English subtitles

← What will you tell your daughters about 2016?

With words like shards of glass, Chinaka Hodge cuts open 2016 and lets 12 months of violence, grief, fear, shame, courage and hope spill out in this original poem about a year none of us will soon forget.

Get Embed Code
49 Languages

Showing Revision 8 created 12/20/2016 by Brian Greene.

  1. Tell your daughters of this year,
  2. how we woke needing coffee
  3. but discovered instead cadavers
    strewn about our morning papers,
  4. waterlogged facsimiles
    of our sisters, spouses, small children.
  5. Say to your baby of this year
    when she asks, as she certainly should,
  6. tell her it was too late coming.
  7. Admit even in the year we leased freedom,
    we didn't own it outright.
  8. There were still laws
    for every way we used our privates
  9. while they pawed at the soft folds of us,
  10. grabbed with no concern for consent,
  11. no laws made for the men
    that enforced them.
  12. We were trained to dodge,
  13. to wait, to cower and cover,
  14. to wait more, still, wait.
  15. We were told to be silent.
  16. But speak to your girls of this wartime,

  17. a year preceded by a score of the same,
  18. so as in two decades before,
  19. we wiped our eyes,
  20. laced caskets with flags,
  21. evacuated the crime scene of the club,
  22. caterwauled in the street,
  23. laid our bodies on the concrete
    against the outlines of our fallen,
  24. cried, "Of course we mattered,"
  25. chanted for our disappeared.
  26. The women wept this year.
  27. They did.
  28. In the same year, we were ready.

  29. The year we lost our inhibition
    and moved with courageous abandon
  30. was also the year we stared down barrels,
  31. sang of cranes in skies,
    ducked and parried,
  32. caught gold in hijab,
    collected death threats,
  33. knew ourselves as patriots,
  34. said, "We're 35 now, time we settled down
    and found a running mate,"
  35. made road maps for infant joy,
    shamed nothing but fear,
  36. called ourselves fat and meant, of course,
  37. impeccable.
  38. This year, we were women,

  39. not brides or trinkets,
  40. not an off-brand gender,
  41. not a concession, but women.
  42. Instruct your babies.

  43. Remind them that the year has passed
    to be docile or small.
  44. Some of us said for the first time
    that we were women,
  45. took this oath of solidarity seriously.
  46. Some of us bore children
    and some of us did not,
  47. and none of us questioned
    whether that made us real
  48. or appropriate or true.
  49. When she asks you of this year,

  50. your daughter, whether your offspring
    or heir to your triumph,
  51. from her comforted side of history
    teetering towards woman,
  52. she will wonder and ask voraciously,
  53. though she cannot fathom your sacrifice,
  54. she will hold your estimation of it holy,
  55. curiously probing, "Where were you?
  56. Did you fight?
    Were you fearful or fearsome?
  57. What colored the walls of your regret?
  58. What did you do for women
    in the year it was time?
  59. This path you made for me,
    which bones had to break?
  60. Did you do enough, and are you OK, momma?
  61. And are you a hero?"
  62. She will ask the difficult questions.
  63. She will not care
    about the arc of your brow,

  64. the weight of your clutch.
  65. She will not ask of your mentions.
  66. Your daughter, for whom you have
    already carried so much, wants to know
  67. what you brought, what gift,
    what light did you keep from extinction?
  68. When they came for victims in the night,
  69. did you sleep through it
    or were you roused?
  70. What was the cost of staying woke?
  71. What, in the year we said time's up,
    what did you do with your privilege?
  72. Did you sup on others' squalor?
  73. Did you look away
    or directly into the flame?
  74. Did you know your skill
    or treat it like a liability?
  75. Were you fooled by the epithets
    of "nasty" or "less than"?
  76. Did you teach with an open heart
    or a clenched fist?
  77. Where were you?
  78. Tell her the truth. Make it your life.

  79. Confirm it. Say, "Daughter, I stood there
  80. with the moment
    drawn on my face like a dagger,
  81. and flung it back at itself,
  82. slicing space for you."
  83. Tell her the truth, how you lived
    in spite of crooked odds.
  84. Tell her you were brave,
  85. and always, always
    in the company of courage,
  86. mostly the days
    when you just had yourself.
  87. Tell her she was born as you were,
  88. as your mothers before,
    and the sisters beside them,
  89. in the age of legends, like always.
  90. Tell her she was born just in time,

  91. just in time
  92. to lead.
  93. (Applause)