Saturday, June 29, 2013

New, heavy poems...

Untitled 1 - 6/2013
When I was little,
I developed a crush on the Illustrated Man.
My reasoning, such as it was,
centered on the fact that,
when we fell asleep together at night,
I would be surrounded by stories.
I was young enough to think that stories
were the most exciting nocturnal activities two people could get up.
Obviously, I know better now.

But it is also true that bedtime stories told on skin
are a wonder to behold.
Like how, when you wrap my sleep self in your arms,
a raven stares me in the face.
And the story of that raven
shows me you in new ways,
and knits into my skin, too.

Your stories are walking away soon
and some other person
will see ravens in their sleep
and wake to dandelion men.
I will try not to envy these invisible someones.
You came along when I needed a lifeline
and it will take time to absorb that,
your stories are signs
that point to the inevitability of bodies coming together
in a way that might last longer than tomorrow.
So thank you for that.

I think it is true that some people
leave a trail of broken hearts behind them.
But I think you are the opposite -
behind you is a trail of startled, awakened people,
grateful for your stories.

If you were anyone else,
embarking on a journey into the unknown,
I would tell you to be safe.
But you've got a skin filled with stories, son,
and an honest heart.
You're one of the lucky ones -
everywhere you go, you'll always have all that you need.

Your raven told me that before I fell asleep,
so you know it's true.

Untitled 2 - 6/2013
I don't know if you can see,
from where you are,
but my spine is a mountain range,
covered loosely with skin.
And every time I start missing you
so hard I lose my breath,
I stop
and breathe in mountains instead.
I think
"I am strong."
"I can endure."
"I am mountains."
"I am strong."
"I am mountains, mama."
"I will live."

And it helps.
Until it doesn't.
Until that day
where the range of my spine crumbles,
like yours did.
"I am weak, mama."
"My mountains are falling."
"I am weak, mama."
"I will die, mama.
Don't leave me alone."

Can you hear me from where you are?
Those angels have such noisy wings.
Human voices must seem like static
amongst all those hallelujahs.
So I will learn to climb
the crumbling mountains of my own spine
and create my own pulpit,
there where it all comes apart.
And I will speak truths I hope will reach you.
"I am weak, mama."
"I will live."
"I am mountains, mama."
"I will die."
"We all will die. You just got there first."
"I am mountains, mama."
"We are mountains, mama."

But you were mountains first.
You will still be mountains, mama,
long after my spine crumbles
and turns to dust.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My First California Poem

let's hope this whole "writing poems outside of Chicago" thing isn't a fluke...

What One Could Learn From 3rd Grade Girls, if One were So Inclined
-May, 2013
Imagine you are 7.
Imagine that the girl who rules your school,
the one with the fierce leather jacket
and a real poodle skirt for Halloween,
wants to be your friend.
Says she has a secret she wants to tell you.
She leans over and says
"The Easter Bunny isn't real.
Also, you're fat. And I hate you."
Decades later, it will still be hard to pin down
which part was worse.
Probably the part about the Easter Bunny.

Imagine you are 17.
And, after years of repeated abuse,
you pick your girlfriends based purely on their ability
to make you feel absolutely worthless.
Your best friend makes you feel like Frankenstein,
steals all your crushes,
and makes fun of your sister.
You love her because everyone does.
And proximity is better than exile.
You barely manage to not kill yourself Senior Year.
And your sister, the one who should have been your best friend all along,
takes the bus ride with you to buy the tiny amount of Prozac you can afford
on your minimum wage job selling balloons and party hats to impossibly cheerful people.
The irony is not lost on you.

Imagine you are 19.
And, one day, stumbling down snow-slicked streets
in a Montana town,
your safety is shattered by a stranger's hands
in places you can't protect, or predict.
It is fear, not cold that freezes you in place.
Imagine that somehow, one shard of courage shoots up,
colludes with the snowy streets,
and gets you free.
The worst has not happened.
Imagine that, when you call the police,
the woman on the other end asks for a description of his face.
Imagine you say "I couldn't bring myself to look. I was too afraid. Also, I was told good girls don't stare."
Imagine that she implies that, perhaps, you deserved it after all.
Imagine that, after this heaping up of indignities, you call your best friend at the time.
You pour out your fear, choke on it, humble yourself, ask her to come over,
keep the nightmares out a little.
You do not have to imagine what she says next. It rings in your ears after all this time.
"It's late. I'm in my pajamas. Can't you come over here?"
Imagine that you do not say "Seriously? Fuck you."
Imagine that, because you are a good friend, you empathize.
You say, "I know. It's late. Sorry I woke you. I'll be okay."
Imagine that, after you hang up, you crawl past the now-too-large windows of your house,
grab a kitchen knife, and fall asleep on the pile of clothes shoved in front of your door,
so nothing gets in.
Imagine the two of you never talk about that night again.

