For the next few weeks, we are sharing writing that happened during AWA’s weeklong marathon of writing workshops, Write Around the World. This is one way we are celebrating the AWA-certified workshop leaders & writers who joined together to raise money in support of AWA. Thank you to those who shared their voices in each workshop and especially to those who have offered their words to be shared in this space. If you’re inspired by our work and would like to be part of the fundraiser, please donate!
Writing from Safe Space Stories facilitated by Paul Rozario-Falcone in Brooklyn, New York
He stood in front of the mirror, bleary-eyes, barely awake. He began the daily ritual: toothbrush readied, quickly into the shower, quickly out and now to shave. But as he glanced at his lathered face, water running, razor poised, something seemed different, shockingly so, yet he couldn’t figure out what. He looked more closely, taking inventory of his features. All seemed the same, except for his eyes. Yes, his eyes were a stranger’s eyes, looking at him with surprise, fear, trepidation.
“Whose eyes are those?”, he thought. They were not his, but as he looked deeply into them, they became familiar. They were his eyes, but from a different time of his life. From the time before loss and trauma, before much success and many failures, a time of innocence and thoughtlessness. Why was us old self peering at him from the mirror today? A self he had completely forgotten. A persona he had long ago erased and forgotten.
Perhaps last night he had dreamed of something that brought back those eyes, but now he couldn’t remember. Perhaps somehow, it was a chance for his present self to communicate with his younger self, to tell himself to buy Apple stock when it goes public, to buy property in Staten Island before they build the bridge.
But no, it seems to be the other way around. His younger self is curious about what he will become. His eyes seemed calmer now, more contented. the moment was passing and soon it was over, all was normal again, but a new awareness sharpened his sense and gave life a lot more meaning, which is all you really need of meaning — just a bit goes a long way.
Today seemed different from any other day. The weather changed — suddenly, taking everyone off-guard. The lucky ones, and those who listen to the weather report, were dressed appropriate to the temperature when they left their house and headed for the subway. The rest of the city seemed shocked to feel the cold as they walked down the stoop or across the street. “No time to change, I’ll just run to the subway, it’s always hot down there. When I get to work, it’s a short walk — so I’ll be okay.” It seemed like the biggest problem all would face today, but it ended up being just the first.
Being tough. Not so easy if you are a gentle soul. “Taking yourself by the scruff”, he read. He remembered seeing the puppies, one by one being taken from their mother, by the scruffs of their necks. Whimpering, brand new, she gnarling, gnashing, agony of betrayal. This was the way in the town. To raise tough dogs, guard dogs that kept compounds safe at night, you have to treat them rough from the time they were born. He saw firsthand, how they put each one in the hole in the ground next to the potato patch. A sheet of corrugated iron covered the hole, encasing the puppies once more in a womb-like darkness. But where there was once warmth and nourishment, now only hunger and cold. He would go close to the corrugated sheet, in anxiety, thinking this was not the way, not the way to raise tough dogs. They would explain that it was; the ones that survived would be tough. How could you survive in a hole without food and water, he thought? Oh, don’t worry, they reassured him, every few days we throw food into the hole. He never enquired after it again. But he would draw close to the hole, not too close, to listen to the whimpering, the howling sometimes. Whichever puppy was still alive at the end of the month would sense his approach and would yelp, bark; he was relieved he still heard signs of life. He wondered which of the litter lived through this ordeal, and what kind of guard it would become. Tough or not? Whatever innocence and joy this dog may have had, he was sure it was lost for good.
The literary prompt used to inspire the writings above was the poem entitled ‘If You Must Know’ by Singaporean poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng.
IF YOU MUST KNOW
Making a poem is
taking charge of yourself,
your fears, incapacities, tears:
being tough, taking yourself
by the scruff and saying:
__say it, you fool,
__for how else are you going to know
__what a fool you are —
which is, as anyone knows,
the beginning of wisdom.
From Against The Next Wave (1988)
by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng