A coworker tells me that the jeans I’m wearing will make me good tips tonight I tell him Nothing And the silence of my non-response reverberates through my head for months Long after I’ve stopped working there due to a pandemic less insidious
The echo of my forced laugh rings in my ears And I think of the poems I read in school that compared a woman’s laugh to the ringing of bells Maybe if those men listened closer, they’d realize the sound is not a chime but a knell Because every time I’m forced to create that vacant noise, I think a little bit of me dies
And I grieve for the women who perfected their fake laugh when they were still girls I grieve for the bodies forced to bend under the weight of their armor I grieve for my younger self who was loud and light and unafraid
All that glitters is not gold, and my laugh may sparkle but it’s far from genuine I’ve shined that laugh for years That laugh that says, I’m uncomfortable with what you just Said Did Touched But I’m more uncomfortable with the possibility of what you might do if I push back
Possibilities so far from funny that for some of us, they’re fatal Possibilities played out on the stage of our bodies in shades of black and blue, deep enough to drown in We see those possibilities on our sisters’ faces, their stories always whispered So I laugh until the muscles in my faces ache Because protection comes at a cost, right?
I think one day I’d like to be a mother But how can I bring my maybe daughter into a world I have not worked hard enough to change A world that too often demands silence in return for safety I will not look at her bright eyes and tell her that my wrinkles were etched by men telling me to smile I will tell her, You don’t have to laugh if it’s not funny I will tell her, Even small mouths can sing
Lindsay Phillips is a Chicago-based writer and editor with degrees in English and Theatre. She is still discovering her storytelling style, but her writing often explores the contradictory emotions that arise when reflecting on the past. This is her first published poem.