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.

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?

 

Privilege/Where You Began

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing one of my older poems. Last week I shared a poem about why I participated in the 2017 Women’s March. This poem is in response to a viral Facebook post last year from a woman who outlined why she didn’t march or support those who did.
–The Vocal Poetess

She said,
“I don’t need to march
or take to the streets
to meet my needs.
I can do it all on my own
with my own two hands
standing on my own two feet.
Look at these women,
they know nothing of poverty.
Have they ever heard of the Middle East
or Africa?” (she speaks of it like it’s a country)
“They have food to eat,
shoes on their feet,
who are they to take to the street?”

She said,
“This woman isn’t buying it,
trying it, or supplying it.
I’m not a second-class citizen,
I’ve risen above all that nonsense
and noise.
I can make my own choice,
I can work, vote, defend my family
and myself.
And I don’t blame anyone else
for my problems,
I choose to solve them.
These American women
have no idea what they’ve been given.”

And I say, that
is the problem.
I don’t think you realize
the prize your white skin supplies you,
the rise your social status provides you,
the sky’s the limit to you
because you were born in the clouds,
never able to see the ground
below and the crowds gathered there
trying to get their share
of this unequal American pie.
You never felt second class
because your opportunity glass
has always been half full
or more
while scores of other Americans
began their journey
having to make cups out of their hands.

Have you ever had to stand
in line for food stamps
or an affordable house?
Live paycheck to paycheck,
raise kids without a spouse?
You tell people like this
to rise up and get with it
but let me be explicit:
your starting block was near the finish,
you couldn’t see behind you
where the lines grew
but you see them now.
And it makes you angry
and indignant, you can’t
believe how ungrateful
and whiny our society is
while you’re the one who lives
off society’s back.
Yet you choose to attack
the marchers who are peaceful
and compare them to people
you’ve never even met
in lands you’ve never even stepped
foot on.

Yes, the world is suffering
and there is so much injustice
but when you can sit
and look at the world out your window
without seeing your neighbors below
then you are part of the problem.
When did we begin
comparing poverty to poverty,
hunger to hunger,
violence to violence?
Suffering is suffering is suffering
whether it brings despair
to the people over there
or right here.
Let me make the picture clear:
you may not feel like you need to march
or protest
but, at best, that is your experience
and yours alone,
yours.
Not hers, or theirs,
yours.

So before you turn your personal experience
into another platform to distance
yourself from other women and Americans,
take a second,
and remember just where you began.

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.

 

Race Talks with White People

A close up of eight various flesh toned crayons that say "flesh" on them

One of the first poems I ever composed
was deeply racist.
It in, I insisted that my whiteness
lacked culture and vibrancy,
portraying black and brown folk
swaying and clapping and moving
in a way my people weren’t used to.
I lamented my lack of rhythm
and a connection to my history
but what I didn’t see was how my self-pity
and exotification of other races
further exacerbated racism.

I was in middle school
in a nearly all-white community
and it never occurred to me
that I had a unique culture.
So, like a vulture, I picked apart pieces
of other people’s traditions
in what I thought was admiration and awe
but was really stinking of raw bigotry.

I grew up thinking
that my pale skin was the default,
like the salt without the food
I viewed whiteness as the absence of race,
lacking taste,
so immersed in the drippings of privilege
I lived in a bubble that I found boring
but what I saw as boring
was actually the luxury that comes
from being in the dominant category,
race becomes something “out there”
and, once aware of it,
I pretended like I didn’t see it.

“I’m color blind, I don’t see race!”
It’s something some white people
are so fond of saying
but the reality of that statement
is that it reeks of igorance
because to say you don’t see color
means you don’t suffer
from oppression based on your skin
and to not see color
means you don’t see that other
people are suffering based on their skin
and to not see color
means you see whiteness as something other than
and to not see color
means you see us all as a dull gray,
and you white wash and wash away
the pain, the history, the beauty,
the vibrancy, the richness
of color.

And then comes the white guilt,
the shame of knowing the gains
your race has given you, the pains
your race has driven others to
but let me tell you what to do with that:
don’t take it to black and brown people
they already know the evils
that whiteness has created,
the atrocities whiteness has enabled.
Instead, take it to the table with other white people.

