Poem by Nikita Arora (c2018), Photograph by Karen Ngo (c2018)

“How do you heal from where we come from?”
From the places where the blood on our sheets was our only comfort
From the places where our faces met fists at so many angles, that our features deformed/formed to the bump of a man’s knuckles
From the places where we put the dreams of opportunity on the measly shoulders of our children who grew up with a split identity they would call the “diaspora”
From the places where your resume was painted with your melanocytes and they only hired CVs printed on white paper

How do you know you’re doing it right, healing right
And you’re not being maladaptive
Like the kidney that goes in overdrive when it’s too far-gone to compensate
Or the scientist that thought he could use leeches to drain the cancer out of bodies

He told me it was like going to the gym.
Healing was just like going to the gym.
I would have to be there every day – sit at the mantle of my pain
Worship my pain/worship my body every day
I would have to take breaks when it was too overwhelming/when my muscles were recovering/when my heart was reeling
Sometimes I would fall from my efforts
Sometimes my breaks would roll into weeks of time away
And coming back to heal/to lift/bringing my body back
-would be harder. Than ever.
-would be scarier. Than ever.
I would wonder how I ever did it in the first place.

I wouldn’t see many there that were like me
Because small brown female bodies are told they can’t heal/can’t push up
Under the weight of centuries of intergenerational trauma
Some people there would be doing it right, others wrong
Some people would look healed/ripped
But they didn’t get there the way I wanted to get there
I didn’t want to look healed/ripped
I wanted to be healed/ripped, he warned me.

He told me that all I had to do though, was to show up.
And nudge my body a little further, a little faster
And put a little more weight on
Every day that I showed up.
And maybe it would be slow. Progress always feels slower than it should feel.
But one day I would meet someone like me
Whose wounds were bleeding into the streets/Who just bought her membership
Who needed a hand to hold for just a moment/A spot for just this set
And I would know that progress was had.
That my wounds had given way to von willebrand factor and all the rest

And that I hadn’t healed completely/that there were others that lifted more than me/that were stronger, faster
But I had made some headway on my journey after all
Because someone was looking ahead at me asking for directions to heal/to get stronger
Just like he had healed me so many months ago
When he told me that my back wasn’t straight enough
And my shins weren’t bruised enough
My ass not low enough

I knew how to do it already.
It was just like going to the gym.

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