Pressed and Dried Protea

June 23, 2021

The Dresses

I was born with Fortune’s smile upon my brow,
Spreading across the horizon like great wings
that I clipped off. At the very least, everybody says that I am beautiful now.
Even though I, myself, did not feel beautiful, I adorned my shoulders with precious little things.

Dresses, satin, cotton, and linen, all lined in order.
What a privilege it was to have every gown fall perfectly to my shape
and perfect the image before the mirror, training my expression to stay within the border.
Even the sun could beam for the demure daughter who wore perfection’s cape.

The antithesis to the sun’s receding smile crept slowly into view.
Sneaking under seams stretched taut under my reaching arms at first.
Then, in skirts that clipped off centimeters before my shoe.
Everybody clucked their tongues, “when did you choose to become so defiantly cursed?”

In their eyes, I persisted and insisted. Behind closed racks, I asked fate to fix me.
Yet, the dresses shrunk with every touch and I grew with every blooming breath.
Year by year, it sounds silly to fear that the darkness would seize me for a changing identity.
My dresses gather dust. Some say I am brave and others say I sin for a life worse than death.

It shouldn’t be revolutionary to be.
But it is.
Take your time and let your growing reach cease. Some dresses are temporary.
But, in all of fortune’s kingdom, there is no holy place in which we do not exist.


Palms Painted In Pride

My immigrant mother doesn’t believe in
Because you will hear truthful love on fingertips
Instead of upon careless lips.
When one is genuine, their hands are stained with the decision
Born out of intention.

Her touch revelled upon treasures, common fruit from a homeland left behind.
She’d feed them to her children from lined palms, a tapestry of intention.
Sometimes, in the kitchen, I’d find her wrapping bandages on burns on her fingertips.
And I’d remember, when I prayed over the fire, to ask so that my hand wouldn’t slip.

Is that prayer mankind’s hindsight?
Adam’s hands were claimed by the earth under his nails
When he loved, trusted, tumbled, and slipped.
When he prayed over the fire, how did he see his decision born out of intention?

The birthmark lives on. My mother worries as my lips are sealed but my hands are scarred.
I cup them under the kitchen sink. With the water, the basin’s stained to the brim in paint.
Everyone before me knew their choice. I did not and loved without cause.
If she knew, my mother would believe that my hands were cursed to be sculpted this way.
And yet, aren’t the vibrant ink drops running down my fingertips genuine?

When you read my soul in every shade, do you find intention?
Are these the colored palms I was destined
To have? Or has my fate fallen
Out of translation?

In every language, judgement asks, “what did you decide?”



I built castles for love and furnished them in prisons,
Forging tense responsibility out of tender notions,
And to seal the leaking cracks on the ceilings,
I wrapped my arms from wing to wing.
Over the arches stretching from side to sigh,
The towers of brick expectations stack too high.
My paper-thin elbows and illusions
Cannot hold to even be my own scaffold.
When a single heart is so difficult to hold,
How can I build the foundation
Of the extension
Of the anger and fear and grief of every past generation?

Remember how I whispered across the marble counter.
My father looks at me, he finally registered,
“Haven’t you seen enough?”
When you see me, you’ll know that the sky is no more.
So tell them all what I swore,
Feudal rule had to end, and so did every feud.
Some altars need to be brought to a lower altitude.

I hover under the marble arch, pressed under a pledge,
Pushing my grip past the edge of the window ledge.
My paper-thin wrists rest, reaching for the wall under the window sill.
And yet, paper beats rock still.

When I fall with the sky,
My pulse beats and flutters like the paper butterfly,
Once hanging above the stone arch of my door.
I feel the weight of my safety scissors in my hand once more.
My fingers were smaller then,
But they still remember the motion.
Scissors beat paper.

Paper butterflies don’t really know how to fly.
They just curve down and down and down,
Away from the sky.

Little girl, when you see our hard-earned butterfly
Couldn’t hold its own with the sky.
Please understand.
It’s so hard not to strain a heart.
It’s a muscle just the same,
but it’s still not strong enough to carry
the choices I’ve made.


Fatema RahamanFatema Rahaman is a poet and artist from New York who writes regularly for The Incandescent Review. When she isn’t writing, she’s out looking for inspiration among bugs in the garden and the other little things in life. For more work by Fatema, visit her website at



Featured Image by Bannon Morrissy on Unsplash