Sunday, 24 July 2016

Once I was Eleven Years Old, by Liz Kessler

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago, after listening to ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham. I wrote it shortly before the Orlando shootings in which 49 people were killed, shot dead for one reason only: they were in a gay club.

This blog is dedicated to the 49 people who lost their lives that night, and is posted in honour of the new Amnesty International book for young people, Here I Stand, a collection of stories by YA authors which I am immensely proud to be part of.

Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.
Once I was eleven years old.

I moved up to the big school, grew up kind of fast.
Left the girl behind as we took our separate paths.
Had a string of boyfriends, and never questioned why
None of them ever felt a hundred per cent right.

Once I was sixteen years old, and I had some new friends.
Two of them sat me down one day
Told me they were gay.
I knew right then they had a love I wanted too.
But I had to wait. They told me, ‘It’ll come to you.’

Once I was eighteen years old.
I’d started at college, moved away from home.
I met a girl one night and I knew what I’d been missing.
I’d never known a feeling like when we started kissing.
It only took one night
To know this was a hundred per cent right.

I always thought when I found love, things would work out fine,
Thought it would keep me safe from danger, keep me warm at night.
Didn’t expect the words that hit me like a brick.
‘Dyke, queer, disgusting, you make me feel sick.’

Once I was twenty years old.
And a law was brought in by bigots and fools
Said my sexuality had to be kept out of schools.
Told us we were dangerous, told us we weren’t wanted.
So we fought back…we marched, we sang, we chanted.

Once I was twenty years old.
I poured my heart into the world.
Demanded that it listen. Demanded we be heard.
Went out there and fell in love a hundred times or more.
Nothing would stop me, no bigot, no law.

Once I was thirty years old
I knew who I was by then.
I had a life, a job, good friends.
I looked back on the times I’d grown up in, the things we’d lived through,
And gave thanks that the world was growing up too.

Once I was forty years old
I met the love of my life.
Society had changed so much
That this girl is now my wife.

I only see the future now, and this is what I say:
Those dykes and faggots of the past have led us to this day.
The ones who fought, who bravely stood and let themselves be counted
Their gifts have brought us where we are. Their lives should be saluted.

Once I was forty years old.
I looked at what I’d done.
Published books for the young.
But there was still one left to write, still one thing I had to say,
And the need to tell this story had never gone away.

I went back to the book that I had written years before.
Gave it everything I had, and then a little more.
I owed it to that girl in there to stand up, face the crowd.
To tell them, ‘This is who I am’.
I hope that girl is proud.

Soon I’ll be fifty years old.
The world is still evolving, still turning.
We’re still growing, still learning.
My country is a place where two people can hold hands, embrace
Without fearing abuse and disgrace.

But we’re not there yet.
Not even nearly, so it seems.
You only have to watch the news on your television screens.
Every day another story
Tells us progress can be slow.
It’s one world and we still have a long way to go.

Maybe soon. Maybe one day.
Maybe when we’re eighty.
But at least now I can hold my head up and say to the girl of twenty,
‘Look, I did it, I stood up, told the world who I am. Come stand with me.’

Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.

Once I was eleven years old.

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Katherine Langrish said...

Wonderful, Liz. Thankyou.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this, Liz!

Susan Price said...

You are so right, Liz.