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monique ezeh Dec 2020
There is a tree behind my neighbor’s house that I can see from my yard.
The leaves are amber from autumn into early winter.
When it’s windy, they fly off in a flurry, the tree’s narrow trunk bowing under Mother Nature’s weight.

Weaker trees around it fall. The tree in question does not.

I watch in awe, every year, as the leaves yellow and brown and eventually fall from the tree’s boughs.
It’s a pity, sure, but I am content that for a few months, I get to watch them grow and evolve.

Today, the leaves’ golden hue peeks at me through a kitchen window.

The branches are leaning over, war-torn by days of storms, reaching toward the earth.
The distance between the leaves and the ground is ever-shrinking, a point approaching zero but never quite reaching it.

In a few months, the tree will be barren. Its fallen leaves will decompose.

They will never meet the new generations of leaves that come each spring.
They will never bear witness to the metamorphosis of their former home, to the growth and change it will undergo in the years to come.
They will never see their stronghold eventually splinter and collapse under the weight of Mother Nature’s force and fury,
becoming one with the earth toward which it was so desperately reaching.

I wonder what it's like to be the one left behind by change.

I’ve always believed it a privilege to be allowed close enough to witness another’s development,
To be along for the journey as they shift from one version of themself to the next.
But this, I realize, is a privilege that I cannot even afford myself.

There are pieces of me that will never see the changes next fall will bring my neighbor’s tree.
There are pieces of my neighbor’s tree that will never see the changes next fall will bring me.
Parts of me will die before other parts are born; it is a fact that simultaneously troubles and comforts me.

Perhaps you, Reader, will never meet the newest versions of me.
But then again, neither will I.
monique ezeh Oct 2020
So this is what pain feels like:
A rotting in the center of your tooth.
You don’t want to touch it (that’s where the real pain starts),
So you leave it.
And a dull ache becomes a sharp one;
Decay on the inside becomes decay on the outside.

And then your tooth is black.

It hurts more than you’ve ever felt
When the dentist takes his drill to your tooth.
It somehow hurts even worse
When he tells you that he can’t salvage it.
        You can’t turn decay into strength, he says.
        You can’t bring death back to life, he says.

Now, there’s an empty space where a tooth once was.
You run your tongue over it, mindlessly, daily—
In a few weeks, the raw flesh becomes toughened, smooth—
It’s like nothing was ever there.
No tooth. No decay. No death.
But you still remember.

You still feel the ache.
monique ezeh Sep 2020
thinking about how cops are beating protestors senseless not even 20 minutes from where i live.
thinking about how they block off the streets and stand unmasked, batons in hand, other hand resting pointedly on their gun.
thinking about how it could be me next— another unspecified black face and black body and black existence snuffed out— a hashtag, a mural.
          (and those are the lucky ones.)
thinking about how a memorial is the best case scenario for a black life.
thinking about the bodies in the street.
thinking about blood splattering the ground, mixing with paint and obscuring the “black lives matter” lettering on the road.
thinking about the chalk art and loud music in a neighborhood soon-to-be-gentrified.
thinking about how we’ve grown used to the stench of rotting flesh outside our doors.
thinking about the taste of blood in my mouth from my nearly-severed tongue i didn’t realize i was biting.
thinking about the tension in my neck and jaw.
thinking about the way my eyes never seem to close.
thinking about the eyes that will never again open.
thinking thinking thinking.
thinking.
monique ezeh Jun 2020
my mother drinks black coffee every day.
i’ve always thought it was strange— why not add a splash of cream to make it a bit easier on the palate? maybe a dash of sugar, too— some sweetness to ease its way down.

my mother's skin is the color of caramel, of coffee diluted with cream and sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. despite this, she gave birth to three children the color of dark chocolate, of the black coffee she so adores.

unlike black coffee, we are not bitter, though the world expects that of us. we are not ugly, either, though they likely expect that, too. we are, perhaps, unpalatable, in the same way that black coffee is unpalatable to those lacking the right palate.

i always wondered why my mother insisted on tasting the bitterness, relishing in the onyx liquid sliding down her throat.
i always wondered why my skin didn’t resemble hers, smooth and unblemished and light and beautiful.
i always wondered why the dark-skinned girls in the magazines always had to have tiny noses and skin as blemishless as fine china.

i wonder, now, why i am so dependent on the splash of cream and dash of cinnamon in my coffee.
i wonder why i’m so wary of the bitterness, of the darkness.

i took my coffee black today. i savored it sliding down my throat, smooth as velvet and not nearly as bitter as i’d thought.
monique ezeh May 2020
are you tired yet? are you tired?

do you hear the screams? do you hear the wails? the pain?

are you tired yet? are you tired?

do you smell the mass graves (you always smell them before you see them)? do you smell the ash? the rotting flesh?

are you tired yet? are you tired?

