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.

 

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.

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

You Come for My People, You Come for Me

It’s Thursday which means new poetry! Two of my good friends faced difficult, unexpected hurdles this past week. This poem is for them, my people. — The Vocal Poetess

* * *

You come for my people,
you come for me.

Conservative media sites
from those with far right, alt-right,
“White is might” views
to the likes of Fox News
(is there even a difference between the two?),
attempt to discredit
(though they haven’t even read it)
the well-researched works
of black and brown writers,
by lighting fires
with pull quotes and quotation marks,
in hopes the sparks they create
will leap into flames of hate,
that will “make America great” again.
But when they sharpen their knives
and dive head first
with bloodthirst in their eyes
into deeper and dirtier lies
need I remind them:
You come for my people,
you come for me.

Liberal institutions and bodies
whose new policies
leave deep craters
when key co-creators and educators,
dedicators of years
of their blood, sweat, and tears,
are no longer revered
but left jobless
with less notice or words
than what they truly deserve
for all the time they have served.
When those who claim to be socially just
break trust for financial gain
and the changes that ensue
seem to undermine what they value,
need I remind them:
You come for my people,
you come for me.

You see,
you don’t have to share my family tree
or genetic ancestry to be
my people.
Our shared identity,
our solidarity,
in the fight for what’s right
and just
is more than enough.
While it may be tough to keep going
knowing what is against
or behind you
when you find you’ve been
knocked off your feet,
defeat closing in,
the wins overwhelmed by the losses,
and the causes is
attacked from all sides,
when the tides keep turning
and you’re yearning
for the storm to cease,
for the warmth of peace,
believe in me,
believe in we.
For when life tries to bind you,
I’m here to remind you:
They come for my people,
they come for me.