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.

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.

“Not All Men”

Ok, so I said I’d post new poetry every Thursday but I’ve been processing a situation where I was sexually harassed at work and this poem just can’t wait a week. Listen along here.
— The Vocal Poetess

* * *
It started relatively small,
relatively benign
as often times these things do.
You
would bump into me where I was standing
and your hand would graze my backside
and I’d let it go,
forgoing the warning signs in my mind:
Maybe it really was an accident,
he probably meant nothing by it.

But then you’d try it again.
And then you’d become more bold
and hold your hands on my hips
as you dipped behind me,
seizing an opportunity
to use a crowded space as a place
to slide your dick across my ass
in the pretense of just “passing by.”
“Coming through,” you’d say
as you’d have your way with me,
freely rubbing your disgusting manhood
(should I even call it that?!)
across the back of me.

And what did I do?
Nothing.
Not a damn thing.
And I am stinging with rage
and mountains of shame
and blame for myself
because of your selfish ways.
All day I chided myself,
beating myself up
for not speaking up,
for not uttering any words,
but would you have heard
them anyway?

The truth is you didn’t need me to say,
“Stop!” or “Get off!”
for you to know it was wrong.
And all along,
I’ve been putting that on me,
Oh he couldn’t see
how bad his behavior was
because I never told him.
Yet again another victim
blaming herself for the sins
of the harasser
and after all was said and done
you thought you’d won.

And I resent that
and you
and the slew of men
who continue to do nothing,
choosing cowardice,
acting as if they don’t notice.
Well I’m sick of this bullshit.
I’m done with pretending,
I’m ending that foolishness
and I insist you do the same.
When you see harassment
call it out by name,
it has no place here
or anywhere.
Stop letting fear dictate–
I’m not here to placate you.
Do better.
Men, I’m talking to you.
Do
better.

And you’d better not contend by saying,
“Not all men!”
Because if I said it once ,
I’ll say it again:
Stop passing the buck
or shucking your responsibility.
I see way too many men
content to sit back in silence
while violence happens all around them
and then they have the gall,
the wherewithal,
to say they are
“one of the good ones.”
Since when do you get a gold star
for something you haven’t done?
Sorry to spoil your fun
but no one gets off that easy.
Oh, so you’re not sleazy?
Well, good for you!
What address should I send
this gratitude check to?

Look, I don’t want you
to assume I’m not glad or relieved
that you aren’t avidly
“grabbing women by the pussy”
(which is more than I can say
for our commander in chief)
but that’s not enough for me.
Until you can be
part of the solution
you’re part of the problem.
And until then
miss me with
“Not all men.”

Take a Seat

Welcome! As I get this blog off the ground, I intend to post new poetry every Thursday and share some of my old poetry every Monday. This poem is part of my series on sexual harassment.

* * *

I hear men complaining these days, saying
“I can’t be paying women compliments
without them claiming sexual harassment.
My intent is flattery and it bothers me
that women can’t see that.
As a matter of fact,
I’m afraid that a compliment paid
will be made into a lawsuit.
What can I say or do
without it being misconstrued
or used against me?”

You want to know what you can do?
You,
really want to know what you can do?
For starters, you
can stop making this about you.
Boohooing about women misconstruing
your compliments and doings.
You’re pursuing sympathy
but you’re barking up the wrong tree.
You see, all we hear is whimpers
and nothing flares my temper
like men who act like dogs.

You’re afraid of what you can say?
Try being afraid to wake up every day
and take the subway
because a stray hand may
land on your ass or thigh.

Try being afraid to be anywhere alone,
be it at work or home,
without assessing the space
for routes of escape, just in case.

Try being afraid of someone stalking you
when you’re out walking
in your neighborhood or the woods or at night,
prepared to fight with pepper spray.

Try being afraid to report anything
because it could bring
retaliation, condemnation, termination,
or an even worse situation.

Try being afraid of your boss,
manager, or employer,
who might exploit your vulnerability,
your need for a salary.

Try being afraid to walk down the block
and hear a group of men talk
about your body in crude ways
and expect you to say, “Thank you.”

Try being afraid to speak up and out
because some men will pout
and get defensive,
which gives way to more extensive harassment.

Try being afraid to stand up for yourself
in a world that continually minimizes your wealth,
that commits violence against you,
then seeks to silence you
and make its lies the truth.

So excuse me
if I don’t feel sympathy
or shed any tears
over your infantile fears.
Stop talking and hear us,
muster the grit to sit
with discomfort of it.
For it’s a small price to pay
compared to what we face each day.

Besides, if what you were going to say
or do could be misconstrued
as poor behavior
then save your comments.
The intent
was not to compliment us
but to flatter yourself.
So put your ego on the shelf,
let your words melt
behind your teeth,
and then,
take
a
seat.

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.