For Labor Day

Happy Labor Day.

If yours is one of the backs upon which this country is built, know that you aren’t forgotten. Never forget that you, too, are America.

I, Too
By Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
and grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
and be ashamed —

I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.

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Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 9:22 AM  Comments (3)  
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The madness of me as a poet

I’ve been writing like a mad woman. Meaning both that I’m writing a lot, and that I’m writing things only a mad woman would. Pieces that assume that my characters are real people, and I’m bound to run into them one day, for instance. Pieces that read like creative non-fiction, but account for events that never happened.

And lots of poetry.

I know I’m going mad when I’m writing lots and lots of poetry.

Here’s something raw, from this morning.

_________________________________________________________________

i didn’t expect to have such a hard time finding a place to write today

i go into a café i’ve never visited before,
approach the sour faced man behind the counter,
who eyes the latptop i’m carrying.
you’re a writer, he says with a sneer.
yes! i chirp. how did you know?
he sweeps his arm across all of the heads
bent over computer screens.
you’re all writers, he says.
yes, i say, wanting to show him my writer’s charm,
we come in bunches, like grapes.
don’t you use your metaphors on me!
he shouts,
and his head is a round, red dodgeball.
i duck to avoid it.

i find another café and i think it’s fate:
in the window there’s a sign that says

vacant position: seeking writer
to sit in the corner, looking profound.

i’m settling into the corner when an employee walks up to me.
what are you doing? he asks.
i point to the sign. trying out for the part.
the position has been filled,
he says,
and when i try to ask to stay anyway,
he says louder, the position has been filled!
the other employees nod as he escorts me to the door,
even though i’m pretty sure the old white man who comes in
is there for the same reason, and they let him stay.

at the park
i take a seat in the green,
start to unload my writing tools when i hear,
Oh. a woman pushing a stroller has stopped beside me.
my dog was going to pee here, she says,
and both she and the dog are looking down at me
over long, thin noses, waiting.
even the baby is fussing from the stroller,
aware early on that i don’t belong.
i leave the dog’s toilet and
i wander for a while,
trying to find another seat in the green,
but sure i’d choose wrong.

i end up back home,
where the only person to fill the position
of thoughtful writer
is me.
i’d be anywhere else if else if i could,
but here will always work just as well.

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 9:46 AM  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The silence won’t save us

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.
-Audre Lorde

Okay, so the truth is I totally wimped out in that last post. I felt so exposed approaching the topic of sex on such a public forum. Not that I’d never done it before, that type of writing or sharing that type of writing, but the feeling of vulnerability definitely taught me something about how I don’t feel quite in control here, not knowing who’s reading and all. I wanted to write more, but something held me back.

So there’s nothing wrong with feeling out how much I want to share here. Still, I feel like I missed an opportunity to speak to what was really on my mind, about sexual abuse and survivors and how speaking up about these things without shame or fear can be an important part of the healing process.

Silence, I’ll admit, is one of my favorite things. I’ve probably written a dozen poems about my love of silence, so trying to write one criticizing silence as something that won’t save us, or at least distinguishing appreciating silence from being forcibly speechless, has been a challenge.

So here’s one I found, a strong, chilling poem from someone who can say it better than I can

__________________________________________________________________________

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…
100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.
Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.
EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me

In a moment of silence

In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the

Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you

To offer up a moment of silence

For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,

disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,

For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…

A full day of silence

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the

hands of U.S.-backed Israeli

forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,

mostly children, who have died of

malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.

embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,

Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,

Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.

Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of

concrete, steel, earth and skin

And the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,

not a war – for those who

know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their

relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.

A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of

a secret war … ssssshhhhh….

Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.

Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,

Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have

piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.

An hour of silence for El Salvador …

An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …

Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …

None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.

45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas

25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found

their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could

poke into the sky.

There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.

And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of

sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half

of right here,

Whose land and lives were stolen,

In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand

Creek,

Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.

Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the

refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?

And we are all left speechless

Our tongues snatched from our mouths

Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence

And the poets have all been laid to rest

The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,

You want a moment of silence

You mourn now as if the world will never be the same

And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has

been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.

This is a 9/10 poem,

It is a 9/9 poem,

A 9/8 poem,

A 9/7 poem

This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:

This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.

This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,

1977.

This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,

New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes

This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told

The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks

The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and

Newsweek ignored.

This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?

We could give you lifetimes of empty:

The unmarked graves

The lost languages

The uprooted trees and histories

The dead stares on the faces of nameless children

Before I start this poem we could be silent forever

Or just long enough to hunger,

For the dust to bury us

And you would still ask us

For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence

Then stop the oil pumps

Turn off the engines and the televisions

Sink the cruise ships

Crash the stock markets

Unplug the marquee lights,

Delete the instant messages,

Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window

of Taco Bell,

And pay the workers for wages lost.

