Monday, December 5, 2016

On questions and capes: A poem about post-election survival

On questions and capes: A poem about post-election survival

The cashier at the pharmacy verifies my name, address, date of birth,
looks me over and says, "Solomon, huh?
Is that Jewish?"

It is 3 weeks after the election.
We are standing in a Walgreens in a blue state
across the corner from where the
high school kids stood on election day with signs reading,
"build that wall" and "Hillary for Prison." We are
down the road from the Starbucks where I was lectured on
how young people will be the downfall of society because
we don't know any better, and up the street from the
house with the Confederate flag painted in its garage, from the
Trump sign that lights up in the dark, from the
pick-up truck with two Confederate flags flying off the back above the gun rack, from the
Safeway where men followed me to my car, tried to get in after me, where I
did not buy from the Kosher for Passover section because
a man in a Trump hat was in the aisle with me spouting ignorance and now I
why I am standing in Walgreens
trying to answer this question as
my mouth goes dry.

Dr. Laura?
If Donald Trump is president, will he hate me?

Dr. Laura?
When Donald Trump runs the world, will he make people be cannibals?
Will they eat people with autism first?

Dr. Laura?
Is it okay to worry about Donald Trump?
Sometimes I can't sleep because I worry about him, like, about what he might do to my family.

Dr. Laura?
Will it be the end of the world when Donald Trump is president? 

Dr. Laura? 
Can I be a superhero and save the world from Donald Trump?  Sometimes I imagine that.

Dr. Laura?
I don't know how to be a superhero. 
I tried to fly once, but
I just falled down.

Each session feels like a Bingo card of heartbreak:
a unique pattern of life on the margins.
I find newfound fear as the day's
headlines flash by.

Session 1:
White single father with mental illness raising teenage son with
disabilities on the Eastern Shore has to give up
a day of work to wait
for Medical Assistance transportation.

Session 2:
Muslim woman in hijab has twins with autism, works
nights to support them, about to lose her job due to
inability to find child care.

Session 3:
Non-English speaking, immigrant mother with
intellectual disability raising child with autism.

Session 4:
Black lesbian grandmothers, one with cancer, one an immigrant, raising a
child with multiple disabilities on
food stamps in section 8 housing with a history of
multigenerational trauma.


I receive an email:
"I don't understand why you're so upset about this.
Now is the time to just send love and prayers and compassion."

I fire off a response:
"Fuck your prayers.
Now is the time to fight for the superheroes trying to fly
across the margins."

I feel so small in the face of the
resilience I sit across from.

What privilege it is to feel
shell-shocked and
curl into my
white, lesbian, half-Jewish shell when all day I
sit with people who only had a quarter shell to start with and it
leaks when it rains.

I barely sleep.
Their questions.
I don't know how to answer their questions.

Dr. Laura?
I was teaching my son to ride the bus.
He was going to do it himself.
Should I let him?  I'm scared.

Dr. Laura?
I want him to be able to work
but I don't know what people will say.
Have you seen all these hate crimes?

Dr. Laura?
He runs away from me in public.
He hugs strangers, he's
a grown man now.
A 14-year-old black boy.
What do we do?

Dr. Laura?

I spend days telling myself I cannot do this.
I cannot find my breath.
I ask myself: what if the next person you meet is the one the world is waiting for?
I give everyone capes in my mind so they are
flying as I
learn to ask the questions that will
imagine our survival.

"How are you?" 
"How's work?" everyone asks.
I am not a superhero.
I add these to the questions
I cannot answer.


Note: All clients portrayed above are fictionalized and/or composites of actual clients I see/have seen. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

No More

October is domestic violence awareness month, and I was asked to write a poem for a vigil for domestic and intimate partner violence tonight for a local organization (shout-out to Hopeworks, who does fantastic work!).

Do you know about the "No More" campaign?  The theme of tonight's vigil was "No More."  No More domestic violence.

I want to live in a world where there is no more domestic violence.  No more sexual assault.  No more abuse.  Let's say no more.  

No More

And the women say No More.
And the men say No More.
And the children and elders
and my trans-sisters and brothers
queer and straight, we
gather to grieve and rage and hold one another because this
is how we reclaim our lives.

We converse with silence and the echo of doubt
until we are hollowed.
Raw hearts rarely show the bleeding:
we arrive again with strangers who bring
the intimacy we crave and pocket
like poems. Some moments
are small enough to fit under our tongues, but we hold them like
beacons of hope.  This breath breathes
power into our lungs as we
fight to embody the subtle whispering of ourselves and
the weights we carry. 

