Poetry: Pretty

Poet and activist Anya Thakur explores themes of culture and beauty, new forms of expression, and empowerment.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

‘Pretty’ 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.

– – –

they wanted to grind my bones to

dust and rosewater

but i came back alive as

sweet sulfur and bubbling lava

and fear, so much fear

in the irregular skips of my heartbeat

pressed against my chest

curled into my belly

permeating the air

they said they wanted to fix me

blotted water from my hair

dug an arc of red half-moons

into my collarbones

cultivated in me

a fragile, gamine charm

left a scar running along one shoulder

embedded deeply enough

i would never forget

no matter how much they trained me

to pretend

tried to paint me into an optical illusion

i was not pretty

pretty is a splash of pale pink

rose on your cheeks

and feathery, fluttering lashes

sooty with mascara

i am not pretty

i’m the color of dirt and dried blood

scabs burnt and peeling

like ancient oil paintings

bluish blisters and brownish trunk

and yet

my dark skin sparks with magic

as flowers confuse me with the earth

pretty is supposed to be

lacquered porcelain

and enamel, a string of pearls

wantonly lavished

with a thousand creamy hues

it’s not blinding and visceral

it’s not fire and

trailing electricity across my abdomen

and sharp sparks

making my skin prickle and sizzle

it’s glassy-eyed and acquiescent

prettiness is reflected back as

the pale thighs of a greek beauty

balancing a basket of white flowers

atop her knees

her visage fractured by light across the lake

and wavering with each ripple

but fire

turns the water into glitter

the pretty ones and i together

burn worlds and evaporate oceans

when they bury us alive

my mouthful of ash is

both sweet and bitter

“Goddess Dressing” by Stephanie Sinclair. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

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