Tear down the liquor stores,

The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the

Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,

Then take it

On Super Bowl Sunday,

The Fourth of July

During Dayton’s 13 hour sale

Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful

people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence

Then take it NOW,

Before this poem begins.

Here, in the echo of my voice,

In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,

In the space between bodies in embrace,

Here is your silence.

Take it.

But take it all…Don’t cut in line.

Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,

Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 10:17 AM  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

This is a blog post about sex.

Warning: this post includes discussion of sex and sexual abuse. Just so ya know.

Brainstorming for the blog this morning, I came across a whole lot of “shoulds.” Should I continue to discuss marriage equality? Should I commit to total honesty on the blog? Should I blog at all, when I’m not feeling particularly inspired?

It’s clear that my creativity has been stifled lately, as I haven’t been blogging much. I think part of why I’ve been stifled is that I’ve been drowning in a sea of pesky shoulds, trying to figure out what I’m “supposed” to be writing, instead of just writing.

I surprised myself when I stumbled upon this one: should I keep my blog as a sex-free zone?

Wait. What?

I’ve discussed sexuality, of course, mostly in the context of sexual orientation. I briefly mentioned erotica when I judged another me for writing it. But I wouldn’t really criticize anybody for writing about sex. Erotic writing can be beautiful, can be healing, can be one of the best ways for survivors of sexual violence, as well as other folks, to reclaim their power and feel whole.

So why should this blog be sex-free? If I use erotic writing to free myself, why would I then continue to keep myself trapped by hiding it? Why should I be ashamed of something I’ve spent years reclaiming as my own?

In short: fuck censorship.

This is a blog post about sex. And there may be more to come.

__________________________________________________________________________________

waiting

for your skin to touch mine

wondering

if we’ll ever meet again

when all at once

you reach me

reach through me

reach into me

so what I thought was my skin

is molten lava,

too hot to touch

but too warm to resist

and when I fall into you

I melt,

dripping down your body

slow and sweet

as warm honey.

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 12:35 PM  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

This Is Not a Small Voice

My writing is in hiding.

Not really, I suppose it’s been plenty exposed on here, but recently some of the work I’ve been doing has been feeling shy. I’ve been trying to put the final touches on some pieces to be submitted for publication or read at open mics. So I’ve been reminding these pieces that they’re potentially about to be put out for the world to see and judge and possibly reject, but in the meantime they prefer to keep to themselves. It’s like my writing is a stripper, about to proudly step out on stage and let the world see her body in its most natural, most vulnerable state, but if you catch her in her dressing room before she’s ready, she’ll gasp, cling to her robe, and politely ask you to let her have this moment to herself.

So instead of my own work, today I’m going to share a poem by someone who inspires me, Sonia Sanchez.

This Is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice

you hear          this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

Kadesha. Shaniqua. This

is the voice of Antoine.

Darryl. Shaquille.

Running over waters

navigating the hallways

of our schools spilling out

on the corners of our cities and

no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love

you hear          this is a large

love, a passion for kissing learning

on its face.

This is a love that crowns the feet with hands

that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails

mends the children,

folds them inside our history where they

toast more than the flesh

where they suck the bones of the alphabet

and spit out closed vowels.

This is a love colored with iron and lace.

This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice

you hear.

©Sonia Sanchez 1999, from Shake Loose My Skin, Beacon Press Books

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:50 AM  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

What the hell am I writing?

What the hell am I writing?

I think one of the reasons I’ve been feeling so strange about my writing lately is that I’m having trouble identifying what it is. I was once a poet, see, and then I became a fiction writer and I was comfortable with that title. Comfortable, at least, with calling myself a fiction writer who sometimes writes poetry, but always able to identify it as one or the other.

Then, in my last semester as an undergraduate Creative Writing major at San Francisco State, I decided to take a poetry class with the incredible and talented Toni Mirosevich. Partly because Toni is so incredible and I didn’t want to graduate without ever having taken a class with her, and partly because I thought that reconnecting with poetry would help me think outside of the box with my fiction.

Well, the class helped me think outside the box, all right. So far outside that I didn’t know what to call my writing anymore. If you’ve ever read Toni’s work, you might know that she’s the queen of creative non-fiction and you might have expected that I’d end up writing some kind of poetry/fiction/non-fiction fusion that could never be categorized.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m all about letting go of labels, after all. And I have great respect for writers who can pull off these sorts of things. But with my writing, of all things, I’ve always been something of a control freak. I like to go into it knowing that I’m writing fiction, that my paragraphs will begin with capital letters and end with periods. That it’s fiction because it’s not true and it doesn’t rhyme and there are no line breaks.

