How I Learned to Grow Wings by Marie Cartier

April 2021, Poem

Visibility is

this body opening against itself over and over… an existence moving through fibers was

the one thing I had. When was the time…breathe in? Breathe out.

My existence to myself was the most political act. You can’t erase me. I exist for myself.

I am thirteen. I stand next to my father and say, “Don’t you touch me. Don’t you ever touch me again.” My mother stands by the sink, her hand reaches out and clutches its edge. My father sits and looks up

at me. He opens his mouth and closes it. I turn away, expecting his hand to land across my back.

I imagine me falling. But that doesn’t happen. Not that day.

That day I stood up. Said no, turned my back and walked away. I am a political act.

I am a body with a voice and I heard myself speaking for myself when no one else would, I said no.

No is the most beautiful word in the English language for a woman who learns its power.

The spell of no. I cast it when I was thirteen.

The gaze is

when they saw me. I started to erase myself, I was without fingers first. They kept finding me, so

I erased my hands. They kept seeing me, so I erased my arms. They kept locating me, so I erased my feet and my legs. But they kept finding me. I erased my secret places between my legs—what they most wanted. I erased my belly so I wouldn’t be seen eating, and my breasts so I would not be noticed as

a girl. But they found me anyway. I erased my neck and my head disappeared.

All that was left was my shoulders. I felt the weight of their gaze, and everything they wanted and took. And so, I lifted my shoulders, and I found my wings.

And I flew, and in flight, I let all of my parts come home.

A woman flying was the one thing they never thought to look for. But I found her. And she was me.

Running late is

me running, for my whole life. So Much Happened and I lost Parts of My Self. But there is a hidden place inside all of us where no one is ever late and that’s the place I was moving towards.

It was all only that place.

It wasn’t the reporter job I turned down at the national paper to work on two social justice rags.

It wasn’t the tenure track job I stopped pursuing because I was doing underground theater.

It wasn’t Broadway even, which I never really pursued.

I was travelling a different road- the golden possibility of I AM.

After I left my parents’ house, after I left my heterosexual abusive boyfriend, after I left my sorority sisters, after I left pretending everything is Ok in the family where the father raped the children and

the mother pretended it didn’t happen….

after I left all that, I thought it was too late for anything else. It took so long to leave everything behind. But what I didn’t understand at first was that when you leave all that –your blood changes color

and all through your being you light up, and you are not too late to find yourself.

 That is what I did. I found myself when I thought I was too late for everything else.

Permission is

when I decided. That was such a cool phrase when I was thirteen, when I was sixteen, when I was eighteen, when I was twenty-one: I decided. I decided to become the reigning authority in my life.

I decided to make myself over.

I decided to leave the boyfriend who forced me to my knees, his dick in my mouth until I gagged, not swallowing…his hand on the back of my head, but I struggled and ran, locking myself in his bathroom.

I took a plane, my first one ever, and left for California as fast as I could, as far away as I could go from the East Coast. I went as far as I could go. I flew.

I decided not to come back. I decided not to pretend that my father was loving, or my mother protective, or my brothers and sisters able to see me. I was not their mother, after all. I was a girl

and I decided to become the reigning authority in my own life.

And a woman who becomes the reigning authority in her own life becomes a queen.

I became a queen. I ate oranges. I ate avocadoes. I ate artichokes for the first time. I ate all the fruits

of the new country and I swallowed… my sense of myself …and I became a queen.

Worship is

when I wrote a love note to myself. “I love you,” I wrote. Then I added, “The known goddesses

 Isis, Astarte, Dianna, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna

pale in comparison to the goddess inside you.”

You are the goddess who unlocks the bathroom door, and escapes. Who turns her back to the father,

who walks away when they cry for her to return,

when they say that they are sorry, and when they say thatthey want.

I wrote a love letter to myself. “I want you,” I wrote.  “I want you in your tears, and I want you closed up and I want you open. I want you, queen of my inner self. I want all parts of you. I want you with me

every day. I put this promise between us. I will always listen to you. I will always want to know you.

I will let you be silent, and I will let you be loud. For that is what love is.”

Choice is

not what it was like to do something you don’t want to do over and over…your legs opened, your mouth opened, your ears filled, your eyes seeing things you will never forget…what is it like to have your hair pulled so that even your follicles feel the pain driving deep into your brain?

To say yes when you mean no? To smell fear when you want freedom?

I’ll tell you—you will start to disappear. You will try to protect yourself by any means necessary.

You will bite off pieces of yourself to find yourself, to give yourself to yourself. This will happen.
You will lose yourself.

 But, years later, if you are lucky, in quiet rooms with good people, you will let yourself re-attach

those lost pieces of yourself.

You will be at a grocery store and you will see a particular shade of peach and that color will intrigue you…you will ponder that color and you will be putting oranges into a plastic bag and you will see that girl suddenly, no not that girl, but you back then, and you will know her,

parts of her, for the first time.

And you will cry with love for her. And you will slowly re-attach your missing toe,

your leg, and your arm.

It will take a long time.

But you will find your no. This is choice.

And once you find your no…you can find your yes.

Language is

when you have found all of your fingers and toes,

your arms and legs, your places between your legs which you now know can be yes or no,

your belly, and your breasts.

You will need to find your neck and re-attach your head and when you do that you will notice that you have your shoulders and you still have your wings, and you have your Self.

And if you can speak, you can sing.

And so, you find yourself singing, yes, and then no, and then yes, and then no.

And later, you find maybe, and perhaps. A vocabulary of choice.

Magic is

this poem. May it be a recipe, and a dictionary,

for anyone who needs to find their way whole, and then find their way home.

Blessed is

knowing I was broken. There’s no denying that.

But also knowing, I put myself back together.

And there’s no denying that either.

–Marie Cartier

California, April 2021

With thanks to Cuties LA Poetry Workshop and instructor Xavier (@cutiesla; @truxav)

Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.  She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.

14 thoughts on “How I Learned to Grow Wings by Marie Cartier”

  1. Your words spoken into a microphone so many decades ago opened me to my brokenness. I was being interviewed by some radio station after performing and your words on the other side of the park hit me like a lightening bolt. That day I became a Dandelion Warrior. I’m forever grateful. Your words are magic.


  2. What an epic. Gorgeous, heartbreaking, heart mending. You teach us all by teaching yourself. “And once you find your no, you can find your yes.”


  3. Wonderful! These words are so moving. There are some I see myself in, and others I wish I can say someday with the inner strength and wisdom that you communicate. Thank you for your beautiful post today.


  4. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Thanks for sharing it. As you heal, you help us all to heal. I also came from a family where the father raped the children (well, just one, me) and my mother never to her dying day acknowledged the abuse. Putting back together our birthright pieces is powerful and loving and magical. Thanks for being the light being to guide us all.


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