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.

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.

 

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.

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.
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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.
pat
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.