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.

 

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.