Arts·Poetic License

'I'm only 18 but I've done more surviving than living.' A poem of intimacy, trauma and enduring

Watch Carvela Lee perform Sankofa — the poem that means everything to her.

Watch Carvela Lee perform Sankofa

"This poem means everything to me," Carvela Lee tells us about Sankofa. "I think this is probably the best thing that I've ever written, in my opinion," she laughs. "It was just so honest, I didn't pretend. I feel every single thing that I wrote."

"Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol. It basically means 'to go back and get it.' This piece is something I tried to write several times, and then, after doing some work on myself and trying to get to know myself better, I decided that this is just something I had to go back [to]." See her perform a selection from the poem in this episode of Poetic License and read the full text below.

Watch Carvela Lee perform Sankofa:

Carvela Lee performs Sankofa: a poem of survival, intimacy and violence. "This poem means everything to me." 3:01

As the world around us grows more and more uncertain, eight young poets speak their truth in the third season of the CBC Arts series Poetic License. Watch all eight performances now and read Carvela Lee's poem below.

How did I get here? I'm only 18 but I've done more surviving than living. My body is like a cage, forcing the trauma to be still. It won't move. Dear God I want it to move. But the truth is, I don't think it ever will, not just for me but for everyone. The only thing you can do is talk, but what do you do when you're all talked out? I've said everything but nothing at all. I'm too ashamed. I don't want anyone to know how unclean I am. My body has never been a place of much reverence. I suppose that's not my fault. But at what point does personal responsibility become effective?

I'm coming to terms with not knowing the innocence of Mary. I compare myself to her a lot. I don't know why, she was just one of my many childhood obsessions. Her existence or lack thereof amuses me. How could you give birth without having sex? Better yet, how do I give myself away so freely, with no blessing to be received. We're alike, yes! We are alike. We didn't choose this life, it chose us. She knows how it feels to be shamed. I love that about her. She seems to understand me in way no one else has. I guess that is the beauty of being a non-religious Christian.

Surviving only means finding new ways to ease the pain. It only gets easier, never better. Easier meaning you get to select an addiction of your choice and use it until your soul starts attacking your physical body. Today we call it anxiety, but those of us who've been here before know better. I feel it in my bones, I have done this all before.

Pleasure is foreign to me, I don't know her. After being active for most of my life, I am coming to terms with being a virgin. Love and sex have never entered my body at the same time. They don't belong together. I've had many encounters, but none of them seemed to notice I wasn't there, or maybe they were selfish enough to not care. I didn't. I wish I did but I couldn't . My desire for intimacy led me to violence. I have never been held by love, or my mother. I craved body heat, I still do. I like it when people put their face on mine. But I'm afraid to ask. Will anyone understand my desire to be held like an infant?