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Poetry: A Yellow Dress

Poet and activist Anya Thakur writes an ode to girls and women of color.

"Happy Girl" by Marjorie Lang. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

‘A Yellow Dress’ is a poem written by 14-year-old poet and women’s advocate Anya Thakur. She works to empower and uplift communities as founder of GirlUp Dallas, a UN Women organization, and a MetoWe partner with ArtRising, which provides arts enrichment to underprivileged communities and creates diverse programming for South and East Asian women. Hosting education, self-defense, and language and literature classes to empower rural women in Delhi, Mumbai, and Munipur, and humanitarian efforts with Myna Mahila, which empowers women in rural India through health education, her women’s advocacy promotes UN Women’s mission to ensure a fair and equitable future, and she has traveled throughout the United States and India to speak for girl’s education and empowerment.

– – – 

it’s her mother’s old dress – heavy with the scent of lavender and spilled champagne

lace trim eaten away by time and moths

not midnight blue or rich evergreen or flamingo pink

just a mustard yellow and an eyelet skirt skimming over her legs

but painfully so, brighter than kernels of corn basking in the sun, nuggets of gold, strings of saffron

it’s her’s now and

if her mother was coriander and chapati, she’s sunflowers and spice and chili powder spinning in her boudoir as she tugs it over her head and closes the heavy curtains

limbs splayed out on the bed

leftover light collecting in a gleaming halo on the dusty vanity

– – –

later snarled wires dig into her elbows and crimson bleeds onto brilliant yellow

vermillion.

her nails are bitten to gummy crescents and she’s the girl on top of a hill. a heap. a mountain.

fine, spider webbing scratches along her kneecaps and a nasty gash along her thigh that will scab over.

stockings split at the seams and one bright white glove missing.

binoculars draped around her neck, the straps of her dress looping figure-eights casting shadows on the tree behind her.

and she can name all the constellations, prickles of light assembled coldly overhead.

body draped artlessly over tree limbs and tangled wire and foxgloves woven through her thick curls, wild and untamed. and absolutely fearless.

she’s the girl on top of a hill. a heap. a mountain.

– – –

the next day they tell her not to wear yellow.

hand her tubes of turmeric paste and Fair and Lovely that isn’t really fair.

she’s too dark, too bushy, too much.

yellow is feminine refinery and light, pinkish skin kissed by sunshine and sand, they say.

you can’t wear yellow – you’re invisible with the lights off. no, neither can she. yellow girls don’t wear yellow. how about him? no, it’s all wrong.

she’s utterly beyond caring.

– – –

the day after that she’s barefoot in her kitchen, dancing with saltshakers in hand and flakes of paprika in her hair.

sprinkling a shower of warm cinnamon over glazed buns and licking melted icing, a lacquered sugar, from her fingers.

the neighbors are watching…they’re watching her discover herself.

all in that worn yellow dress. but don’t turn it into a declaration it shouldn’t have to be.

she’s just a girl in a yellow dress.

– – –

and if they may

burn crimson in peeling sunburns.

tinge green in nauseam.

flower red across the apples of their cheeks in shame and bursts of mortification.

turn blue in sadness when there’s no color left inside.

bruise deep purple and scab raw pink.

why can’t she wear a yellow dress and

love the one hue she was gifted with?

– – –

stop trying to take away her color. you already have the whole box to yourself.

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