Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #2

Our second challenge of the year for the Young Minds of Medium was themed: What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic? The young ones came through as they always do and I wish to feature a few from that challenge. This post focuses on the second featured piece which is from one of our most recent contributors added to A Cornered Gurl.

Bebongchu Atemkeng is a twenty-year-old young man unafraid to share his thoughts, feelings, and heart’s work with us. He is a regular in our A Cornered Gurl Six-Word Story Challenge hosted every Sunday and he encourages others by reading their work and responding. He is a joy to have in the publication and I am happy he’s around. His piece, Two Sides of Silence hits straight to the heart of the matter and leaves the reader feeling connected and (un)alone. Everyone, encourage his heart. I am hoping I’ll have him in YMOM for the next five years. He brings such a bright light to our community and I am sure you will feel it as you read his piece.


Two Sides of Silence

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

Feeding goat|Photo by author

I miss the solace within these walls; the peace and quietude that used to reign here was one of quintessence. Those nights with just me, my book and pen, and a warm cup of tea at my study table were truly special. The sight of my bed neatly made up after a long and tiring day at work was enough reason to still find happiness and courage to carry on in a world that drains you of more than it gives; the bed didn’t complicate life—it only demanded that you lay down and rest in its embrace, satisfied to have satisfied you. I miss that comforting silence.

Within this space, I was free to be me. It was just me but I didn’t feel alone—I felt at home. I was free to dream and to explore my being. I discovered the things that made me happy, that sparked that zealous fire in my bones. Writing is one of them. The words always seemed to come easy then. Writing out my truth, I wasn’t scared of the prejudices of the world. It was just me and mini-me writing our souls out hoping that it inspired someone, somewhere, somehow to break the chains holding them down and to live out this passing existence free as the blowing wind—at peace with self and with the world. The tranquility was my source of healing.

That was a different time, a different world; that was six months ago when the world was still sane. The confinement within these walls doesn’t feel all that blissful anymore. Now, a different silence seems to beckon from beyond, from the most unexpected of places, telling of a peace I had but failed to see. The solitude is poisoning; the silence, deafening.

With all the time I have to myself now, I seem to be doing nothing. The bed has grown weary from carrying my weight; she doesn’t say so, but I know. Mini-me keeps reminding me of all that I said I’d achieve during this quarantine but haven’t started. He reminds me of the books I wanted to read—Chimamanda Ngozi’s Purple Hibiscus; Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God; Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas. He reminds me of a zeal grown cold. The stories I have not written haunt me—I want to tell them but the words don’t come easy anymore. WhatsApp has had its fair share of uninstalling and reinstalling. As I fall deeper into this lonely void, I wonder if this place ever really made me happy. Where is that harmony I once shared with life?

Now I realize that there was order in the chaos, poetry in the pain, music in the noise, comfort on another shoulder, and lessons to learn from the mishaps of life. Isolated from the rest of humanity, I am nothing more than walking flesh and bones; my room was never enough of a world. Within the walls of honking cars, boring lectures, singing birds, dancing children, open skies, swaying leaves, humming bees, feeding ruminants, and busy humans is a serenity of its own, a silence more profound. Now I know it was from all these that I found the inspiration to write and the courage to live.

I miss my friends. I miss the long, warm hugs and brotherly handshakes, the heartwarming smiles we shared over a plate of hot fufu and eru, the toasts we raised our glasses to, and the wishes we made over fine wine that our good God would bless us with happier days. I hope that he’s still listening.

What is left of me is emptiness and restlessness. There was an existential equilibrium I failed to appreciate: that between my world and the world. One cannot be beautiful without the other. The interweaving of the two strings produced the sweet symphony of life. I believe that better days lie ahead; I believe that after this pandemic, we would be more grateful for the opportunity to still be alive.

I miss the balance between the two sides of silence.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Far Out

Art by Guillermo Hernandez via Mixkit.co

“Jenna, get up here and get these toys off this floor right now!”

The pulsating voice of my mother thundered from blocks away. She was a Navy officer, an OF-2, Lieutenant well before I was born and hadn’t shaken the orderly and methodical ways of doing things from her life. She’d wake me up at the peak of dawn’s light, order me to “rise and shine,” promptly shower, put on my clothes, and meet her downstairs in our kitchen for breakfast. All of this, she expected in twenty minutes.

She said before I came along life was punctual and fully functioning, with no possibility of error. I often wondered about that — living such a life with no risks or deviations seemed strange to me. It still does.

