Behind My Eyes

I’ve always been scared of eyes.

I don’t like

things touching my eye

talking about eyes,

thinking about eyes.

Bright lights are fires

sticks of eyeliner are

sticks of dynamite,

eye contact is painful.


I’ve always been scared of eyes.

This is because there is something living behind my eyes,

a part of myself I will never grace with a name

or try to drown in tears

for fear that I will baptize him.


There is something living behind my eyes.

It’s veiled in a haze of distance,

hiding in the twisting riddle maze of my iris,

embedding itself in the lining of my pupil,

this thing living in my eyes

is something that has grown in the darkness

just as the darkness has grown in him.


I didn’t always know it was there.

I grew up checking the closets and curtains

for monsters without knowing

the real monster sleeps

behind eyelids that flutter at night

building minefields into my pupils,

weaving fear into the lining of my retinas,

festering within the perimeters of my blind spot,

biding his time.


There he lives, behind the glass

behind the distance –

the most real part of me

and also the most hideous.

Barbed wire smiles and teeth of flint,

child of the knives in his back, hateful

but trained to be

because of the people

who named him ugly, grotesque,

he make meals of remorse

and spins scars out of guilt.


My body trembles with repulsion,

I’ve tried so hard to blink this thing away

so I don’t have to feel

like I’m not a good person.

But the twisted thing is,

I don’t know who I am without my monster.


I’ve always been scared of eyes,

because I’m afraid

you’ll look into mine and see

this thing that might just be my soul

blooming out like a disease,

he’s been contained for so long

that freedom has become

just another form of vengeance.


I’m ashamed of him.

These mirrors, these lights, these eyes

they don’t know what they’re looking at.

This thing likes

tying my eyelashes into nooses,

this thing plays hide-and-seek

with my sense of direction,

drawing the line between heaven and hell

like it’s something that

can be redrawn in chalk.


Games can be made out of anything, after all –

even fear,

and I’m afraid if I try

caring for him,

saving him,

embracing him,

I’m afraid the next time you scratch me

with knife coloured nails

I’ll hurt you back.

Because my monster keeps telling me about

the certain perverse pleasure

of learning to dominate someone

who once terrified you.


I want to be better than that.

But I still can’t look myself in the eye.

Maybe I just haven’t found a mirror

or a light

or a pair of eyes

strong enough to hold him yet –

strong enough to hold me

in all of my parts,

in light, and in the darkness

that lives behind my eyes.

This was a poem I wrote for my “Portrait of Me” presentation and expresses how my very real aversion to eyes is a result of fear; it is a fear exposing how terrible I really am, at the core of my being. As much as I try to be good in every way I know how, there is a part of me that begs to be selfish, a part of me that is stronger and more influential than I would like it to be.

My eyes are the most vulnerable part of my body, thus I am very protective of them. For example, I wear glasses even though I could wear contacts because they are a stronger physical barrier between the world and my soul. I don’t like it when people force eye contact for too long, because even if they don’t know me, there’s always a chance they might catch a glimpse of this cruel, angry thing I have tried so hard to bury.

I desperately want to be good. But I am selfish by nature and I am selfless by nurture; this means I am still trying to find a balance between who I am and who I want to be.

The thing is, I am only so ashamed of selfishness within me because I have been taught that ‘selfish’ is synonymous with ‘evil.’ Selfishness is wrong, and that’s all there is to it. Conversely, selflessness is pure. To be selfless is to be good. It’s that simple.

Except that it isn’t. By definition, selflessness is something external to self and occurs when someone concerns themselves with someone else more than they do themselves. So wouldn’t an obsession with someone else technically be selfless? Wouldn’t the act influencing another be a selfless act, being as it is external to self?

The complicated interplay between selfishness and selflessness is something that fascinates me, but also terrifies me. How is it that I know myself to be selfish and want myself to be selfless when I don’t really know what either of these things are?

What I do know is that the monster who hides behind my eyes, whether I decide him to be selfish or selfless, is impulsive. He is emotional and exhausted and confused. He is to be pitied. But he is also to be treated with caution.

I guess I’m still trying to figure out how to accept him without giving in to him.


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6 thoughts on “Behind My Eyes

  1. Dear Ziyana,

    I feel ya.

    Like honestly, I’ve not much more to say than resonated with pretty much everything you’ve said. I’ve always had my ever present and critical gripes on the style of poetry, but with what’s it meant to do as a poem – to elicit an intellectual, spiritual, or emotional response from a reader; to gather sympathy and connect to your audience personally via something so very real in our day and age. And Zi, you’ve had that knack of kindling that kind of response with your writing. You’ve always had. With a topic, no less, that’s quite frankly not explored enough either, but so very vital. Eyes.

    The lifeblood of an actor, the energies they receive and emanate all come from the eyes. The most meaningful conversations that could ever erupt from our cores have almost nothing to do with the words we say, but come across almost entirely through our body language and the eyes. But if it was so important – the instruments that make us so undoubtedly human – why is it that a great deal of us struggle so relentlessly with them?

