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This is twenty:

Less standing than bending;

It’s a whirlwind unending, 

And my body lays convulsing, so much so it’s confusing— I’m constantly losing 

myself and marooning 

Myself with a ball and chain, shackled to a dominion bordering oblivion and

instead of truth I see red and blue hues —

But be fooled not 

By the armor of my smile; by the laugh so salient it lingers a while; by my thick lips, for though they spit 

Motivational spiel, they stiffen up and temper to a bitter blue, greyed out by my nerves and dried bloody by them too— I am forever overflowing, the tears dripping down my heels—I still struggle

and stutter to articulate

How it feels — but I am twenty.

I am twenty. 


I should have it together by now; I should be ready

For the weight of the world, despite feeling weightless

For fighting my battles, when of myself I am faithless 

For being an adult, for being grown-up 

Yet I cannot quit the feeling that I am perpetually stuck. 


What is a pen

When its ink has crusted and dried

What is an ocean 

When it freezes over and everything dies?

What is a fire

With no kindling left to burn

What impasse have I passed upon

If not a broken, looped u-turn? 

As I turn on myself, again and again

Break myself, hoping to be remade—

But the same hands that crushed me are the ones piecing me together—ode to these

Buttery palms, marred cuticles and artistically twisted fingers—

I can’t tell 

When I grab my windpipe 

If I am opening it or squeezing it tighter—am I the oppressor, or am I the fighter? 

Some days are vibrant and joyous indeed but others render me gaunt and colorless as I heave

at my inability to do the bare minimum-

I’m on the wrong end of an endless pendulum

Every swing is 

Another hit

On another new pressure point 

I didn’t know could exist; 


Pretty soon I will be 

Shards of shards held together 

Solely in memory whilst in reality, I emerge dismembered —

But alas, at least 

I am


-what the hell does that even mean? 


This is a bit more of a personal statement than a newspaper column, but is all poetry not personal? I would assert that it is, for poetry cannot be divorced from emotion or subjectivity. 

When I was eighteen, I wrote the original iteration of Twenty. Fittingly, it was titled Eighteen. I consider it the original iteration of Twenty, however, because a lot of the themes transfer. If age is just a number, why is it entrenched in so solitary an expectation, so uniform a definition? 

We are all adults at eighteen. And we should all have our lives together or at least planned out by twenty. That is the norm of society. 

What does that even mean? And why is there no space for mental health to fall in-between? The expectation to be “okay” all the time once you’ve conventionally grown of age is stifling. 

Age is my Achilles heel, splitting me down my shins as it spills my sanity—and these words are my only appeal.


~ Maaheen Shaikh `25

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