The morning my mother yelled at the top of her lungs for me to clear my room of disorganized toys, I was eight years old. I lived freely in my imagination. It was the safest place to be. I played alone. I walked to school alone. At recess, I made up games on my own and did not invite others to accompany me. In solitude is where I wanted to be.

During that time, Randi Rocketeer was my favorite t. v. show. Randi Haltman, the show’s protagonist, was a trans woman with dark pink hair, rosy cheeks, and eyes of two different colors. She had the most amazing spacesuit! It came fully equipped with a water compartment, visors for protecting the eyes from direct sunlight, and custom-designed gloves monikered with Randi’s initials. Strapped to her waist, Randi had a can of compressed air, for what, I never knew.

Not only was the suit prepared for the dangers of space, but it was also tie-dyed the following colors; purple, pink, blue, and yellow.

I found myself mystified by Randi Rocketeer. Every day, promptly after doing my homework and eating dinner, I plopped my bony hind-end on my mother’s shiny, hardwood floors and switched on the television. For forty-five minutes, that’s where I’d be — taking in Randi Rocketeer. My mother would howl from the kitchen as soon as the credits began for me to wash the dishes and clean up before I went to bed.

Clockwork. Everything was clockwork.

“Jenna, right now!”

I thought about Randi Haltman. Did she have chores? Was her mother ever in the military? How was she a man before and a woman now? I asked my mother the last question one Friday after our school’s PTA meeting and the only response I received was, “Do I look like Randi Haltman?” I didn’t know what to say to that. I shrunk in the backseat of my mother’s Cadillac Seville, littler than I was before we left the house. I didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.

Randi Rocketeer’s motto was “Shoot for the sky and land on the moon.” They tasked her with the job of fighting crime in outer space and she did so with courage and a high success rate of capturing perpetrators and criminals. I begged my mother to buy me a spacesuit like Randi Haltman’s. Every Halloween, that was my request. By the time I was thirteen years old, I stopped asking for one. I thought — didn’t get one last year or the year before or the year before that, so I probably won’t get one this year, either. I was right.

I believed having a spacesuit like Randi Haltman’s would make me courageous — would help me be less me. Instead, I continued to feel as useless as the compressed air strapped to her waist.

“Don’t make me come down there, Jenna! These toys have a place to be. Put them there!”

I sat with my legs folded one over the other right in front of the t. v., mesmerized by Randi Rocketeer. I heard my mother. I tuned her out. Her voice was a nagging pang one couldn’t rid oneself of if the prescription was an equal dose of morphine and oxycodone.

My dad left when I was five. He took his four work uniforms, church shoes, a box of 1970s Playboy magazines, and a pack of cigarettes. Nothing else. I glued myself to his legs as he walked toward our door and begged him to take me with him.

“Your mother said I can’t, kiddo.”

And just like that, he vanished. No phone calls. No letters. No visits. The only thing I remember about my dad is the look on his face when he uttered, “Your mother said . . .” It was like he was being commanded — as if he had enlisted in my mother’s own form of a naval academy and was dishonorably discharged for lewd and lascivious behavior. My mother told me later on, “I don’t need anyone who weighs me down. I can do bad by myself.” I get it now, I didn’t then.

Self-Sufficiency, learn it.

Mother taught me how to cook, clean house, make up a bed “the Navy way,” change the oil in her car, and harvest our garden’s vegetables. By the time I was eleven, I was mowing our front and back yards. We hardly ever left the house unless it was to go to the grocery store or the gas station. Mother made all of my clothes, even my jeans. She bought fabric from Tina’s Fabric Shoppe on Fairview Avenue.

I had a favorite baseball cap I wore everywhere. One day, I misplaced it. I looked all over our house for it, even in my mother’s Cadillac. No luck. I ran to my mother, plump tears filling my eyes, and moaned, “I can’t find my ball cap anywhere, Mom.”

“That sounds like a personal problem. I can’t keep up with your things. You’re old enough to do that on your own.”

And that night . . . I left the toys out on my bedroom floor. I ignored her as she called me to tidy up my room. I turned the volume to our t. v. up louder, letting Randi Rocketeer drown out the droning of my mother’s voice. I sat there — simply sat there and dreamt of being far away from her. Far out and away from her.

I wanted to live in the sky. And so I did.


In 1996, Jenna Knight fulfilled her dream of becoming an astronaut and lives and works in Washington, D.C. She is married to her loving husband Jacob and has two children. In her spare time, she watches reruns of Randi Rocketeer and no longer feels as useless as the compressed air strapped to her favorite television superhero’s waist.


*Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium. *Special thanks to Terrye Turpin for helping me finesse this story a bit more.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #1

My young ones, our young ones, the Young Minds of Medium never disappoint. They rise to the occasion, responding to challenges and calls for submissions in such a way that leaves me in awe. I have been doing this for four years now and I can tell you that it does not get old. I love this type of work. Over the next three weeks, I will feature three young ones from Medium who responded to this month’s challenge, “What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic?”

First up, is Mr. Anto Rin. Anto is the first member of YMOM and was seventeen, almost eighteen years old when we first collaborated on Medium together. I have watched this young man soar to higher heights and with each piece he releases to the world, he is growing and revealing more of what he can do with words. His work, The Last Homecoming is our feature for this week.


The Last Homecoming

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

Credit

Sushil turned towards the window and looked outside at a city whose squeals of hustle had eventually died down, inconspicuously somehow, until what could be heard were only the echoes of his own thoughts. It was weird at first — for his ears to not be able to distinguish from the air the sounds that had always been there. What he soon came to realize, however, was that the silence was as deafening as the clamor.

The pandemic separated him from his family. His mother and sister were in his hometown alone. He knew he had to be with them — these troubled times were sure to have them terribly worried. After two weeks of being in quarantine, Sushil finally arrived at a decision.

He concluded that he couldn’t wait a second more.

He packed a bag full of biscuits and water, and he set off. He was going to his hometown, no matter what, even if it meant he had to walk around 400 km.

It took him half a day just to reach the limits of the city, where the highway rolled out like a glass ribbon that seemed to shift shapes under the blinding light of the April sun. For days he walked, eating nothing but biscuits, two at a time. He knew he wouldn’t be able to buy anything until he reached the next district, so he rationed carefully. The heat was stifling — he rested whenever he could in the shades of trees.

His legs began to feel heavy, the muscles lining his shins possibly torn beyond recognition. His ankles were locked as if tightly screwed, and whenever he sat down by the side of the highway, his knees made sounds that would have made a biology student uncomfortable.

The first two days had been the easiest since he was at least in complete possession of his senses during that period. It was a challenge, but nothing a man of his strength couldn’t do. During the third day, after he had grabbed a short nap, he woke up into a state of delirium, not knowing where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. He panicked reflexively and, fearing he might have a sunstroke, he emptied an entire canteen of water, which roused his body to a state of alert that helped him walk the farthest distance yet without stopping.

His sandals were almost burnt after miles and miles of rubbing against the road, and at times, his feet slipped forward from the loosening clasps of the straps, grazing against the simmering tar. It scalded his toes. He had to waste some of his water for treating them because walking with a burn felt to him like walking on molten metal.

His phone died the fourth day, although he couldn’t have known in the state he was in. It would have hardly made any difference to him. The heat had become intolerable, so he stopped moving so much during the day. At nights, he felt lost, the lights from the posts shifting the shape of everything around him for every step he took, the road studs deceiving him with their scintillating lights. But at least, he could walk at a pace and keep to it.

He lost a sense of days soon enough. He couldn’t keep track of when he slept, or when he woke up. At one point, he woke up again in delirium, so much so that he couldn’t even remember going to sleep, or that he had done so in the middle of the road. His body was burning and he was sure that he had a fever. He felt breathless, but couldn’t quite feel his heart. There was a slight pain in his chest, which spread in an outward manner until he could feel it in his ribs.

“What’s the matter?”

Sushil raised a blurry eye.

“Who — who are you? Where am I?”

Sushil could see the faint outline of a woman and kept his eyes riveted to her. Since there wasn’t any reply, he said, “Have I made it? Where am I? Who are you?”

“Why, it is me, son.”

“Mother, is it you? Where’s Shreya? Is she alright, mother?”

“She’s fine. You know I will take care of her.”

“I am not very well. But where are we?”

“You blacked out. You are home, son. Come, put your head to rest.”

Sushil managed to drag himself over to her. His feet were still scalded and felt like they were engulfed in flames. He went to his mother and laid his head on her lap. A surge of cold instantly came over him, and he felt relaxed like he hadn’t in days. An inexplicable tiredness washed over him. He knew he was delirious, but for a second he believed he had made it because there was no other explanation for it.

He closed his eyes deliberately with a sense of relief as if he was finally ready to let go.


