Congratulations to Samsara Counts, winner of the Citizen Day poetry contest!
Citizen Day was held in honor of Claudia Rankine’s visit to GWU as a call for students to write about what it means to be “citizens” at GWU in a time of political/racial polarization.
The Citizen Project emphasizes the importance of creating a space where student experiences at GWU are highlighted. It will be a compilation of essays and poems that address a variety of experiences student had at the George Washington University. It is important to reflect on how the environment shapes student understanding of what it means to be a citizen and impacts their participation in student activities on campus.
Samsara’s poem will run in the Multi-Cultural Student Services Newsletter. She will be invited to read their work at the MSSC Graduation Celebration. All other submissions will be integrated into an archive.
Samsara Counts is a freshman Computer Science and Creative Writing double-major from Fort Worth, Texas. She is the Vice President of GW’s Association of Queer Women and Allies (AQWA) and serves on the Executive Board of the Association of Computing Machinery. Her poems are forthcoming from the Fall 2016 edition of Wooden Teeth and have appeared in several anthologies, including the Poetry Society of Texas’ and the America Library of Poetry’s student anthologies.
Her poem is featured below:
Tentative, I kiss her goodbye in the dawn,
pulling back to check if anyone witnessed us.
We walk holding hands; I was her date to a ball.
Visibility is new to me: worry sometimes bleeds
into the thrill of freedom, though I know, as citizens, we belong.
Later, sitting cross-legged in a circle of women, we bemoan
the propositions we’ve received online from “adventurous couples”
and the impossibility of liking more than one gender. I tell
of my mother’s lips drawn together, dejection distorting her voice
with a question she’s asked before: “But you still like men, right?”
I’ve wandered through attractions and relationships enough
to know. Yet I cannot forget, months ago, stifling tears on the train; in Foggy,
how my voice shook calling my friend. At her apartment, I collapsed
into her arms, sobbing: another man ignored the limits I set, so extensive
because of the men who did the same before. I blocked him
on my phone—not in memory, not in nightmares.
The semester dragged. I scraped by. Disability Support Services
helped navigate the chaos: permission to miss some classes
for seven weeks that conflicted with outpatient.
Even as I juggled commuting, new medications, arranging every exam,
as a citizen under ADA, recovery was possible
without taking a semester off. I graduated from outpatient.
Now, in Gelman, I stare at a woman’s bloody face
and broken body: an accessory in the video by the rapper
my school hired to headline our Spring festival. Reading his lyrics, all I feel
is the ghost of men’s hands on my body: lips pressed
against mine, hands reaching. I cannot escape
the panic in my chest, heightened by the comments online: stop being
so sensitive. He’s just an artist. You want to stifle his freedom
of speech, as a citizen. Your poor virgin ears. All rappers
are misogynistic. And that’s fine? My stomach churns
as it did, months ago, in that metro bathroom when I rid myself
of any feeling I could. Now, I don’t move, sitting with the fear
and the disgust. I remember, at fourteen, looking in the mirror,
loathing my body and how his presence seeped
into every part of my life. Only summer made him stop.
Even then, for three years, I saw him at school: every
day, happy, with other girls. They’re just lyrics. Grow up.
say the men defending the rapper, my classmates.
In their Facebook profiles, all are smiling. Of course they’re here.
I unclench my fists. I sign the petition to remove the rapper as headliner, visible.