    It’s a question that’s been furled and unfurled time and time again, but I’m still no closer to getting that definitive answer. You could give me a whole bunch of scientific reason, but when dealing with the eyes – things that are so literal but so abstract at the same time – it delves much, much deeper. On a spiritual level, that is.

    I think I told you this once, but I’ll bring it up again. Even as a wee lad, I too was so utterly terrified of eye contact. I never thought anything of it, never knowing just how important unspoken language really was until I forcibly escaped my youth. But the thought of eye contact alone, was all too much. Painful even. Suddenly the tiles on the ground, the pebbles under my feet, the mud stains on my shoes were far more interesting than the blues, the greens, the browns, and the greys that mine eyes could have been blessed to see, but a blessing I never took.

    All out of an innate fear, and an innate knowing that eyes were meant for so much more than just seeing – but for “seeing”. They were the keys to the gateway to the soul, but if I could see any resemblance of a soul in their eyes, surely they could see mine. And I suppose I was always just afraid that whatever they might have seen was a product of punishment. Something dirty, but so sublime, but so cruel, something of an intellectual and something of a brute altogether. Maybe the lack of knowing of what I was gave way to assuming the worst.

    And like I always reiterate: All the world’s problems begin with assumptions, and from them come the over-glorifications of everything so wrong and misunderstood if left unremedied and unnurtured.

    A misunderstood teen is a pitiless kind of fate. It’s like a hole you never know just how to dig yourself out of. From all the lack of communication, the isolation comes a worser fate: when you start to believe the external influences, and you begin to misunderstand yourself. It’s a codex to all your faults that you assume about yourself.

    I battled with the idea myself, that just one of these fateful days I was just inching ever so closer into embracing the long-haired, pale-skinned, yellow-eyed grotesque deformity of a monster that I knew I had the potential of growing into. A constant question ringed on whether or not I was even capable of a soul when I was stitched together from multiple donors and influences. Or maybe I had already forfeited my chance to being gifted a soul ages ago, since I lacked that which made me the most human. Eyes.

    Closure of being human. Of being accepted. Of having a sense to belong. All the fundamental needs that we require, but rarely discuss. Selflessness my arse. No such thing exists. For everything we’ve ever sought to accomplish for another person, to concern ourselves for another person over our own selves – all of that has stemmed from a selfish “need”, and it really doesn’t matter how many “wants” we layer on top of said need to give the appearance of being selfless. That’s all it is. An illusion. But the true tragedy is believing that selfishness is strictly a bad thing. It’s gotten a bad rep for representing greed and vanity and anything of the sort. But it’s not. Selfishness is not a bad thing. It’s a human thing. It’s a survival thing. It’s what makes us who we are, and I’d rather have my selfishness than to be falsely represented by an illusion. (That’s not to say that I don’t have a soft spot for lights and magic.)

    But ultimately, we’ve our daemons that we think ourselves to be, and we’ve the creationists, and the brilliance, that we never admitted ourselves to be.

    Regardless, I do believe in Monsters.

    But I’d never fear them again. They are not creatures meant to be shunned, or ridiculed, but rather more misunderstood selves that we’ve cast out from assumptions. They have eyes just the same as we do. That makes them soulful, that makes them human. They are an extension of myself, and myself in their auras. I’ve happily embraced that part of myself I’ve run away from for so long. A resurrection man, a scientist of the literary arts, creating seeds that will be injected into far greater creations – far greater Monsters.

    As do you.

    So thank you, Ziyana. It was very cathartic for myself, as I imagine it was for you. Truly. I’ve always wanted to discuss and anatomically take apart such a profound topic, but always lacked any semblance of direction. So thank you for sparking my intrigue in this again.

    Yours, Sajan

    Post Script: On a side note, I found it rather interesting you personified your demons as male. Contrary to me, I’ve always personified my own personal demons as women. It’s just an interesting thought. In the way we distance ourselves from our own issues. To differentiate us from them we end up putting them into the position of an opposite gender. It serves as something true, and ultimately as different truths about ourselves that we acknowledge but distance ourselves in some shape or form. Just an interesting thought. 🙂

    1. Dear Sajan,

      I spent forever trying to reply to this. I have so much to say about it all – about eyes, about fear, about selflessness. But I’m going to try keeping this short and sweet. 🙂
      First of all, thank you so much for the comment!! I’m so glad you were able to connect with this the way you did. It’s something about eyes… they’re just so fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
      Like you said, communication has everything to do with the body, especially with eyes. That’s why it’s so much easier to look someone in the eye when you trust them – you aren’t afraid to communicate openly. You don’t feel the need to hide as much.
      Eye contact is a very powerful thing – they say your eyes are the windows to your soul, after all. Personally, I wouldn’t want to invite just anyone to see my soul.
      As for selflessness and selfishness. This is something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. It’s frustrating; as a society, we condemn selfishness constantly as if to be selfish is to be wicked. In excess, of course, selfishness isn’t good. But an excess of selflessness wouldn’t be great, either.
      You know, I think I do believe in selflessness, but not pure selflessness. I believe in selflessness as a component of selfishness and vice versa. Not sure if that makes sense, but I think they both exist in a state of dependence upon the other. There’s no way to be selfless without being selfish, really. Every ‘good’ thing you do is self-serving in a way. But every self-serving thing you do will also impact others around you, being external to the self and thus being selfless.
      Funny that you mention the gender thing – I’ve consistently done that but never really noticed it until now. As far as I know, my demons have always been personified as male. You’re right, I think it’s a way to distance myself from them. Interesting, indeed. I think that goes deeper, too. It’s something to think about.
      Thanks again for your comment, I so appreciate you taking the time to write it!!


