“survivors”

“survivors,” she said

and you can see it

in the fear that never leaves his eyes

like at any moment, the arm might swing back

to knock him flat again

and if it did

i know that he would laugh

not with joy, but nervous

covering up the red bleeding thing he holds to his chest

trying not to be what he is

which is five years old

with a gap-toothed smile

and a flash of pink gums

and the wildness that never fully fades

when you hold him

even then, his body is fighting

because every day

that he is home, fed, clothed, loved

his tiny brain says he is

fighting

for his life

“survivors,” all of them are

with her hard eyes

and the tough body that falls and

jumps and

kicks

as if there is no brick wall her head cannot smash through

she doesn’t flinch in the face of pain

her eyes are steady, cold, lifeless

as she looks at it

without fear or caution

and she, like the boy, will laugh

joylessly and without his edge of fear

her laugh is like the roar of a lion

meant to instilll fear in anything

that would dare

get in her way

“survivors,” they have had to be

with small sharp teeth

and narrow beady eyes

with the look of deception so deep

you wonder if they’ve forgotten how to tell the truth

or to look into eyes of love

honestly, without shrinking from it

with small greedy hands

and clever slender fingers

a laugh that can be piercing

like joy is a candy sweet

she is surprised, delighted with the taste of it

or hollow as a dead church bell

false and uncanny

she is a conman in a tiny body

catching everything, everything

but never caught

always caught off-guard

by warmth

by arms that hold her gently

by people that don’t leave

and she said “they are all survivors”

and it’s true

even the ones who don’t have the look

the laugh

the head like a wrecking ball

the hands of a thief

even the ones that cry at sad movies

that hold your hands

without squeezing too hard

without seeming to doubt

if you will still be here tomorrow

even her

she is a survivor as much as any of them

gentle and soft and

how crazy is it, then, that she has made it this far

this seems proof enough

that under warm brown skin

and trusting eyes still kind

as if no one has ever caused her pain

there is something strong and brave beneath

my gentle survivor

she told me they were “survivors”

and i suppose…

that should be obvious

from the swagger

the deep rasp of panic

when he gets angry

and i must remember — at all costs —

that anger is a mask for pain

and fear

even though his eyes are cruel

and his actions often are too

this is what he has had to be

to stay in one piece

in a world that could shatter smaller prettier things into dust

and he is anything but

iron will, iron mind, iron skin

have i ever seen him cry?

maybe somewhere beneath it all

i can hardly imagine, but how beautiful?

there is a boy who dances with eyes closed

and a real smile on his lips

“survivors” is a hard word

for a hard world

and she is not a survivor by choice

she had no say in what was done to her

and so small, she goes on living

because there is no other way

she laughs that laugh

that makes you want to weep

because God made such perfect things

and He watches as they are broken

her shoes are too big

and her dress falls off one shoulder

like a little Mary Magdalene

how strange to think she will carry all

the shame, the burden, the guilt

and he will carry none at all

that she must be protected

because it happened once it can happen again

it will happen again

she is a glass thing — once broken, prone to breaking easily

and yet

she smiles at me

some of our kids, these “survivors”

wear the title on their skin

and for some, maybe, it would be a sign of weakness

but not for him

the scars that ripple their way

across forearms powerful enough

to flip someone easily onto their back

and he’s fifteen

i call him my baby

“you’re my favorite,” i whisper to him

and he doesn’t answer

but he remembers

i think he must remember it all

he has learned to wear them, these scars

with the same ease

as basketball shoes and skinny jeans

with the same ease that he disappears

he wear hand-me-down letter jackets

that make me wish he could play american football

because he’d be a star

my boy

they are survivors

she was right

the poem could go on and on

more eyes that have no light

more smiles that echo sadness into mind

more babies who have lived lifetimes

more hands grown hard but

somehow

gentle in mine still

survivor

it doesn’t mean you are bad

because bad things happened to you

but oh, beautiful ones

i cry for the things that have been lost

but i stand in awe of

the glorious thing you are now

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