And don’t say, “How can we talk about race,
when there are only white people in this space?”
That is the perfect place to talk about race
because until you can face
the fact that you don’t need black people
to have this conversation,
until you can move from the station
of shame and guilt and apology
into vulnerability and solidarity
then this is right where you need to be.
Until you can grasp
that the task of dismantling racism
starts with you asking and tackling
the hard questions yourself
instead of putting them on someone else,
then this is right where you need to be.

And it’s hard work,
and you may never recover.
In fact, we’ll always be racists in recovery,
which means we’ll slip up sometimes
and find ourselves making mistakes
but we’ll walk in grace and humility
not worrying about saving face,
we’ll put defensiveness in its place,
and open space for other white people
to do the same.
Because once we can name
and root out racism from within,
begin to see whiteness
as part of the color wheel,
feel appreciation for other cultures
without exotification or appropriation,
have admiration for our own traditions
and realize the ways we’ve been conditioned
to think and believe and feel,
then we can finally begin
to heal.

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.

Spring Time Blues

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older poetry! This is another one in my series about sexual harassment.

* * *

It’s that time of the year once again
when the leaves are sprouting from the trees
bees buzzing on the budding blossoms
and the weather has me feeling awesome
until you come along.

Sometimes you’re with a group of friends
in the park or the end of my sidewalk
gawking at me as I cross.
Other times you’re coming out of a store
or lurking on the corner alone
it really doesn’t matter though
because your tone
is always the same:

“Hey baby, looking good.
I wish you would
sit on my face,
give me a taste.”
Or you make some perverted sound
with your mouth
some grotesque gesture or movement
with the intent to get my attention.

Or you yell from across the way,
“Hey beautiful, wanna make my day?”
and you expect my dutiful
reaction to be, “Awww thank you.”
And maybe I’ll throw in
a few giggles or a grin
just to prove the state you put me in.

But if I choose to ignore you
or worse yet, reject your advances
your stance is no longer sugary sweet,
it changed to anger and hate in a heartbeat.
“Bitch. You’re ugly anyway.
There’s no way I’d fuck you.”
Aww well now I’m really upset
because the whole reason I got dressed
was so I could walk down my street
and hear you say shit to me.

You think you’re a man because you stand
in the street yelling obscenities
to any piece of meat or ass
that happens to pass by
all just to prove to your friends
that you really can
get the attention of a woman.
Or may it’s to compensate for–
wait, let me not stoop to emasculate you
you’re doing that own your own, boo.
Or maybe your intention is just to work
so you have something to jerk off to
at the end of the day.

But it’s all a just a power play
and, anyway, we see right through you.
You really think your catcalls
make me want to do you?
Honestly, when you ask me
to sit on your face
you really expect me to say,
“Sure, name the time and place?!”

No, all you want to show me
is that you own me
and that I owe you gratitude
for your attitude of “sweetness.”
But get this,
I owe you nothing.
You don’t own me
any more than you own this street
or this air or this sidewalk or these stairs.

Grow up, have some respect
women aren’t objects.
You should have learned that by now
and, anyhow, what would your grandma
or mom or sister say
to hear you speak to women this way?

So next time you see me coming
and you really want to something,
swallow your words,
savor their bitter flavor
do us all a favor,
and don’t.

DSC_0547_905
An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
DSC_1273_905
An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
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An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
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An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.

Voice

Someone once told me
that my voice was jarring,
that it could use more subtlety,
shutting me down entirely.
Her words were small and few
but it was all I could do
to not dwell on them for days,
replaying them on my memory’s waves,
savoring their salty taste.

Jarring? More subtlety?
My voice is not just a part of me,
it is the start of me
and the end,
the bends and inflections
bringing life to my thoughts and intentions.
It’s as unique as my facial features,
each piece of flesh and bone
stretched and honed to shape this bodily home.
And my voice is the crowning jewel,
as connected to me as my joints and sinew.
I knew I could not change it
and I didn’t want to.

I later asked her what she meant
and she told me her comment’s intent
was not to condemn or ridicule
but to help me see my voice as a tool,
one to be used to soothe or cool,
to speak words as sweet as fruit
or be the taproot of hard truths,
to be rhythm and blues,
to be used with great care and caution,
not too often yet often enough,
to be tough and bold when necessary,
or to carry what’s soft, a luminary.

We may not have a choice
in how our voice sounds
but we can choose what words abound,
and in what volume they resound,
how and when we speak, and why,
and in that lies
an immense amount of power.
For words can devour, build towers,
or tear down walls,
it’s not all in what is said,
it’s in what is heard when the words leave your head.