Right?

Then I find myself writing pieces like this, and when I go to post it I have to tag it as something, so I have to decide: is this fiction? Is it poetry? What about that truth element? Does that make it creative non-fiction? Can I call it poetic non-fiction, prosey poetry, poenonfiction? And what about when I write something that’s not true for me, but it’s somebody’s truth, and that’s why I write it? And what happens when I rhyme?

According to Toni, this is a good place to be in my writing. I’m on the edge of discovery, on the verge of… something, I suppose, though I’m not sure what. To me, being on the edge of something unknown feels like I’m about to plunge. I ask myself what’s the worst that could happen if I wrote something that can’t be categorized, and my mind goes to all kinds of illogical places, like the crumbling of the universe as we know it.

Then again, I wrote a few uncategorizables this morning and the world seems to still be in tact. For now. We’ll see what happens.

_________________________________________________________________________

‘Til Morning Comes

We know morning will come

but we try to carry this night together

by holding our breath

keeping darkness in our lungs

to release

when dawn begins

its painting of the sky.

I’m holding on until

your breathless laugh

makes me sigh.

I watch the air from within me

move to you

and I hope you’ll hold my breath

‘til morning comes.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

After the unjust verdict

I have a very heavy heart following the verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the trial of the BART cop who shot Oscar Grant in the back on New Years Day, 2009.

And I’d like to move away from the media’s focus in the Mehserle trial, as they try desperately to come up with stories of violence among the largely peaceful gatherings. I’ve seen “shock” and “shame” over looting done by a small minority of those who clearly weren’t gathering in hopes of building community and making change, like many others were, without media coverage. Some say the looting is “more shameful” than the unjust verdict itself.

Really?

Is this what we should be focusing on? Is the fact that some took advantage of this moment to cause chaos, following sensational media hype all but calling for it, more shocking than the fact that a cop can shoot an unarmed black man in the back as he lies down on the pavement, and avoid being convicted of murder? More shocking than the sound of a gunshot ending the life of a young man, a father, a son? More shocking than the horror the Grant family faces for the rest of their lives?

Dare I say that to focus on the looting, of all things, is not really the point.

So I’ve dwelled too long on it already. Moving on.

What’s weighing much more heavily on my heart is the thought of Oscar Grant’s family. His mother describes the verdict as being “slapped in the face by a system that has denied us true justice.” I feel the echo of her words: “My son was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered.” It breaks my heart that she has to deal with a justice system that doesn’t agree.

I hope, at least, that more than violence or media sensationalism, this can lead to conversation, to speaking out about how it feels for the justice system to value some lives over others, to writing or creating art or doing whatever we can to express ourselves, as Jen Cross calls for here. The truth is, regardless of the verdict, Oscar Grant is lost forever. Let’s hold one another and hope not to lose another so senselessly ever again.

‎”Justice does not come to the swift nor the strong, but to the one who endures to the end. And as a family and as a nation of African-American people, we will fight for justice til the end”- Wanda Johnson

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It’s hard to focus my feelings about everything right now enough to write about it, but here’s something.

For Oscar Grant and Wanda Johnson

When You Hope for Justice and Get a Slap in the Face

when you hope for justice

and get a slap in the face,

hold your head high.

feel the sting of it,

know the pain is real

and don’t let anybody tell you

it was never there.

cry.

know your tears aren’t for nothing,

let them fall to the earth

to water the seeds

that will grow the roots

to anchor the trees

that cannot be moved.

know that you, too,

cannot be moved.

when you hope for justice

and get a slap in the face,

look to the past.

to those who were beaten and left to die,

whose sadness and rage

left them still standing,

and built the ground we stand on today.

look to the future,

where today’s heavy hearts

are tomorrow’s beacons of hope.

our hope may be lost

but our determination can be found again.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (1)  
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Words

I’d like to think none of my words have gone unheard.

Even the ones I tucked away into files I never intended to open have slipped away when I wasn’t looking.

They’ve found their way into tattoo parlors, where the artist, shaking his head as he inks “trash” on the customer’s body as requested, is surprised when he finishes to see that he’s written respect yourself instead.

Some have stopped violence, finding their way to a man who’s shouting at a stranger, fists clenched, ready to taste blood. He finds himself tasting the word peace instead, and he thinks it tastes like his mother’s blueberry pie.

The daredevil words, like fearless and powerful have gone on adventures, holding on to the bellies of planes, letting go and skydiving when they’ve reached their highest point. They split open when they hit the ground, then put themselves back together letter by letter and do it all again. The exception is powerful — I wrote that so it’ll never come apart.