do you feel the dirt under your fingernails (it’ll never be washed clean)? do you feel the skin rubbed raw? do you feel the muscles so tense that tendons give way? your eyes are still open— do you feel the burn yet?

are you tired yet? are you tired?

do you taste the blood? do you taste the iron? the red clay coating your tongue?

are you tired yet? are you tired?

do you see the blood? the broken glass? the smoke? the fire?

are you tired yet? are you tired?
can you see it yet? can you see anything?
are you tired?

tape your eyes open. you are not allowed to look away.
imagine what it feels like to be unable to close your eyes.
imagine what it feels like to have your eyes glued shut.
imagine being unable to ever choose.
monique ezeh May 2020
age 7:
i remember being 6 and desperate to be 7— my sister had a book to gift me for the occasion, and i was positively vibrating with the anticipation of it becoming mine. 7’s always been my lucky number. the date of my birth, the days in the week, the start of my phone number. and so, 7 came and went, and suddenly i was 8.

age 8:
i moved to georgia. it didn’t hurt nearly as much as i’d expected, as much as i’d hoped. I’d wanted to feel pain in the real way, to wail and sob like a DCOM protagonist, to shut myself in my room until my mother stood the doorway to talk me down. pain makes feelings matter; who am i, if i’ve never suffered? but instead, i was fine. i said goodbye to my friends, packed my bags, and left. i haven’t spoken to any of them since.

age 10:
i finally hit the double digits. i was in fourth grade. coincidentally, it was also the first time in my life that a crush had liked me back. i felt like a real woman. i remember straightening my hair and wearing my favorite pink outfit to school, a matching shirt and skirt, box of cupcakes for the class clutched in hand. they sang happy birthday and i somehow forgot what sadness was.

age 11:
the first time i cried on a birthday.

ages 13-15:
more tears.

age 16:
sweet sixteen! this was it! i planned a party, heart thumping in my chest wondering if anyone would come. i didn’t cry on my birthday, but i cried the morning of the party. i wonder if that still counts. when the blurred vision of my tears cleared, i saw the puzzle pieces of my life falling into place. i remember thinking: “i’m finally who i’m meant to be.” (spoiler: i was wrong)

age 18:
an adult. i cried (again), but who doesn’t? i celebrated with my family, counting down the days between then and graduation. 18. one of my favorite one direction songs; it dawned on me that i only had a year left to fall in love so i could play it at my wedding. 18. it dawned on me that my youth was slipping away. in a year, i’d be celebrating my birthday in a city miles and miles away, distanced from my family for the first time in my life. (spoiler: i was wrong about that, too) 18. it feels so scary, getting old.

age 19:
today. i haven’t cried yet. i wonder if i will. i wonder a lot, these days. this day is not how i imagined it; this year is not either. i think i am okay with that, though. expectations, in my life, have often led to disappointment. 19 19 19. i missed my window with the 1D song, but i think i’m okay with that, too. 19 19 19. i repeat the word until it loses all meaning. 19 19 19. i begin to wonder if it ever had any. 19 19 19. life is an incomprehensible amalgamation of numbers words moments symbols ideas. 19 19 19. none of them mean anything. 19 19 19. or perhaps all of them mean everything? 19 19 19. today, i am 19. it means nothing. it means everything.
19 19 19.
i close my eyes and make a wish.
happy birthday to me.
monique ezeh May 2020
The drip drip drip of the Nespresso machine keeps me company.
I watch the brown pool rise and rise, filling my cup.
I take a sip, flinch unconsciously. It is bitter and scalding.
The cool foam coats my top lip.
No one is awake. It is 4am. I shouldn’t be awake.
Still, I am.
I will be nineteen in nineteen days.

This is not how I imagined my nineteenth; though my birthdays never really go the way I expect.
This is not how I imagined this month, this year.
There are worse things than being homebound; there are also better things.
I am trying to reconcile the existence of the two.

I am lucky enough to be (almost) nineteen.
To be safe
To be healthy
To have a home
To have a stable family income

I am unlucky enough to be (almost) nineteen.
To be mentally ill
To be isolated
To feel useless
To have a family spread thin

The two can coexist. I am lucky (and unlucky) enough to see this.

In nineteen days, I will be nineteen. Few people will know unless I tell them. There are bigger things to consider in the world. There are smaller ones too. I lie somewhere amid it all. I am just a girl— a faceless, healthy girl— amid a world of strife. The sun will rise, I will turn nineteen, and it will set; I doubt I will feel any different. The world will keep turning, with or without me. I am lucky (and unlucky) enough to recognize this.
Quarantine has provided me a bit too much time for introspection, I think.

My coffee is finished. The brown drops on the cup’s bottom resemble a smile. I am lucky enough to notice this.
been thinking a lot about the nature of existing in such an uncertain time. the world keeps spinning, even when it feels like it shouldn't. I'm not quite sure yet how to feel about the constance of mundanity; I don't know if there's a particular way I should feel.
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