Let It Go

Tell me, my dear,
when you listen to yourself
speaking about yourself,
what do you hear?
Is it sweet music to your ears,
or is it, as I fear, something else?
What lies do you believe about yourself,
in your heart of hearts?
What do you feel in your deepest parts?
What do you know so well that it’s etched in your bones?
What do you own about yourself
that should really belong to someone else?
Now inhale, breathe in deep,
then let all that seep out of you.
Exhale it into the shape of a balloon,
tie a string on the end,
and finish it with a bow,
and then,
let
it
go.

balloons

Bloom

Happy Monday! It’s been a while since I’ve posted (depression can really put a damper on your motivation). Anyway, this poem I wrote in November 2017 really spoke to me today and I hope it speaks to you too.
–The Vocal Poetess

When you blow on a dandelion
and the tiny flying seeds
float away on the breeze
this is hope to me.
Thousands of tiny morsels
soaring on the wind
not knowing where they will land
but knowing that releasing them from my hand
doesn’t mean that hope is out of reach
but that it is the extension of my reach
each speck a tiny arm
armed with promise
and possibility.
You see, hope to me
is exponential
its potential is not in what we can see
but in the release,
in the throwing of tiny seeds,
in the trusting of the breeze,
in the knowing that these
have a life of their own,
if only for a moment, a chance
to dance on the wind
in pursuit of taking root,
allowing room
for even more flowers
to bloom.

seeds-2

Proceed with The Confidence of A Mediocre White Man

Do you want that raise?
Do you feel like your boss
isn’t giving you the praise you deserve?
Are you unheard and unappreciated?
Have you berated yourself for not speaking up?
Have your dreams been shut by slamming doors?
Well look no more!
All you need is a simple change in mentality,
and this surefire plan:
to proceed with the confidence
of a mediocre white man.

Not qualified for this position?
Who are you kidding,
you’re qualified for everything!
Who cares if you can’t sing
or play an instrument
you’re not meant to be in the band
but to land the role of director
so hold your head erect for
the job is as good as yours!

Roll out of bed
like the red carpet is rolled out for you
it’s your Oscars debut!
Never mind that you can’t act
that’s a minor fact,
a clerical error,
besides, no one would dare
to challenge your worth,
you’ve been destined for greatness since birth.

Don’t just tell yourself that you deserve
this raise this job this pay this office
but walk with the authority
that it’s already yours.
The world is your muthafuckin oyster after all
and it’s all a matter of choice
handed to you on a silver platter.

Pull into that parking space sideways
throw your keys in the direction of the valet
block the intersection
hold up traffic
tick off the masses
because your ass doesn’t stink.
Tell people exactly what you think,
even if you have to cut them off,
because it’s your right to talk,
you have the right of way always.
Tell women to display a smile
pile on compliments and advice
even when it’s not asked for,
especially when it’s not asked for.
Tip poorly,
surely they’ll be grateful for your loose change,
you’re such a saint!
See that line?
You don’t have time for that!
Just act as if you don’t see it
and proceed right to the front
no one will confront you anyway.
Treat every day
like it’s your birthday,
this is the day that the Lord has made
and it was made for you!
So have your cake,
and eat it too.

So you see, you don’t need
to have it all figured out,
you just need to push down your doubts,
and even when shit hits the fan,
proceed with the confidence
of a mediocre white man.

Hiring-Great-Candidate.jpg
Image courtesy of Precision Recruiters

My People

Sharing another older poem this Thursday. Enjoy!
–The Vocal Poetess

My people are full of questions
never satisfied with first impressions,
or yes or no answers,
advancers of accountability
they see room for improvement,
movement, evolution, revolution
in any and every institution,
searching diligently for solutions
to life’s most complicated problems.

My people are imperfect
and a bit of a mess
sometimes letting the stress
of life get them far from their best
but never down for long.
My people are strong
even if they don’t always feel it, reveal it.
My people hurt and bleed
too full of compassion to be freed
from the pain that comes from
loving someone
or some thing so much
that just a soft touch
or word can bring on the water works.

My people feel
and they feel deeply
from the tips of their toes
deep breaths through their nose
the emotion flows
from their innermost parts
where it imparts wisdom
and direction.

My people are of the dirt.
Mud cakes their knuckles, fingernails,
trails from their boots
molds around their souls,
holds their bare toes.
My people don’t shy away
from what others may say
is too messy or raw or unrefined
they are defined by digging deep down
into the ground,
knowing that from the earth
all life is birthed.
My people put in work.