  2. Ziyana,
    There’s actually a specific name for the fear you experience, I’m not sure if you’ve heard the term or not but it’s called opia, and is defined as “the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.” After hearing your presentation, I wanted to tell you about this term, but never got the chance to approach you about it, but I guess now is my chance to tell you.

    Personally, although I’m not as scared of eyes in the way that you are (I was actually very into that eye dissection in biology), I do have an intense fear of making eye contact. There’s something that just feels so invasive about making eye contact, and being a very closed off person, I don’t like having people see too much of myself, and I guess we both share this fear. In a way, I think that everyone must have a monster in their eyes like you, and maybe some are just more comfortable showing it than others.

    All of that rambling aside, I have to say, like all of your other works, this piece is absolutely brilliant. Ever since tenth grade, I have admittedly been a huge fan of your writing. What really struck me about this piece though, is how different it is from your regular writing. Not to say that your usual style is bad, but I’ve never heard this side of your voice before. It feels a lot more emotional and vulnerable, and I have to say that I really like it.

    There’s just one tiny little error I noticed in your piece in the very first stanza, and it’s in the lines “Bright lights are fires/Sticks of eyeliner . . .” I noticed that “sticks” is written in an uppercase, even though it’s not the beginning of a sentence. In the rest of your poem, any word at the beginning of a line that continues another sentence is lowercase, so in order to keep the style of the poem consistent, the word “sticks” shouldn’t be capitalized. I know that this is a very nitpicky thing for me to point out, but in all honesty this is such a well written piece that I couldn’t really find anything else to improve on.

    Keep up the good work!
    – Genevieve

    1. Genevieve,

      Wow, thank you for naming my fear. Opia… interesting, I’ve not heard of that before.
      Yeah, this poem is kind of a departure from my typical style. I’ve progressively been getting better and better at being emotional in my writing, and I think I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not as scared of being vulnerable, which is good because I’ve always been so protective of my heart that I tried to hide it behind writing so complex that no one would be able to understand what I meant. It was a defence mechanism, but now I’m lowering my defences a bit. I’m glad to see that it’s paying off!
      Thanks for pointing out that capitalization issue – I’ll definitely fix that!
      I really appreciate your comment, especially since you weren’t assigned write one for me. Thanks again for that!


  3. Dear Ziyana

    I’m so glad you took the time to write about this, as it helped me learn a lot more about myself and you. It’s easy for me to write about this since I resonate with this piece to immensely. I cover my eyes behind my glasses because I fear people seeing things I do not want them to see. In addition, I see my eyes as nothing more than a reminder of how disappointing I am. :3 However, I admire the beauty of your writing as well. You brought beauty to something I so very much despised. Your use of diction was very interesting, as the use of “him” and “he” raised an eyebrow and got my mind thinking and really analyzing your words. And that is something I truly admire! You had me hooked from the beginning, and even if I adored eyes, I would not hesitate to love this blog. To tell true, I held off doing my comments because I was intimidated since I knew you were an incredible writer and I don’t believe the praise or feedback I can give to you would do justice to the beauty that is your writing. (Plus, the cover scared me, haha) Regardless, I really enjoyed the mini aphorisms present in this piece! When you mention your eyes blind spot I thought it was a beautiful connection between literal and metaphorical writing. It made me realize that sometimes the things we fear the most hide right in front of our eyes. Waiting until we are most vulnerable to feed upon our fears. Excellent work!
    As for growth, I’m having difficulty in finding something not worthy of praise! I would honestly offer that you write more. You give hints as to how this really connectes to the human condition, and I wanted to see more! Your writing is so intoxicating it beings me great joy :3
    Never stop writing!!!!
    Much love,

    1. Dear Tim,

      When I posted this, I actually thought of you because I know you share my aversion to eyes (by the way, my visuals scare me, too).
      I do the same thing as you, hiding behind glasses and all. I’ve had my glasses since kindergarten, so I’ve grown up using them to protect myself. I really don’t know how people who don’t need glasses do it – there’s nothing there to keep them safe, nothing to stop people from starting right into their soul. Most people with glasses would rather not have them – me? I thank my lucky stars that I do.
      I’m honoured that you think so highly of my writing, and I really appreciate your comment!
      Thanks so much!


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