With You I Breathe

Tracey Emin, With You I Breathe (2010)

My legs opened as an act of choice
A military dissent to a hierarchy
To overthrow like pushing down a barricade with bare hands

She weaves resilience into her very fabric of womanhood
Harmless and unthreatening but
No scissors can cut through her softness

I read theories written by unfamiliar hands
Yawn at boring men trying to make an impression over beer
At some café in Europe. I report to her that
I mock their thickness
She knows I am a bed of knives
So she loves me more than any man can

My mother is the greatest feminist I know
Yet we stand on parallel axes of different textures
Trying to reach one another but never actually
Coming into contact
And so we try to scream at each other across the divide
But I’ll admit I took a step back first

Her warnings against my short skirts and pride
Hurled like rocks but intended to be cool rain on a hot flush episode
I have to learn to interpret her feminist manifestos
Rendered incomprehensible by the walls of my liberal education

But I will try
I promise to grab at ambiguity and walk paths untread
If I fall, it will be onto her lap sobbing for forgiveness.
The barricade has fallen. The feminist grew.
With you I breathe.

She was the first man I knew
She is marble pillars and steel bridges
Cacti and roses and even weeds on pavements
Because protecting the children don’t require a penis
And even when you’re on the verge of suicide
Hugs and tears suffice,
Hugs and tears suffice.

Artwork by Tracey Emin “With You I Breathe” 2010

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