Layered; Malala, Malala; Listen


I am layered
like an onion.
Like my momma put too many jackets on me this winter because she’s my momma.
I am layered
Like the epidermis, papillary, reticular layers, and the subcutaneous tissue,
that makes up my skin
And most people can’t get past that
the layers they can see.
But the other parts
they’re still part of me.
You want to take one part, two parts,
But take me as a whole.
You’ve got to listen, listen real close
to hear for my soul.
When you see me,
you pidgeonhole.
You put me in one role.
Ethnicity: Asian.
Slick black hair and a name
that rhymes with Ping
Really good at math,
can make some Peking wing?
When you hear me,
don’t hear Asian.
I am layered
And that means I’m intricate.
Don’t read that like I’m delicate
Gender: Yes, female.
And I’ve heard it all.
But I’m your equal
so, don’t call me doll.
When you hear me,
don’t hear Woman.
I’m layered
And that means I am an enigma.
Take me as I am
Not how you perceive me.
Age: 16
And that don’t mean a thing.
I can be wise, immature,
But my voice
that’s what endures.
When you hear me,
don’t hear teenager.
I’m layered
And that means I am immeasurable even by years.
Don’t dissect me
like one of your experiments in high school.
Here’s the right ventricle.
There’s the hypothalamus.
Here’s where you listen and here’s where you stop.
That’s not how my voice works.
And when you hear me,
I want you to hear my voice.
Better yet, listen to my voice.
Drink up my voice.
Live my voice.
That can flow like sweet honey or
sting with bitter rinds.
I am layered.
Peel back the layers and peel back.
you’ll find my voice
just like it was hiding in the back of your closet
or underneath your chair.
It dances along forever between these parts,
because I am layered.

Malala, Malala

Click, the sound of the indifferent gun cocking back.
That’s the last thing she heard before they shot her.
But that’s not the last thing the world heard from her.
Malala Yousufzai was fifteen.

Before, she said:
We scream through and through
and through. Not enough desert sand
can be stuffed down our throats to keep the words from flowing.
We band together to fight in sisterhood.
We have no money but we are richer than most.
We have the words that affect the mind that thunder through the hills, that shakes the roots of institutions
the words that change the world.
“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

The Taliban hissed:
“Yousafzai is the symbol of infidels and obscenity.”
Treacherous words.

They hunted her down,
like she was an animal, subhuman.
They stopped her yellow schoolbus.
And the masked gunman shouted “Which one of you is Malala?”

Where identity means death, instead of
that first day of school where you shyly say I am Malala.
Where you tremble to say your name for fear they were listening for it.
Where things are better protected behind closed doors.
Malala was quiet.
He hissed again: “Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.”
And he would
just so he could stop the one girl.
The fifteen year old girl who had power against Goliath.

When they shot her,
they forgot that words stick,
to the paper they were written on; to the ears that were listening;
words stick and voices are heard for centuries.
I am Malala. I am Malala. I am Malala.
The girls chant from all around the world
because her voice lived on and she lived on.
I am Malala.


Listen. To the song here in my heart
The melody I start but can’t complete.

ego habeo vocem.
I have a voice,
in the five languages I know,
I have my voice,
out of seven billion people.
And a voice.
It’s this beautiful dialogue between yourself and the world.
Where you know you’re being understood in some way or another,
Where you know you’re understanding yourself.

No matter what language I use.
I speak. You listen. And you understand with your heart:
She has a voice.

Because identity transcends vanity, it transcends names and places,
it transcends that effervescent humanity,
it rises higher and higher
and climbs faster than we know.
Because it is not something we know. It just is. It’s just what we have.

We have always strained
for our voice to be heard in the crowd
As though hearing it aloud
would make it endowed
with an audience.

You put it out there. Hoping it will catch and attach
itself onto someone’s tympanic membranes.
Someone must share your truths.
Hurl it to the stars to the depths to the heights,
to the shades and the lights.
I speak to defy limitations and change expectations.
I speak with enunciation, punctuation, and preparation
to change.
to echo. to last.

Ode to the voice that has left me with choices
I rejoice.
I rejoice.
For I have a voice.

Priscilla Guo, Age 16, Grade 11, Hunter College High School, Silver Key

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