My people are ones who know the struggle,
exist in the struggle,
resist in the struggle,
whether it’s theirs to juggle
or in someone else’s bubble.
My people know that the fight
is never just ours or yours or theirs
to bear alone;
the struggle is our own.
It may look different for me
than it does for you
or those two
it doesn’t really matter who
because we’re all in this together
to weather the storms of this system
that we exist in
fully cognizant that simply having good intent
does not mean the outcome may not get bent
or cause harm,
that’s when we ring the alarm
of accountability and honesty.
And, honestly, it comes from a place of love,
knowing that the work goes above
and beyond what any one person may do.
It’s not just about me
and it’s not just about you.
It’s about coming together to form us.
So when I talk about my people
and all the things we may be capable
of doing and being
I look out among all of you
and it’s my people I’m seeing.

A House Divided

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older poetry with you. In response to the fear, pain, surprise, and divisiveness of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I and some other activists in Brattleboro, VT created a post-election action to generate conversation across the lines that divide us. Featuring the spoken word poems “Masquerade” (by Prosperous) and “A House Divided” (by me), this action incorporated masks and movement as we reflected on where we’ve been, where we are, how we got here, and where we are going. We performed the action in December 2016 at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT and in downtown Brattleboro. Watch the performance at SIT here and in downtown Brattleboro here.
–In solidarity, The Vocal Poetess

A House Divided

Division existed from the beginning,
with people whose lives were deemed less than worth living.
There’s always been an upper caste
and a lower class
and hordes of people in between.
And what remained unseen
were the ways in which we
were pitted against each other,
outfitted with weapons to wage war against each other,
taught to mistrust, fear, and hate each other.
Deceived until we believed
both consciously and unconsciously
that for you to be free
meant that I would not be.
That for you to have
meant that I would have not.
That for you to be able to rise
meant that I would be denied.
That you were taking from me,
that you were making me less free,
that you were the problem
because you were here, in my sights.
You were the easiest barrier to fight
because you were in my face
trying to take my place
at the table of freedom and opportunity.
But it didn’t occur to me
that the table was big enough for all of us,
that there was room for all to eat.
I only saw what I wanted to see.
You were the representation
of all my anger and frustration.

And at first it was your group of people
and then you were deemed acceptable
so some other segment of society
had to justifiably take your place
to be the face
of the other
to be “those people”
to be less than people
to be the epitome of evil
to be broken until they were spent
and so on and so forth we went
years upon years
tears upon tears
backs upon backs
until someone said, “Stand up, fight back!”
And we began to rise,
slowly at first, one at a time,
reaching to the person behind us
saying, “Who can break the ties that bind us?”
Praying, “Let love be the tie that binds us.”
We started to see through the haze
began to recognize the ways
we were hurting each other
smothering each other’s souls
with the soles of our feet
as we scrambled up the ladder to be free.

But we didn’t know what to do about it
how do get around it
so the masks came out.
Sometimes they were about protection
sometimes deflection,
a way to face rejection
without having to reveal our brokenness.
Sometimes we didn’t know we were wearing them
they felt like our own skin,
the way they molded to our faces,
fitting in all the right places.
Sometimes we were told to wear them
and then they didn’t fit so well
but we obeyed because they would yell,
“No one would love you
if they knew you.”
Or more calmly they’d say,
“It’s better this way.”
So we masked up and added on the layers
sometimes finding another player
in this game of life
who we felt was just right,
was worth the risk,
worth the immense task
of taking off that first mask.

It was slow progress we made
and with each new wave
another group found themselves welcomed
and loved and affirmed and held.
Yet with each new mask unveiled
those old fears started to resurface
the old voices whispered,
“They don’t deserve this.”
We looked around and didn’t recognize each other
so we put on more masks which made us bolder
to say things we didn’t think we’d say
to change in ways we didn’t think we’d change
to hate people we didn’t think we’d hate.
What some saw as progress
others so as regress.
What some saw as freedom
others saw as a prison.
And so we hid behind our politics and positions,
our old habits and new superstitions
and we went back to people who were like us
who lived in places we lived
who had the same faces we did
who believed what we believed
who felt the same kinds of fears
who cried the same kinds of tears
who prayed like us
who ate like us
who felt rage like us.
And we forgot about everyone else.
It became us and them once again.
Division existed from the beginning,
it’s always been a part of our story
but it doesn’t have to continue to be,
we have another choice.
What’s done is done but we still have our voice.

