames of my house
what once must have been smooth and lisse
now aged and browned
the glass sending icicles onto the tip of my nose
breathing and fighting with warmth
while black cotton washes my vision
on the antique chair
on my porcelain skin, sinking into the silent softness
applied to the irises of my eyes to hide the icy blue from shining thru
as the clock ticks and my nail taps the rough surface
but after all this
salt stains on the face of your daughter and granddaughters will not keep the hurt from your bones
while you soar twirling in the clouds like a silken skirt
the sparkles of sadness mustn't twinkle in the corners of my eyes
why feel this sting when you are finally flying?
and when this all will come to pass
when I sit on the chair and pick at the paint on my window
i will remember that every candle is meant to be lit
to give light out and slowly burn for the rest of its life until the end
a candle which is never lit has never lived
and all lit candles must taper
but forever I will remember when your fire burned brightly
and will not grieve how your life gave out light until the very end.
with this. the room feels warmer.
the fireplace crackles.
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