Her scars I don’t
love I worship
my gods my maps my cruel
universe draws me in close
enough to stab slow so slow
epicenter of the gods of my own
Not pink-fade on knee from
first bike hitting tree not
dime-dimple of TB not
hairless strip from oven rack burn
not missing bit of finger pad taken by edge
of glass in broken pane
Gravity well black hole dark
matter what’s the matter? god
particle time portal Big
A great post by Emily Johnston, Sr. Editorial Assistant at Spoon River Poetry Review, on how she’s teaching students studying gender violence to move beyond reading the stats to understanding how the violence and resistance to it lives in our bodies. She’s using an anthology with some of my work in it, Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. Really great ideas for teaching about trauma!
rather she cut
the shambling stoop
that was her before this
they would rather
silence her mid-speech
what she speaks of
wimmin are forbidden to speak of
they would prefer
to strike her blind
than see what she has become
her friends would rather
go to the movies
than come over for tea
she laced up her shoes
gained second sight
tore the gag from her brain
hurdled the wall
as if her life depended on it.
I think I found this in the Minneapolis wimmin’s paper Lesbian Insider/Insighter/Inciter. I hear those last four lines in my head every time I am in a space where I have to muster my the core of my courage.
Beyond the carrots and blind white worms, beyond
the yellowing bone orchards and corkscrew roots,
beyond the center of this churchless earth, beloved Peter,
my little sorcerer, brought up dirty & wrong, you deserve more
than to be smothered in mud. For all the gravel you were fed,
for every bruise and knot that named you, I must plant you
in a bed of blood-hot muscle, must deliver you into me,
so I may
carry you as the only mother you have ever known.
About This Poem
“Poets of witness navigate the world in such a peculiar way, seeking justice through writing; punishing and praising with language. This poem is entirely for my quiet brother who is blessed with the gift of withholding.”
Launched during National Poetry Month in 2006, Poem-A-Day features new and previously unpublished poems by contemporary poets on weekdays and classic poems on weekends. Browse the Poem-A-Day Archive.
Here’s her excellent, challenging introduction. Go read the rest!
I realized writing this piece is in itself a form of resistance. To speak at length and in unabashed praise of a collection of poetry written in mouthy backlash to the cultural norms of domestic violence, rape, childhood abuse, verbal harassment and assault on city streets, etc., is to stand with women as they refuse to stand for it anymore. It is to give thoughtful treatment to a problem that is largely being ignored by our lawmakers and our justice system, which is an attempt to extend the work these poets and this editor undertook in participating in the anthology. It is to defy anyone to suggest that these poems aren’t literary because they often sound colloquial, or to dismiss them as therapeutic or confessional or any of those other supposed “critical” terms that condescend to the kind of writing I and others call real talk. We can do that in poetry. Not only is it allowed, but resistance is poetry’s legacy.
Wow, that was quite ride – deciding in August to help make High Holidays happen in early September, WITH a previous promise to spend a week in Minnesota helping my beloveds get married.
Somehow it all came off, and was marvelous. I learned so much from the whole process, and have gotten more and more clear that I need to be working as a liturgist. Not sure how to make a living from that yet, but I am making a life from it, which is a start.
I gave my first-ever Big Talk During the High Holidays, on Yom Kippur during Kol Nidre. I spoke about what the promise of kol nidre – to be released from vows – has meant to me as an incest survivor. I’ve known and loved this community for a long time, and standing in that ritual space, speaking deep truths, felt so incredibly right. Maybe it’s time for rabbinical school after all?
Anyway, here’s the text of my talk. And I’ll be back to blogging soon!
In my Facebook feed this morning I found this great piece from singer/songwriter/rocker/Blues goddess Nedra Johnson about the first time she went snorkeling and about well-meaning white folks who don’t really get racism. Her entire post is below, here’s a taste:
It would be nice though if well meaning, yet racist, people started being willing to put their face down into the water and look at both the beauty they are missing and the effect that them not even realizing we exist is having on us.
I love snorkeling, won’t come out of the water until I’m blue and shivering, yet the image that came to mind as I read her words wasn’t fish, but a concert by The Mahotella Queens I experienced in Philadelphia in the 1990s.
Why that show, that clear mental image of the women dancing and singing tirelessly as members of the audience who were African danced and sang along?
Because I grew up in a viciously, openly racist culture in an all white town (except my mom wasn’t white – long story for another time). Because I worked so hard to find all that ugly in myself and unlearn it — workshops, classes, conferences, hard conversations, reading reading reading reading books by women “of color” (such an odd term for a group that represents the overwhelming percentage of humanity).
Because I was learning to get it. Then I went to see the Mahotella Queens. Holy crap. They got together the year after I was born and I was exhausted just watching them perform. As a woman with a big butt I was CHANGED that night — the way they used the motion of their butts to highlight the rhythm of the dancing, the way their skirts were designed to focus all the shaking going on. Why had I never seen this before?
And at that moment I knew why, and some of the ugly boiled up, a voice in the slightly-southern accent of my hometown, saying horrible things around the concept jungle bunny. I heard that voice, and I watched these women, and I just started crying. All the beauty that had been kept from me, all the beauty and power the holders of that voice would never ever see because they refused to see. All that beauty I was starving for, that I vowed to do even more work to get to witness again and again.