Find one person who hasn’t felt pain,
who hasn’t felt fear, anger, or shame
who hasn’t hated or been hated
who hasn’t cried or known someone who died.
Find me someone who hasn’t felt hunger
who hasn’t felt alone, misunderstood
Stood upon, stepped on.
Honestly, find me someone who doesn’t bleed
like you do
who doesn’t need to breathe
like you do
who doesn’t need to eat
like you do
who doesn’t want to be freed
like you do.
Find me someone who isn’t perfectly imperfect
who isn’t flesh and blood and bones and tissue
who isn’t at the molecular level the same as you.
Find me someone who doesn’t have needs
they would do almost anything to meet.
Find me someone right here in this street
that when you look into their eyes
you can deny their humanity,
their dignity, their right to be.

Seek the hand of someone beside you.
Welcome the hand of someone behind you.
This is the start of something new,
a safe place in the midst of the chaos,
a proclamation that it begins with us.
Do we move forward in fear?
We decide.
Do we move forward in love?
We decide
Do we move forward alone?
We decide.
Do we move forward together?
We decide.
These are your neighbors,
these are your people.
These are your neighbors,
these are your people.
Say it, “You are my neighbors,
you are my people.”
All we have is each other.
All we have is moving forward.
There is no going back.
Let’s get off the attack.
Chins up, shoulders back.
It’s time to take off
these masks.

 

Soul Tending

Be kind and gracious to yourself,
allow yourself the space you need
to feed your soul
to heal, to grow,
know that you are worth it,
all of it.

Be patient with your process,
don’t obsess about getting it right
or being perfect.
Forget about comparing yourself to others,
the only fair comparison
is to who you used to be.

Tending to yourself isn’t selfish
as some would lead you to believe.
Don’t be deceived,
if you cannot love yourself
cannot care for yourself
cannot be there for yourself
cannot be patient or gracious
with yourself,
how can you be all those things
fully, for someone else?

 

Why I March

Good Morning friends! It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older spoken word pieces. I wrote this one a year ago about why I participated in the Women’s March.
— The Vocal Poetess

* * *

Why I March

They asked me why I march,
what it meant to me,
to be a protester,
a tester of the waters,
a woman and a daughter.
And the first thing I’ll say
is that my choice to march on Saturday
was so much bigger
than my gender identity or female-ness,
than the fact that I have breasts and a clitoris,
(although this act of solidarity
should go much deeper than biology)
than the heartache
of coming so close to breaking
that last ceiling made of glass
only to have my hopes dashed
and shattered instead.

Yes those identities are important to me,
foundationally and otherwise,
and I realize my womanhood
is sacred, is holy.
It holds me
in connection with the tides and the moon,
the womb of Mother Earth
and all those who give birth to life.
Yes I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife
and damn proud to be all the above and more
but those aren’t the only things I march for.

I march because white women like me
voted this man into the presidency
and I can’t let that be our legacy.
White women like me
have chosen our racial identity
over the sisterhood,
have stood on the necks and backs
of our black and brown sisters
dismissed her and them when
our privilege felt threatened.
When we felt called out or outcast,
we cast the dice in favor of the color of our flesh,
neglecting our common female-ness.
We white women claimed feminism
and took offense when women of color
pointed out another one of our blind spots:
our lack of intersectionality,
the fact that we acted as if our reality
was the same for all women,
that we spoke for all of them.
And when reminded of how skin tone
and economics, sexual identity,
and body politics came into play
we white women got up and walked away.

I march for clarity of vision
because the incision the election left
cut too deep, too close to the bone.
Because the backbone of Congress is weak
and broken and until the people have spoken-
not the electoral college,
not the white men who lack knowledge
and restraint, who paint
this nation as an island, a citadel,
in whose bowels dwell the beast
unleashed to expel all infidels
and come hell or high water,
slaughter the American dreams
of anyone who seems too dangerous,
too threatening,
be it the deafening cries of the refugee fleeing violence,
the undocumented worker forced to feast on silence
the black woman raising her fist in defiance,
the Muslim who prays five times a day that they
won’t be seen as a terrorist,
the trans person who has to continually insist
on their right to piss in their restroom
and the list
goes on.

I march for freedom and unity,
like this brave little state taught me,
because this, all of this,
is so much bigger than me.
It’s about human dignity,
solidarity,
you and me,
intersectionality,
the reality that we all share the same home
and we can’t progress
when we walk alone.

