“Lively Lips by Kristen Dewald

Kristen Dewald


Thinking of Nadia’s execution by drowning

I remember the times red-faced, ashamed, seen, seen doing
whatever. What teenagers do. I suffered embarrassment.
It was a real world.
Take a breath.

Which way were you facing? For how many minutes did you live?

From the bottom of the pool, where she drowned,
a broken, subaqueous spirit stumbled up and over
the chains her father wrapped her in, pushed her in.

She was his daughter. Seventeen.

I was a teenager in America.

We were taught the consequences.
The consequences had to do with pregnancy.
The war was on conception.
Everyone has the right to speak.
Welcome to freedom,
late 1980s, United States of America.

It points in all directions.
That club swinging near this club.
Assertions voiced on every wavelength, every decibel.
Even paper airplanes, pointing things themselves, can make the distance.
It may just sting a little at first, salt spray from this seashore.
Little poke.

Inside a different kingdom the laws break, accrue
perverse slush. Read the book. The story in my hands.
Inside another kingdom they broke you, drowned you
in clear water, in clear daylight.
Late Friday morning execution. Family audience. Single, fiery spirit
snuffed out.
Unadulterated blossom.
Young, daring stem, pushing upwards and out.

The crime? A girl’s club, Lively Lips. Offense? Flirting.
With foreign men. Non-Saudi men.

The mutaween. Arrests.
A father drowning his daughter.
A father ordering his family to watch him drown her.
Chain her.

Ringing in your ears? Frantic signals up and down your spine? No exit?

Then shoved into the water.

Were you begging him? Crying for mercy?

Bubbles like a garbled redundancy
of evacuating air
racing to the surface
like a reversed plea

beneath your family
staring at the strict surface

of sealed silence.

I read about you in a book, chained to all the women in that book,
who went down with you, breathing sharply, telling your story.
Still trying to tell your story.
Death thumping, skipping across organs, pressing bells
of insulated terror.
Rising terror.
Listen to
clubs—now listen to—
fists pounding on the
Club club, Club club
Tied to the chainlink.

At the prime of its clarity: a slump of minutes severed off.

Protruding eyes snapping shut against
something swallowing with slappy, glassy surface suctions.

No reform. Not even something like redemption.

Just your body
lying dead
at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Abaaya lifting, swirling a little, here and there,
where the chains do not bind you?

Meanwhile, in America, westward expansion, firing eastward,
crossing boundaries, borders, tanks razing Iraq, rock music playing, business
as usual,

Against infected barriers lay screeches, protesting, moralizing.
Certain little threats tangled,
dissected into what we think are silly oppositions. High school crumbs
trailing behind …

This is how I met you:
Before I could have met you:
Forbidden hourglass, Lively Lips
screaming between the pages of a book
I freely read
at another’s expense.
Seeing you
writhing to death underwater.
Black words on white pages.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007


Kristen Dewald: “Experience itself—the experience of life, of beauty—motivates me, not conquest, not goals per se. I hope to never, as the late poet laureate Octavio Paz wrote, ‘fall into the amnesia of the forgotten astonishment of being alive.’”

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