And the thing is, as Nedra says below, most folks “of color” don’t even demand that I prove myself to have been utterly wiped clean of racist white privilege crap, only that I’ve learned to keep the worst of it at bay. Same as the fish didn’t demand that Nedra have a track record of, say, eating only sustainably harvested sea food — only that she stop stepping up them, shut up, and look down and praise the wonder.
The first time I went snorkeling I was kind of eh about the idea. I mean I’d been to the beach hundreds of times in my life. Like ok… now I am going in with a mask… big deal…
Now mind you, most of my beach experience was Santa Monica and Venice area of CA. That’s where I grew up for a good many years. This snorkeling adventure was in New Caledonia which is surrounded by the world’s largest lagoon. So you could walk out quite a ways and not be in all that deep.
There I was trudging best I could with the mask half on and the flippers making it hard to step. But I got to a certain point and my friend Adam was like… “ok now you’re going to turn around and just fall back cause it gets deeper right there.”
And yeah… completely different all of a sudden. Big splash. But OK all is fine. I’m treading water. So he is like…. “OK so just put on the mask and the look down and float.” And so I have in mind that when I do this I will be seeing… mostly sand and a few sea plants and then occasionally… “Ooh! I think I saw a fish!” — kinds like shooting stars…. like ok it happens… but it’s an elusive experience….
I looked down into the water I had already been treading in and it was like the NYC of fish. I freaked out and had to turn up for air like “WTH?!?! How could I be here treading water and ALL THIS was happening without me knowing.” Like I wasn’t bumping into fish or anything and seriously… there were enough in a million different shapes, sizes and colors RIGHT THERE. And I didn’t know it.
Adam kind of laughed at my surprise. I prepared myself again with this new understanding and went back to floating and just looking at how amazing everything I was seeing was…
A friend of mine has a phobia about fish. And she wanted to push past it. So she committed to herself that she would try snorkeling. But it was huge and scary and she had to talk about it with LOTS of people to work herself up to finally doing it. And then when she came back to tell us about it, she said,
“Oh I get it. On the other side of uncontrollable fear lies unspeakable beauty.”
– – – – – – – – – – – –
I am reminded of all that because I was having a conversation with someone who I imagined myself trying to explain racism to using a light switch. Like… you are in a room that is dark. And you think you understand everything that is in the room, because you are accustommed to it as you have always known it. But when a light is turned on, things you may never have imagined are also there. Then I remembered my own experience with the fish.
The thing is… once I got in the water the fish knew about me. They swam about avoiding me. I’m sure it was easy enough for them to navigate. But I’m sayin’… It wasn’t until I put my face down into the water and looked that I even realized any of that was RIGHT THERE the whole time. Before I saw that, in my mind, all that was there was Adam and I.
I navigate racists, and I mean likely very well meaning racists, all the time. I avoid overt displays best I can, and I buffer myself against the barrage of micro-aggressions.
It would be nice though if well meaning, yet racist, people started being willing to put their face down into the water and look at both the beauty they are missing and effect that them not even realizing we exist is having on us.
Not sure what I mean is clear. I realize it’s a little woo woo and a bummer probably too to end a sweet fish story with talk about racism. I just know that I am exhausted by the racism that would exist if none of us ever talked about. And that is only amplified by the racism we are trying to talk about and having denied.
And speaking of great music and fat bottoms, here’s a clip of Nedra Johnson’s Fat Bottom Girls singing “Anyway You Need Her” at MichFest:
At 12 years old it took 12 days to find
her body in the dumpster. 12 times
she’d texted him; he said he’d sell her, cheap,
new gears for her BMX bike. The details of what he did
are none of your business. Death is more than the pornography of the coroner’s
after the first commercial break of every CSI episode. What I care about is
that bike, that girl on that bike, that girl who loved
the speed and the dust and who couldn’t conceive that a boy offering parts
didn’t care about the bike, not even enough
to hide it well. She loved that bike. Is it possible she knows
he didn’t break
that her father cleaned it carefully and hung it on the pegs in her room, adorned
with her gloves and knee pads? No helmet hanging there yet;
the electric blue one she always wore on her head,
which they keep trying to force me to
What I care about is not her death,
but his. It haunts me, how he died. How her bike, tossed into
a woodchipper, became a half million splinters of steel, how I bought
a bamboo tube just long enough at the garden store, how I texted him the
a blow job—Ha!—and then gave him one, tying his wrists, ripping down his
those splinters hard into his penis, his balls and how when
the blood flowed
it occurred to me that her blood might have been also once there so how I
cut it off, how I hooked the tube to an air compressor and how the steel
so easily into his belly, his chest, his neck, his face. How I considered,
before he died,
shoving his own porcupine of a penis into his own ass, but didn’t because
I couldn’t figure out the logistics of its limpness.
What I care about is how this doesn’t bring her back and how now her bike
is gone, too. She loved that bike. In those long 12 days I painted this picture of
to show the cops, to show the media, to drag her safely back home to me
each brush stroke. I painted this picture, and I shoved it in his face and I let his
rush down onto it and I saw what I had made and I pronounced it good, on the
and the morning
of the 13th day.