I march because I refuse to believe
that the fight is over and done with,
with all due respect,
that notion is bullshit.
I know who won the presidency
and he does not represent me
or the millions in the human family
around the world
who unfurled banners and sheets
and took to the streets to march too.

We march because we believe
in the ability of one, of two,
of a thousand or just a few
to shake things up and upend the system,
turn walls into bridges and ridges into cisterns,
to reverse the world order,
reach across human-made borders
to shift the axes of power
make the powerful cower
and build the kind of movement
not even the strongest hate can devour.

I march not because it is the best I can do
but because it’s what I can do
right now
and the rest is still coming,
this is just the first test,
just you wait and see what’s next.

 

I Am From

As I transition from my old blog, SeekThePeace, to this one, I will be posting some of my old poetry on Mondays. This is actually the first spoken word piece I wrote and it explores my view of change using the “I am from” format. I’ve included an audio file because I feel that poetry is more powerful when it’s read aloud. Please feel free to listen while you read. I also encourage you to try your hand at using this format too and share what you come up with.
Much love,
The Vocal Poetess

* * *

“I Am From”

I am from Pennsylvania farm land,
and the smell of fresh spread manure
sure to burn nostrils
on the school playground
where uniforms marked gender, age, space, time
stood still, moved slowly,
too fast and not fast enough.

I am from mountains
valleys, hills, meadows
toes digging deep into grass and dirt
earth and green spaces that called
to my heart, spirit, lungs, legs
begged me to be free
green spaces that call to me still.

I am from East Baltimore Street
the white house with the pines
behind whose blinds love resided
confided in the strong arms of family
that pulled me in
held me close
hold me still.

I am from playing in the trees, bruised knees
“It’s getting dark come inside please”
Mom says.
her voice made everything all right
despite when it could not
give an answer for why cancer
tried to rob her of her light.

I am from questions
of an eight year old’s fears
tears betraying my façade of strength
as I tried to emulate hers
“Will you die?” “Will you lose your hair?”
I could not bear
the thought of it.

I am from family
and love above all else
from grandmas’ kisses and pappys’ laughter
after family dinners around the table
unable even now to admit
that death comes too quickly
to those we love most.

I am from Mennonite land
of peace and nonresistance
insistence on four-part harmony singing
bringing casseroles and baked goods
and, my goodness, how can a denomination
with foundations of peace
leave my childhood church in shambles.

I am from community
bonded by common threads
of reds and blues and yellow hues
all the bright and dark colors
of seeking, searching, longing
finally belonging
here.

I am from the city
the rumblings of subways and trolleys
all these familiar sounds and sight
seeing people in all their vibrancy
curiosity, diversity, rawness
all this
is life.

I am from women
whose bodies were commodities
kept hidden forbidden sin ridden
until that holiest day of days
when she trades in her purity prize
and the guise
is lifted.

I am from contradictions
convictions
women who refused to be victims
even when our sacred souls, bleeding
were greedily ripped out,
screaming
from between our very legs.

I am from dark places
hollow spaces
shoe laces dangling
over a subway platform, canyon,
bridge over a stream
dreaming of jumping
but still afraid to fall.

I am from desperation
from a handful of pills
hospital bills
cold floors, metal doors
and therapists’ offices where
questions like “Now what do you want me to do for you?”
rang hollow in my ears.

I am from acceptance
of myself
esteemed in my eyes
sure of my worth
while being grounded
astounded, unbounded
by loving me
he’s free to love me too.

I am from liminal space
somewhere between wounded and whole
wholly succumbing or coming alive
between inward loathing and outward exploding
between knowing and not
between wanderlust
and lusting for home.

I am from love
and all its questions, suggestions, reflections
of what was, what is, and what could be
and that is home
home is love
and there is no other place
I’d rather be from.

Birthdays/Put All the Candles on Your Cake

Lit candles with ribbons on a birthday cake

I don’t know who
invented the unwritten rule
that women aren’t supposed to like birthdays
or share their age,
“I’m 29 again!” we’re supposed to say,
shaving off years,
staving off fears of someone realizing
the truth.
As if our age is a secret we get to keep,
as if people can’t see,
as if paying no heed to the obvious
makes it less so.

But I’ve never been into that
and perhaps it’s because I’m still young.
“Just you wait,” someone once told me,
“You’ll hate birthdays too.”
But I refuse to think that’s something
I’m destined to do.
Instead of singing those old birthday blues
I’m humming a different tune,
one of gratitude,
an attitude of joy and hope,
dipping my toes into the pool of possibility,
unabashedly celebrating me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve battled suicide and won
maybe it’s because my mom
and dad always had cake and flowers
and showered me with love and gifts.
Maybe it’s because I’m uplifted
by simple affirmations and well wishes.
Maybe it’s because I love any excuse
or season to treat myself.
Whatever the reason,
I love birthdays and I hope that never fades.

