This is another poem which has remained popular over the years, but yet when I read it today it seems like it’s a foreign country, miles away and so different than how my life is now. This poem is at least 20 years old, maybe more, and was published in my first poetry book, The Difference Now.
When people tell me they relate to this book, very often they mention this poem. I think the concept of what this poem is about is something many people understand. They’ve been there. You love someone and want their approval so badly that you’ll do anything. You’ll pretend that their lies are beautiful, that their insults are like music to your ears… and you’ll eventually see yourself the way they want you to be instead of how you really are. People that do this type of thing want you to be less than. They take your strong spirit and tell you “Who do you think you are?” They listen to your intelligent opinions and tell you that you’ve “got a mouth” on you or you’re “not feminine” because you’re strong. It took me a long time to learn just how beautiful it was to be strong and healthy. When I did, I attracted people to me that were strong and healthy, too, in every area of my life: friendships, relationships, and my people in my career.
What we think about ourselves we put out there and attract back into our lives. We need to have a healthy attitude about ourselves, our life, first. Only then can we surround ourselves with good people.
What I found in my process to grow up and out of emotional abuse was that when you become healthy and finally see the balanced view of yourself, you also see the damaged people. You see the ones that try and hurt you with their nastiness because they’re messed up, addicted, or just plain immature. You don’t need to interact with it, respond to it, or try and reason with it. Just forgive and then set up healthy boundaries.
This poem talks about the process of making someone else’s view of you fit. When I’ve heard from people who say they really enjoyed this poem, they all say the same thing, it made them understand how verbal abuse feels. It isn’t just listening to something negative but about taking the abuse you receive and pretending it’s love.
The Girl You Drew On Canvas
I took your lies
like a bouquet of roses.
I told you they smelled beautiful
and put them in a vase, with water
so they stayed fresh.
I accepted your insults
like a handmade sweater.
I slipped them over my head
and pressed the fabric into my skin
making sure it covered every inch.
I bathed in your cold stares
running the water over my body.
Until I convinced myself it was warm enough
and I’d sink deep down
until I was soaked.
I played your criticism
like a jazz CD.
I poured a glass of wine
and listened while the melodies
washed over me.
I saw your sketch of me
and took in every angle.
I stared at the painting
until I could see the girl
you drew on canvas.
I opened my arms
and embraced your arrogance.
I held it close to my heart
like a gift of true love
sent from above.
© Cherie Burbach, “The Girl You Drew on Canvas,” The Difference Now, 2004