Life right now is a labyrinth
Where we tiptoe around mouse traps,
We hide in the dull shade of safety
Compromising dreams for dinners.

When the bricks or our homes start to crumble
Under the pressure of paying bills
We can’t afford to collapse with them
So we imagine flamboyant fireworks
We imagine white pines and parties
waiting for us on the other side

We are told to have “hope”, so we try
We squint to catch a glimpse of it
But “hope” is a string stretched thin into space
where only the moon can touch it
It is a black whole that accedes into oblivion
A loose end left undone
A perk only available to the privileged
So we shout for help, we beg

A mother’s knees sinking into the ground
Her arms stretched out
Are her cries not loud enough?
A young autistic woman is
Dog-eyed from the lengths she’s had to run
Every time she makes it to the front of the queue
she is launched back.
She is told to wait

Do not doubt our resilience
We are proud, we are defiant
We are not weak, but we are spent
Bent out of shape,
Chiselled and carved until we fit into pencil frames

Our minds are tattered
Our hearts are tired
How small does a woman have to become
Before she is permitted for a helping hand?
Fingers blistered from crawling out of towering shadows
Nails cracked from only just scratching the surface

Tell me, Are you listening?
Like actually listening?
Or is your answer to the questions I’ve not yet asked, already waiting at the tip of your tongue?
Are your preconceived opinions desperate to spill from the lips that repeatedly tell us, they are here to help?

To help, to understand you must walk in our boots
Spend a night in our trenches, where murky mud climbs to the hips

Where women feel fear before curiosity, when the postman knocks on the door
Where girls have to mask in order to fit in
Where bins are overflowing with opportunities that have no access
Where we dream of safety
Where we hold hands to keep warm
Where in the dark deep pits, we search for each other
Because nobody else answers our calls

This is not palms clutching for hand outs, its women searching for home
For a place where the saving of lives, is not left only to poetry.
Where art meets respect
Where voices are heard
Where a promise is more than a bucket with holes

This is women searching for a place where kindness prevails.

Poem by Tahmina Ali commissioned by Poet in the City and University of Warwick with generous support from the ESRC and Sidney E. Frank Foundation as part of Newcastle's Poetry Exchange Hub.