With age comes wisdom and stories
and, similarly,
our bodies tell their own narratives
of the lives we have lived
each wrinkle and laugh line
as sublime as vast landscapes
shaped by the winds of time,
as telling as tree rings
singing of growth and swelling with memory,
and the oath we take on our birthday
is to say,
“I’m in awe of this sacred body
that holds me
and the journey we are on
which dawned on this day
of my birth is worth
the celebration, the graduation
from one chapter to the next.”

I still mourn change
and the growing pains that come with age.
Life’s pages turn too fast
as present quickly becomes past
but the last thing I want on my birthday
is for society to dictate
what and how I celebrate.
And I hope you can also shake
the weight of that burden.

So on your next trip around the sun,
you run the show,
show yourself a good time,
never mind what others say,
put all the candles on your cake,
take lots of pictures,
picture yourself living the life you love
and above all else,
put those voices on the shelf
that tell you what you’re supposed to do
and simply celebrate you.

Save the Apology

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older poetry with you! Content Warning: this one is about the sexual assault I experienced in college and I wrote it in response to finding out a powerful person at that college was sexually abusing young women. You can read the fully story of my assault on Our Stories Untold (OSU), as well as watch a video of me performing this poem in April 2016 OSU (now merged with IntoAccount) is a wonderful, supportive space where survivors and allies can share stories, cry together, love together, advocate for one another, and hold institutions and individuals accountable. Love, light, strength, and courage to all you survivors and supporters of survivors. You are not alone.
–The Vocal Poetess

* * *

“We’ll do better next time.”
“We’re so sorry.”
It’s the same apology after every
heavy indiscretion, forced confession,
by one of their own comes into the light.
After nights of lurking beneath the surface
the lip service they now pay
is a way to diffuse the “issue,”
“Here honey, have a tissue.
But please don’t ask us for empathy
or accountability, assistance,
in this instance our hands are tied
we had no idea the monster he was inside.”

Nobody wants to admit fault
when it comes to sexual assault
and the ways in which its downplayed,
displayed, smoothed over, pushed under
the rug, “Oh she was on drugs,
wore something too short, too tight
she’d been drinking that night.”
And so what if she was,
so what if she did?
Let’s stop the shaming
that is victim blaming by naming it
for what it really is:
your own fear that you may have just fucked up
or been found out
so you raise doubts
about her character and actions
in hopes that the factions
it creates will shift the focus on her
and not your bogus excuses for the abuses
she suffered at your hands.

You bet on your friends and institutions
to come up with solutions for your absolution
and you counted on her silence
to somehow equal compliance
with what you did.
But you didn’t count on this.
You didn’t count on the power of her voice
to rock the earth to its core
to toss waves onto the shore
her emotions calling up a tide
as deep and wide as any ocean.
You didn’t count on generations
of her people to create a nation
from every corner of creation
to undergird her, surround her,
ground her in her truth and boldness,
they hold this
with her when she can
and for her when she can’t.

You may not ever admit or even say
that what you did was rape
but that does not make
my truth any less sacred or true.
I told you “no” and you chose
to silence me with your vocal blows
and the power of your body over mine.
And when I confronted you that time
to find out why you did it
your response was,
“How could I have raped you if I didn’t even finish?”
The fact that you raped me
is not dependent on you cumming
or not
on whether you enjoyed it
or not
on whether you thought
I enjoyed it.
It’s about what I consented to
and you knew
that you didn’t get my yes
which is why you choose to profess
and protest the rape you committed
in such rage and lividness.

And I hate to admit to me
that I have to see your humanity
is somehow connected to my own
but, my God, my being groans
at the thought of it.
I’m enraged and I want you to know it
and I show it because I’ve held it in for far too long
it doesn’t belong inside me
where it festers and burns
turns me into someone I don’t recognize.
Your lies will not bring my demise,
oh I’ve thought of suicide
on the worst days
and been dazed and depressed on the best
but you won’t get the rest
of me
I’m setting you free.
Be gone.

And for those who hid your actions
and caused distractions
from the truth,
I have words for you too:
I’m calling bullshit
on your counterfeit lines.
Don’t do better next time.
Do better now
so next time
won’t be allowed
to happen.

We can do better