For Shamima Begum and Katherine Howard
I was a girl. Tongue-tied, almost invisible,
hid under tables, scooped confetti from someone else’s wedding.
Until they named me, I was just a girl, with other girls
in rooms, in houses, where men came.
Where we lay, accepted compliments which fizzed away;
insults slapped hard. Until
my face fit someone’s list
and I became a girl in a grown-up’s world,
where men fought men and girls
like me were sometimes in the way.
Seeing something once or twice sends cold
from your neck to your heel bones.
After that you feel nothing.
A girl like me is easy to forget until she speaks,
after months, years, weeks of being silent
in a place where your face is hidden. When you speak
it’s quietly and slow, you force the words;
they split the frozen air, blindly at first;
no one hears, so you speak louder,
and they stop
the fighting and the talking and the killing,
and turn to look. But because you’re just a girl
they hardly notice when you point out
what is happening.
They don’t hear until they listen because you
have made them. Listen,
I am a girl, yet they treat me like a woman
with a woman’s hair and woman’s breasts
and children from my woman’s womb.
And though my head thinks like a girl,
I don’t have the tools to turn my thoughts
to woman’s words, when I speak
they see a woman, speaking like a girl.
And then they turn me out into the world.
Illustration: Claire Palmer