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Home » Rupi Kaur: I’m Taking My Body Back at TEDxKC (Transcript)

Rupi Kaur: I’m Taking My Body Back at TEDxKC (Transcript)

Rupi Kaur at TEDxKC

Here is the full transcript of Canadian poet Rupi Kaur’s TEDx Talk: I’m Taking My Body Back at TEDxKC conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: I’m Taking My Body Back by Rupi Kaur at TEDxKC

Rupi Kaur – Canadian poet

It began as a typical Thursday: sunlight kissed my eyelids good morning. I remember climbing out of bed, making coffee to the sound of children playing outside, putting music on, loading the dishwasher, putting roses in a vase in the middle of the kitchen table.

Only when my apartment was spotless would I step into the bathtub, wash yesterday out of my hair, like the walls of my home were decorated with frames, bookshelves, photos I’d decorate myself. Hang a necklace on my chest, hook earrings in, apply lipstick like paint, sweep my hair back. Just your typical Thursday.

We ended up better get together with friends. At the end, you asked if I need a ride home and I said yes because our dads work for the same company, and you’d been to my place for dinner many times. But I should have known when you began to confuse kind conversation with flirtation, when you told me to let my hair down, when instead of driving me home toward the bright intersection of lights and life, you took a left to the road that led nowhere.

I asked where we were going, you asked was I afraid, and that’s when my voice jumped over the edge of my throat, landed at the bottom of my belly and hid for months. All the different parts in me turned the lights off, shut the blinds, locked the doors, I hid at the back of some upstairs closet of my mind while someone came and broke the windows. You, someone, kicked the front door in, you took everything, you, someone, took me.

It was you who dove to me with a fork and a knife, eyes glinting with starvation like you hadn’t eaten in weeks. I was 110 pounds of fresh meat you’d skin and gut with your fingers like you were scraping the inside of a cantaloupe clean. I screamed for my mother as you nail my wrist to the ground, turned my breast to bruised fruit. This home is empty now. No gas, no electricity, no running water.

The food is rotten from head to foot. I am layered in dust; fruit flies, webs, bugs. Someone called the plumber, the stomach is backed up, I’ve been vomiting since! Call the electrician these eyes won’t light up. Call the cleaners to wash me up and hang me to dry. When you broke into my home, it never felt like mine again.

I can’t even let a lover in without being sick. I lose sleep after the first date, lose my appetite, become more bone and less skin, forget to breathe. Every night, my bedroom becomes a psych ward where panic attacks wake men playing doctors to keep me calm. Every lover who touches me ends up feeling like you. Their fingers – you, mouths – you, until they’re not even the ones on top of me anymore; it’s you.

And I am so tired of doing things your way. It isn’t working. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how I could have stopped it. But the sun can’t stop the storm from coming, the tree can’t stop the axe. I can’t blame me for having a hole the size of your manhood in my chest anymore.

It’s too heavy to carry your guilt. I’m setting it down. I’m tired of decorating this place with your shame as if it belongs to me. It’s too much to walk around with what your hands have done if it’s not my hands that have done it. The truth comes to me.

Suddenly, after years of rain, the truth comes like sunlight pouring through that open window. It takes a long time to get here, but it all comes full circle. It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs, but it takes a whole, complete, perfectly design person to survive it. It takes monsters to steal souls and fighters to reclaim them. This home is what I came into this world with; was the first home, will be the last home.

You can’t take it. There is no space for you, no welcome mat, no extra bedrooms. I’m opening all the windows, airing it out, putting roses in a vase in the middle of that kitchen table, lighting a candle, loading the dishwasher with my thoughts until they’re spotless, and then, I plan to step into the bathtub, wash yesterday out of my hair, put music on, sit back, put my feet up, and enjoy this typical Thursday.

So when I first started writing years ago, it was a private hobby, and then years after that, it became a public one that I shared with some family and some friends. And then years after that, I began to share it with the Internet, and today, I’m lucky enough to say that it’s become my full-time job.

So when I first started to travel to perform spoken word poetry like you saw here today and to do readings of my book “Milk and Honey,” family and friends always asked me, “Don’t you ever get homesick?” And on the plane rides to and from, I ponder that question because the truth was I never really got homesick. I mean, of course I’d lie to my mom and tell her that I did, because what was I really going to say? “Hi, mom. Yeah No, no, I’m actually completely fine, I don’t miss being home at all.”

Trust me, I did it once last year, and I am still hearing about it a year later. But the truth was the fact that I never felt homesick made me feel bad. “Was there something wrong with me?”, I thought “Was I cold?” And after months of wandering, I realize that the reason I never felt homesick was because, for me, home was wherever I was. So let me explain.

