By Elijah Noble El
Here is the praying ground, everything complete, everything an answer. Digging your calloused hands into the dirt, you tell me this is how it should be. “This is how it should be all the time.” Things are prayed for, then rain, then life. Generations of women; mothers, protectors, lovers, painters, loners, fighters. They all have grown here, just like the flowers tended to. It’s been a green-field full of life, a safe place, a haven. From birth to death, it’s been a home.
Once a girl of nine stumbled in onto wooden floors, scraped knees before this. Two women ran to her, noting small cuts, noting she smelled of smoke. “From running,” one woman assumed to the other. When the girl put wet cloth to wounds and filled herself with a meal, she told them the fire’s name. The dark-haired woman stuck her fork into the beef, eyed the sweat beading from the drinking glass, and remembered all her own father burned down. “You’re safe here,” she said. “You’ll always be safe here.”
Twenty years old, full to the brim with promise, head full of destiny, loses faith at the sight of blood running down her leg, loses god with a hand around her throat, with betrayal thrusting in and out of her despite her pleas, despite the clawing. Found by the outskirts of the praying ground. A broken bird walks for miles before passing out. Blood hers and not hers under her fingernails. Pain all hers between her legs, constraining the chest, the heart. An old woman finds her and brings her to the gardens. Eyes flutter open, lip trembles, first words “I loved him.” The old woman takes her hands and puts them to the ground. “Love yourself even more. You need yourself,” then digs her hands into the ground, the beginning of prayer. Her hands tremble above the earth, face buried in Queen Anne’s Lace. “I’ve never really believed.” The old woman smiles, hands in the earth. “You just have to believe in yourself. Believe you’ll grow from this. Believe that blood can turn to water.” Twenty years old, hands find destiny and promise buried, pulls it out. She’s twenty years old and she finds her worth. “I want to stay.” The old woman smiles, hands in the earth.
A miracle of a girl from a tiny village in the middle east, abandoned as a child, found rescue at eight, now nineteen, has breakfast with the woman who for the longest time she’s called her mother and with the girls she’s called her sisters, drinking milk, making teeth out of orange slices, laughing, throwing raisins. The girl puts bread between teeth, and with her mind always wondering, she asks what exactly the praying ground is. Mother, looking out at all the girls saved over the years, tears a pomegranate apart. “It’s love. It’s finding love in everything, in anything you can. It’s recovery. It’s finding religion. Not religion in the sense of some sort of god, but it’s finding something to believe in when you think there’s nothing left. It’s not a destination but a lifelong journey, and along that journey you find others like you. You make a home, a support system. It’s about running from a fire, then when you feel like you’re stronger, running back into it, putting it out and rebuilding the ruins the way you see fit. It’s digging your hands into the earth and feeling the hope, the strength of everyone before you who’s ever done the same. It’s a sense of unity. It’s unity scattered like stardust.”
Once a girl of nine, now a girl of thirty, smiles more, has discovered a passion for teaching. She teaches about stumbling and about getting up again. She teaches about running headfirst into the fire. She’s wiser now, braver, louder. By nature a quiet voice but by nurture it resounds. Every now and again she’ll look up into the distance, see the smoke still rising from the forest. She’ll smile to herself, look down at her feet covered in dirt, the feet that ran her back.
Seventy years old, a life lived, promises fulfilled. Three children, all beautiful, all taught to be gentle and true with loved ones. She taught them all that she was taught, mostly about forgiveness, “not for them, but for yourself.” Years after washing her hands and years after blood drying, she visits her abuser. She takes her name back. She fills her books with Queen Anne’s Lace now. She feels her wings mended. Looks back on life now, closes her eyes, in the end can say “I loved myself.” Seventy years old, destiny, a story told, in the end can say “I loved myself.”
This piece was originally shared in Persephone’s Daughters, a lit magazine dedicated to empowering women who have experienced various forms of abuse and degradation.
Elijah Noble El is a 20 year old actor and writer from Livonia, Michigan. The author of a full-length poetry book, The Age of Recovery, he is also a poetry reader for the lit magazine Persephone’s Daughters, a magazine aimed at empowering women. His short story, “Oblivion,” received the Award for Excellence in Literature from the Michigan PTSA Reflections contest. His poetry has been published in Straylight Magazine, Hooligan Magazine, Exist Magazine, Eastern Michigan University’s Inkstains Anthology, and in Stevenson High School’s Spectrum.