*Inspired by real-life events: click here or here to read further.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Missed America: A Haiku in ten parts

135th Street YMCA Mural by Aaron Douglas — 1934

Missed America

A Haiku in ten parts


A torturous thing —
Living in one’s skin waiting
For the next bullet

A deep “virtual
Insanity” has gotten
The best of freedom

America, “land
Of the free, home of the brave,”
We backstab with love

This, a country that
Hails its flag as kings and queens
Over its people

They say they want us —
But spend their time keeping us
Buried above ground

Stifling, isn’t it?
How UnAmerican most
Americans are

We’re disposable —
That’s how it feels when folks drag
You out with the trash

Too many speakers —
Not enough listeners, so
Nothing’s getting done

Devastation hits —
strips away homes and loved ones,
His words are, “Good Luck!”

Priorities shift —
Other things take precedence
Over human lives


This poem is a part of “Equal People,” Our Human Family’s anthology of international poetry on equality and inclusivity.

I Mother No One

I Mother No One

Part V: Yearning To Hold My Mother In My Arms.

Photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels

I mother no one. There’s no one for me to mother. To hold, to kiss, to shelter away from every storm . . . I want the one thing I cannot have and this damn global pandemic is making it worse. I missed the opportunity of spreading love to my own, of carrying on a bloodline that would have my eyes for years after my death. What it felt like to learn, to know, to be told that had I pursued attempting to have children, I would not be successful: I had no words. But my mother — she took a chance on bringing me into this world. No one had a say in if she would or would not do it. She wanted to. I hear my mother’s voice — the phone is an okay replacement, but it doesn’t give me the full view of her.

There’s no surround-sound Angie.

I want to see her in animated form, in her bold and “say what I want to say” presence. My mother doesn’t care about the thoughts of others — how one may view her, viewed her, will view her . . . She has always been matter-of-factly, no-nonsense, and vocal. She is a spark — she’ll light up any room.

Every year, I am given another three hundred sixty-five days to grow with her and learn her too. She is sometimes fearful of what to say around me, though, of how to say what she wants to say. She tells me, “I can’t say things the way you can. It won’t sound the way I want it to sound.” I encourage her to “just say it, Mom.” And she does, no holds barred.

I envy that — the courage to speak without fear. To be brave enough to open my mouth and say what I truly want to say, but most times, I cannot. I have to write it, instead. And the thing I want most is the opposite of what my mom wants. If we traded characteristics and did things differently, we wouldn’t be who we are. I lift her up when she needs it. She makes me laugh when I need it. Have you ever heard anyone cuss better than a sailor? You haven’t heard my mother . . . She can hopscotch with shit, plant marigolds with fuck, and damn anyone from North Carolina to Texas without flinching.


It is not her use of vulgar language that I want to highlight. It is not her boisterous ways or her inability to care about the thoughts of others when pertaining to her, no . . . it is her undeniable source of strength and never-ending love for me. To have a child who ventures out into the world to a job that exposes her to a threatening virus daily and not lose your mind takes resilience. It takes a healthy dose of sanity and resistance to breaking. I will never know the pain she knows. I will never feel the emotions piling up on her wondering, praying, and hoping for her child — for her children.

I am ordered to call or text her when I get home. If I am off, I am asked to let her know this. My whereabouts are simple; work, home, and the occasional errand run if needed. Before this downward spiral of our world, we spoke almost every day — her calling more than I would. Now, I make it a point to pick up the phone to let her know when I have made it home and when I plan on venturing out again (if I need to). I am covered by her love. I am surrounded by her prayers. I can feel her tears. They are all a part of every breath I take when I step outside my door.

I have not seen my mother since mid-March. I have not held her. I have not hugged her. I have not dwelled in the welcoming fragrances of her home in two months and I would be lying if I said it is not affecting me. It is. I have lived farther away from my mom than I do now, but that was by choice. I needed to be away from her. There were circumstances then that had proven best for the both of us for me to be as far away as I was. Now that we have grown and significant changes have taken place on both our parts, I would not want to be that far away again.

The simple act of a hug, an embrace calls to me more than it ever has before. I yearn to hold my mother and I cannot. I yearn to stand near her, to welcome her into my home, and I cannot. The last thing I would want to do is put her in any semblance of danger given my place of work and what I do. If I did not have my wits about me, I would pull my hair out. I never thought I would miss something as small as a hug — the physical act of showing someone you truly care . . .

This Mother’s Day, I cannot do what I want to do most — hold mine in my arms.


*For mothers yearning to hold their mothers. Mothers who have lost their mothers. Mothers who are mothering their own without being able to mother them. For mothers yet still holding on to the power of not letting go. Happy Mother’s Day.


Originally published in P. S. I Love You via Medium.