Even words I’ve hidden away in diaries written at thirteen years old have gotten out, coming alive again by finding the diaries of those who are girls today, giving them words for their feelings so if they can’t hurl them at the world, at least they’ve written them somewhere.

Some words wrap themselves around the ankles of children who pass, like stray kittens who have found a home. Many are too big for the children, like oversized hand-me-down pants, but they’ll grow into them eventually. Like the little girl whose teachers won’t let her speak. The word oppression enters her mind, and she doesn’t know what it means but suddenly she understands how it feels. Her mother is surprised to find queer girls’ stories among the bedtime tales, but she reads them anyway, wondering why they haven’t been told before.

There are words that steal away into the night. Some settle into the craters of the moon, finding their way into the dreams of anyone who gazes above before sleeping. There are words that add light to the stars, and hop upon falling stars to give words to wishes.

My words bleed ink through paper, and rip through pages. Even the words I mean to keep to myself won’t let me be so selfish. They set out to fall upon the ears that need to hear them most.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (2)  
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Another world possible through… poetry?

On art and social change:

I’ve always had this crazy idea that I’m gonna somehow change the world through writing. If not through my writing itself, then at least by helping others find their voices and discover the power of words.

I’ve also always thought, of course, that I’d have to be a little bit crazy to think this way. Of all the various kick-ass ways of going about creating social change, could sitting down and writing really be counted among them?

Some folks at the U.S. Social Forum certainly seemed to think so. Many led workshops sharing their wisdom and inspirational stories surrounding creativity, the arts and social change. There was much to learn, not only about creative practices but also about where I stand on their place in social justice movements.

So I’m going to start small. Rather than try to answer the bigger question of whether I believe in art as social change, I’ll begin with what I know. This I believe:

  • We can speak through writing when our voices are lost. Whether we’re forcibly silenced or held back by our own lack of confidence, writing can help us find and project our voices when we don’t have any other way.
  • Anybody can write (shh…). Now don’t let this one get out, because writing is supposed to be my thing, but I believe that anybody can write. No amount of talent or training (or lack thereof) matters when it’s just you and the pen, and you’re writing from the heart, telling your story like only you could. Don’t believe me? Get in touch with me, and I’ll help you dare to try.
  • Writing has made change before. There are countles examples from history, and I really believe that the world would not be the same if not for writers like the Beat poets or those of the Harlem Renaissance, who insisted on telling their stories in ways the world had never heard. If nothing else, the literary arts can capture a movement from the point of view of those involved, so that their stories will not be forgotten.
  • Writing can help communities heal, reflect and grow. I believe that simply by telling our stories, we can shake off pain and shame, celebrate our lives and communities, and learn to love ourselves and each other. Facing injustice, being constantly put down and out, we can feel stuck, and become unwilling or believe we are unable to take on the hard work of making change, even if it is for our own good. Celebrating and sharing with our communities through writing can help remind us that we’re worth it, deserving of a world in which we can thrive as we are.

So, I guess the answer is yes, I am crazy. Crazy enough to believe in the power of writing to create social change, and to not find the idea so crazy after all. What do you think? How do you see art as social change?

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I must write,

for I find the call of the blank page,

like the call to revolution,

irresistible.

Poetry I’m not supposed to write

I’m back from the U.S. Social Forum. And I’m not a poet, but this is what came out when reflecting on the experience this morning:

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This Isn’t a Poem About Justice

This isn’t a poem about justice

I’m not supposed to write about wild and out there things

            that you can’t get your hands on

                        that might not really exist.

But if you promise not to call me crazy

I’ll tell you in a whisper

            that I felt justice.

            it was soaking the earth

                        in warm rain falling

                        and lightning bolts striking the Detroit River

                                    lighting up the sky

                                    like the eyes of a hopeful child.

Promise not to laugh

when I say I looked into the soul of a stranger

            Our eyes met,

                        our energies passed between us

                        like the shared tremble of an earthquake.

            No need to ask did you feel that?

                        I can’t call him a stranger anymore.

Promise you won’t turn me in

when I speak of bonds formed

            on darkened dance floors

                        between banners calling for revolutions

            I’m pretty sure what I did

                        violated some part of the Patriot Act

                        and if they lock me up

                                    and torture me

                                    and ask what I know about terror

            I’ll say her lips tasted like cinnamon.

We spit justice into microphones

            spilled it from paint cans onto canvases

                        wore it on t-shirts

                                    and fried it into foods,

                                    so it burned our tongues

                                    and slipped from our lips when we spoke.

I say justice is alive as the red rose of so many poems

            but its scent thickens the air like the heat of the sun

                        and its thorns are inescapable.

Published in: on June 28, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (6)  
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