This year, we invited the 2021 Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate, Aanika Eragam, to read one of her poems at the 2021 Numbers Too Big To Ignore Luncheon. We were honored that she wrote a new poem specifically for the event. Aanika’s poem is a moving tribute to women and girls.
The Women Beside Us
By Aanika Eragam
My mother was the fourth daughter in a series of girls. When she came out with her hair silky like spun web and a smile like song on her rosy pink lips, her parents finally gave up. They wanted a boy and they got a goddess, but they were so disappointed it took them years before they finally saw it.
Where my mother grew up, another daughter was another burden, another weight that would drag for decades, until she was married, until she was gone. Women, in the country my mother came from are always daughter, always sister, always wife, always mother, always someone to another.
And yet, at the bottom of the food chain. Even on this half of the globe, we pay our women less. We give them a thousand roles, a thousand tasks, and never ask if they’re okay, if sometimes it doesn’t feel like the weight on the back of a woman is designed to crush her. If it does for a time, if it makes a woman groundbound while she juggles her job and her role and her home, then she’s only human. But Earth is a mother who knows we can’t stay in her nest forever. We are meant to fly.
How many years were women stranded on the back pages of history books? In Biology, we learned of Watson and Crick but never Rosalind Franklin, the pioneer of DNA. The acclaimed poet of English Lit is Charles Dickens but what about Enheduanna, the first poet in the world. A woman. There are women behind every subject, women behind every story, women behind every broken barrier, but why always behind? Women don’t get to the front of the page unless there’s a crowd of sisters who pull them to the surface.
So today, we must be archaeologists. We must gather our shovels and slip on our boots and wade through the murky waters of the past and the present, to unearth every success our sisters may be scrubbed from. We must build bridges to burn barriers. Because together, when we sew our stories together, women are boundless, our energies unmatched, an electricity humming in our veins bright enough to light up the whole Atlanta skyline.
So let’s tell the women around us they’re brave, let’s tell them they’re worth it, let’s tell them they’re enough and that they deserve it, because investing in a woman is like tossing a pebble across a pond, watching the ripples reach even the furthest shores, the ones you thought impossible.
Women, I imagine us with our hands clasped together. My mother and her mother and her mother before that. One day, if I am so lucky as to have a daughter, she will not think for a second that she walks this Earth alone. Not behind her, but beside her, there will be all the women who’ve come before her, all the women who will come after. A number too big to ignore.
Aanika Eragam is a senior at Milton High School and is the 2021 Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate. She began writing short stories in elementary school and poetry her freshman year of high school. Aanika has always loved storytelling for its power in connecting her to her cultural heritage, unlocking foreign perspectives, and preserving history. She writes about family, South Asian heritage, girlhood, and body image. In 2021, Aanika was selected as one of five National Student Poets. Presented by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the National Student Poets Program is the nation’s highest honor for young poets (grades 10–11) creating original work. She also edits Milton’s literary magazine The Globe.