Self Portrait as Exile

This time my body will be the map. Each limb burning with the cities that left me breathless and

took the lights in my eyes and made them exit signs from or to the darkness

depending on which way you are going,

and I will follow. Though blind, I long for the smell of lavender tea and poppy seed

breeze. I promise the grassy hill where I laid down in a white dress and wished

for kites and pies fresh from the oven is right here. Tomorrow, my brother will come

and he will know that he is part of this circle, each curl a song that redeems itself

Because its ok to look different or to finally look the same.

This time I will use the last piece of driftwood to go to the borders you say are not for me.

These feet are used to walking on grass that pierces the heel and slows you down enough to heal from screeching fast cars with men who may want to take everything you have.

And I will find an open city that has dancing hands and teenagers with laughter waiting in their throats.

Where glass bottles hold the fear of death before we can reach for our mother’s hand.

Not the one who gave you lungs but the one who gave you heart.

Hurry up now, I am ready for you. I have washed my face free from the dust of the five houses I have lived in this year alone. I am breathing in so that my bones will rise to a poem that whispers to come back.

To rise like the fawns do prancing above every unperceived failure.

Rise to a space where the floor creaks my name and the warmth of the summer returns in my eyes.

Katelyn Durst is a community artist, creative activist, teacher, and youth worker. She has worked within urban youth development and urban community development for ten years and has taught poetry for six years, recently conducting poetry therapy workshops at a youth psychiatric hospital, and for Freedom Schools summer programming in a workshop focused on healing from the unjust deaths of youth of color. Katelyn is currently pursuing a master’s in Urban Studies and Community Arts from Eastern University with a focus on trauma-informed art-making to build sustainable and transformative resiliency within urban/inner-city and displaced communities. In her spare time, she dreams of becoming an urban beekeeper. She is poet-in-residence at The Mudroom, where this poem first appeared.

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