I’d moved over a dozen times in my short life, so this concept that home is some physical structure just stopped making sense a long time ago. How could I place the idea of home on places that kept on changing, on temporary roofs? Houses were structures. Home was here. When I was three, home was on that two-wheeler scooter rocketing around my village in Punjab. When my father left India as a refugee, he went to search for a home in far-off countries while my mother tried to maintain our crumbling one there.

And years after that, mum and I found home on an airplane hurdling towards a Canadian tarmac. And then, in the dozen plus moves that followed that, the only constant I had under each of those roofs was my art, it was my writing and my expression.

So naturally, writing became like a limb. It became an extension of my being. So then, what happens when your home, when your body is attacked? What happens, say, when you thrust something as dark as sexual abuse, molestation, a rape, onto a person? It makes you feel robbed like you don’t even own your body.

They own it, and you’re living in it on rent. And this feeling of homelessness within the body isn’t restricted to only sexual violence. Domestic violence can make you feel just as far away from yourself navigating this world with a physical or a mental disability. That first treatment of chemotherapy will make you feel like your body’s turned on you, and you’re living someplace foreign. The sensation of being trapped, being born into the wrong body altogether is terrifying.

The boy or girl mercilessly bullied at school and battered at home, the refugee, unwanted on the old shore and deemed a scavenging vulture in the new. So many of us are trying to reclaim our bodies from something. At my lowest point – this was right before I began to take writing seriously and make it into an everyday practice – thoughts of ending my life were constant, and attempts weren’t far off. I could not stand myself. I’d walk into the bathroom, and I would seriously turn the lights off, I would shower in complete darkness, while I wouldn’t have to stand there, under the water, have to look down and see my body because this thing had brought me so much pain that seeing it filled me with disgust.

I honestly avoided mirrors like one would avoid an ex at a party. I refused to acknowledge it, look at it, appreciate it. I craved physical pain to manage the emotional pain. And so I began to break the body down, refused to nurture it with good food and good sleep, abused it through language and vandalized it through self-harm. But there was one day, where I was crying upstairs in my room – and it was always Niagara Falls in my room at that point in my life – but this day was different.

This day the tears suddenly stopped, it was like the taps went dry, and like a robot, I got up, I walked to the closet, I found some charcoal, I found some paper, and I sat, and I drew for hours. What I ended up with was a picture of a woman, and in the corner of the page, I’d written a poem. And little did I know that sitting there in grade 10 or 11 that this combination of picture and poetry would one day lead to a New York Times bestselling collection of poems. The writing was a guttural response to my trauma I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote with the intention to survive.

The poetry in the books, all of that, was just the side effect. And it was this writing that led me to reclaim my body. You see, I come from a tradition of poetry. Being raised in a sick household, every instance of my life from birth has been informed by poetry. Six scriptures are written in poetic verse.

It was on the lips of my mother as she rocked me to sleep, it was on the lips of her mother whose own mother rocked her to sleep as they traveled an ox cart through the carnage and pillage of the South Asian partition. The poetry is Punjabi, and Persian, Braj, and Sanskrit. It is how millions viewed life, in concert, constructed by the languages of nomads, and warriors, and mystics.

Even our names are picked from poems written hundreds of years ago. When I’ll decide to marry, it will be poetry that will bond that marriage. And even when I pass, it will be poetry that will mark my departure. And so, it comes as no surprise, I think, that I would use writing poetry as a means to reclaim this body, to find home here again.

It was this writing of poetry that led me to find love for myself, and with that love, a path lit up. I took that love, walked back into myself, to that five-year-old girl, to that 10-15-year old girl who was still sitting inside of me scared, the one who had no one, I walked over to her, picked her up, and told her it was going to be OK.

We all sat in this body that day, joined together as one. And I said to all the younger versions of me, I said, “You are welcome here. You have always been welcome here. This place belongs to you. Nothing was your fault, and I love you.”

The truth comes after years of rain, the truth comes like sunlight pouring through that open window. It takes a long time to get here, but it all comes full circle. It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs, but it takes a whole, complete, perfectly designed person to survive it. It takes monsters to steal souls and fighters to reclaim them. This home is what I came into this world with, it was the first home, will be the last home.

You can’t take it. There is no space for you, no welcome mat, no extra bedrooms. I’m opening all the windows, airing it out, putting roses in a vase in the middle of that kitchen table, lighting a candle, loading the dishwasher with my thoughts until they’re spotless, and then, I plan to step into that bathtub, wash yesterday out of my hair, decorate my body in gold, put music on, sit back, put my feet up, and enjoy this typical Thursday.

 

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