Imagine you are older now,
not wiser, really,
but luckier,
with friends who almost always answer your calls on the first ring,
and are so glad to hear your voice.
Imagine that you spend your days
with the under-12 set.
Imagine that your secret favorites are the ones who are told routinely
they are too ugly, too fat, too brown, too unfortunate to make it in this world.
Imagine you can see their beautiful selves shining through,
like how someone must have seen you.
Imagine you can see the reign of terror start,
the dictatorship of the blond-haired little girls
with their fierce leather jackets
and poisonous smiles.
Imagine that every day, you go home empty,
feeling powerless to stop the inevitable girl war.
But imagine these little ugly-beautiful girls surprise you,
and stand up,
fight back,
use words as weapons without stooping low,
fixing forever your idea of who a friend is.
Imagine you get to stand back,
in awe,
as some forever-broken part of you is fixed,
and the lie is undone that we girls will always hurt each other
on our way into the world.
Imagine you could almost cry
at how lucky you are to offer them a little
and get back so much.
Imagine the epiphany you might have,
there on the playground,
as they skip off,
to jump rope
and be beautiful for no one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Apparently, I can only write poems in Chicago

I am in Chicago for a week long training on restorative justice circles. I thought I was here purely for observational purposes and to do the specifics of my job more effectively. But turns out I am actually here because I needed a profound wake-up call about the values that guide my life, my need to be in constant, critical conversation (with myself and others) about oppression, privilege, violence, grief, and God. Having this space has revealed so much lacking in how I live now and so much work, personal and communal, that I need to re-engage in.

It also revealed that, so far, this city is the only one (aside from my hometown) that I can write poetry in. These came out of a day of amazing, heart-breaking, challenging, and convicting conversations about race, young people, and Chicago communities.

On the Misapprehension of "Urban Decay"

Excuse me.
I briefly thought your land was barren.
Excuse me.
I briefly thought your people were not here first
or came here on purpose
or had not survived
all that was thrown their way.
Excuse me.
I forgot how desperately life wants to live
into fullness of days.
Excuse me.
I forgot that it is we
who insist on burying green shoots
with the weight of the concrete dead.
Excuse me.
I believed the lie
that I am entitled to all that I have not earned.
Excuse me.
I have not earned much.
Just the view of this patch of green grass
in an urban forest.
And all of you beside me
and time enough to build something real.

Excuse me.
I do not know how long this will last.
Excuse me.
I do not know if I am doing this right.
Excuse me.
I will hurt you.
Excuse me.
But I need you to know,
how much I want you to live.
Excuse me.
All my apologies are empty words
when faced with the green shoots of your spirit,
making cracks in all that would kill you.


In my dreams, we are standing,
on what I wish the banks of the River Jordan looked like.
(I hate to ruin the illusion for you, but the real River Jordan is ugly-brown and filled with tourists in flimsy polyester gowns. I hate to digress, but thought you should know.)
On the banks of what is not the real River Jordan,
we are singing.
All of us.
And the light from our singing singes the night sky
like a Midwest thunderstorm,
and all the rocks are shaking.
And our God (yours and mine), she is dancing for joy
at the cacophony of all her beautiful, broken children
who have come so far,
at last.

This is what I want The Revolution to look like.
Which is why I always miss it.

Because, it turns out,
sometimes The Revolution is just surviving the impossible
with someone equally lovely, and equally broken, beside you.
Sometimes The Revolution means that the storm is over,
and the sea is not as large as you thought,
and you still have your boat.

We will not all make it up the mountain.
We will none of us make it out alive.
We do not always get as much love as we need.
We almost always get more haters than we deserve.
We so often get it wrong, fall down, rub each other raw,
wage war on our own hearts.
Or, at least, I assume you do,
if you are anything like me.
Perhaps you are not.

I want The Revolution to be big,
big enough to see it beyond the small, petty things
that make up this life.
But The Revolution is that you get fed tonight,
just like me.
That people call your child beautiful,
just like mine.
That you can get in the door,
just like me,
because it is not locked,
or too high,
or in an unforgiving space that wouldn't let you in.
That you will find plenty,
and I will give up abundance,
so we can meet in the middle
with our hands just full enough
of all that is holy.
That you will be seen,
just like me.
That I will be heard,
just like you.

This is The Revolution we have been waiting for.

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Poem (One mine, one not)

So, probably I should give up pretending that this blog is anything other than a fancy way of storing poems I like. But I don't feel ready to do that yet. So I shan't.

Love after Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here.  Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit.  Feast on your life.


All My Words

"You are so amazing."
"I've never met anyone like you
Since you asked,
that's what I usually say
to all the fellas.

I've become the girl who cried, wolf-whistled
throughout town.
I've complimented every
new tattoo,
work of art,
band you love.
I'm the girl who thought
your dog was the cutest,
your shoes were the coolest,
and your politics were suitably anti-racist
for a white dude.
And like that other little wolf-crier
from the story,
I knew exactly what lies I was telling.

And then you came along.
And your shoes really were that cool.
And your politics were absolutely swoon-worthy.
And I really had never met anyone like you before.

But I've also run out of things to say.
I'm worried,
as the words trip out,
that you can see how worn-out the edges are,
how often they've been used,
how bereft of originality I've become.
And I wouldn't blame you for walking away -
I wouldn't want second-hand words

After I saw you last,
I stumbled home,
drunk on your uniqueness,
and sat down,
pen in hand,
to find anything I could give you
that would tumble out of my mouth
and just for you.
This is all I have:
"Baby, you make me wish I'd saved all my words."