THINGS I WISH I KNEW AT 17
the agony of this is temporary.
you are in the middle right now,
lost in one of those cornfield mazes
with the dirt in your shoes
and the bushes swallowing you whole
and the stars too distant to feel
like comfort, and you keep running
into walls trying to claw your way out–
but i am in a helicopter flying over you,
a picture below me that you cannot see,
and i need you to understand that
the end of this hurt is closer than you think.
and there is such sweetness on the other side.
you may arrive with thorns in your palms
and blood in your mouth, but you will
i know, i know, you have so many questions,
but he is not the answer.
he is not salvation.
he is just a man in a blue sweater
who is trying his best, and
he isn’t enough. he can’t be.
this is the answer:
survival is a waiting game, a game of stealth.
you have to wait, and live, and absorb
enough from the world around you to realize
that the light at the end of the tunnel
was always in the pit of your stomach
where you thought nothing grew.
the light is you,
and when you do survive this,
you will know what everyone else always knew–
that you were worth
the pain of metamorphosis.
you cannot know how young you are
until you aren’t anymore.
so let this old lady a few years down the line
let you in on something no one thought to tell you
when they were putting you in honors classes
and fawning over how precocious you were:
you don’t know how much you don’t know.
you are so young, so wonderfully and deeply sensitive.
you deserve to be protected,
but you also deserve the truth
about the way things are.
i wish i could wipe the tears from your eyes
and explain it all to you in gentle, easy words.
i wish i could raise you myself as i am now.
i wish, i wish.
but such is the way it is,
when you are seventeen:
nothing i say will make sense to you
until the world has already broken your heart.
nobody likes themselves at seventeen.
you are still a pie half-baked and lumpy,
bubbling and contorting to a shape
you can’t visualize yet.
i don’t mean to sound like a cliche cat poster, but:
hang in there, baby.
don’t let anything or anyone steal your softness.
don’t take the sins of those who wrong you upon yourself.
don’t treat yourself as the exception to
happiness. forgiveness. joy. vulnerability. compassion.
do take yourself seriously.
do take time to read and talk and learn and grow.
do surprise yourself, on occasion.
and trust your instincts, even when they mumble.
take the leap and post your poetry on the internet,
regardless of its quality— you’ll be astonished
what you will accidentally come to mean to people.
this life is wilder and weirder than you could have ever known at seventeen.
and sometimes—that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing after all.
By Zaynab Quadri
Zaynab Quadri is a first-year PhD student in American Studies who dabbles in poetry and fiction whenever she’s not wrestling with research papers. She thanks you for your time.