Violence takes.
It takes air, and energy, and blood, and
life, and all we learned to live by.
We spend our days learning
the motions of moving our words from our shoes to our fists,
from our fists to our hearts,
from our hearts to our mouths.
We turn on our voicebox like a
sprinkler of truth-missiles;
tie our heartstrings to moonbeams to practice the art
of rising from darkness:
there is no prescription or miracle.
No love letter or checklist.
No law, or scripture, or prayer that rights this world,
there is only this-
the gravitational pull of your life to the moonbeams and the ways you rise.
The power of remembrance and owning your sanctity.
Candlelight, and murmurations of
the strength of survival

A poem is so small  --
it is only words on a page, spoken and then
gone; I want to be large.
The vastness of my embodying reaching
out so I can expand to exist
beyond this:
take my hand and we will make
the moon.
Let’s beam her large,
together, rising holy into the darkness, saying:
hear me.
Believe me.
Value me.
Warrior with me.
Listen when I roar
when I whisper
when I beg and write
and pray:
No More.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Day 15: Grieving the war

I don't know how to explain the warzone I work in because
there are no tanks, or guns --
except for when there were, once, last year during the uprising after
Freddie Gray was killed and I
walked in to work past the National Guard lining the streets in
riot gear.

But it's not really about that because the warzone I work in is
the police problem and the
poverty problem and the
oppressed people problem and the
hungry children in a food desert problem, and the
shitty schools that do illegal things routinely problem, and the
no way out problem.

It's the "my house burned down in the snowstorm" warzone, and the
"I might get deported" warzone, and the
"they got rats in the daycare" warzone, and the
"don't speak the language and nobody gets me an interpreter" warzone, 
and the war of: "can't pay my BG&E bill," and "don't have a working car" and "got a kid with a disability" and "school keeps calling me to come get him so I lost my job."

And me --
most days I show up with a pen knife to the gun fight.
"With all due respect, ma'am," he told me,
"you say you understand that this is hard.
But you don't."
He's not wrong.
I can feel it in my bones, but I
will never have to live it.
I feel so
small, knowing there is not an
enough that can stop this

A patient arrived nearly half an hour late today.
He was pulled over by the police for speeding.
He left the session and I cried:
grateful he
made it alive. Praying he
made it home.
Allowing myself 5 minutes to
grieve the war.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Day 14: Unpoemed

Here's the thing: this isn't really a poem.  

Here's the other thing: this is my blog, and my poem, so I get to say what's going down...and tonight, I say this is as close as we're getting to a poem.  

There are things that are not poetic but can be poemed:
Chapstick that melts in your purse.
The number of dead bugs collected in the light on my ceiling that I cannot remove.
The incessant barking of the dog next door.

And there are things that are poetic that cannot be poemed:
Your mother asking you to help take your grandfather's car.
Joint pain that radiates your body.
The raw hurt that comes when you read a person wrong --
or when you read them right, but hoped for more.
The aching wound that friendship leaves.
The ways our history lives in our bodies.
Feelings that float to the surface.
Looking for gratitude, and breathing only into the statement,
"I'm alive."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Day 13: Name This

Of course, I know this isn't technically day 13...but I needed to take two days off of poeming for lots of reasons.  So here's day 13 of my 30 days of poems...they just don't happen to be consecutive days.  

I shared this poem at church this morning.  I think it's actually the first time ever I have read a poem aloud and my body has not been shaking.  I liked that feeling.  

Name This

I have always been precise in my naming.
I want the just-right word at the just-right time:
I wield the power of my wording like a weapon.
Verbing nouns, changing phrases to make them new
and surprising, I move
to the matters of soul
heart-clenchingly quickly--
hold on, y'all.
This is how things get real.

See, as babies, our parents label our worlds:
"Do you see the light?"
"That's your shirt."
"Big yawn."
"You are so silly."
As toddlers, we ask the questions.
We point and show, and
each item is told to us over and over until
we can hold our world in our crumb-encrusted fingers.

My family cat's name was Coo Coo.
Coo Coo was one of my first words,
and everyone thought it was because
I loved the cat until, at age three
I told my mother that Coo Coo
was despicable.

I wonder how long it took me to find
the just-right word to name that, as playmates go, Coo Coo
was always a bit of a jerk.
I wonder if pride
surged through my three-year-old frame as I knew
I had found my just-right word, had
named the feeling exactly right, I
had spoken.

But just-right words are hard to find,
hard to use, hard to believe in;
naming our lives is not as easy as labeling
lights, and shirts, and
sometimes, I fall away to
solitude and quiet
un-naming of myself and my place, but wonder:
how do I name this worth?
this reclamation?
this embodying?
How do I name this way
I live my world?  I say
here is my heart. 
I named it Myself.
It is power.
It is existing beyond, it is
a word after
a word after
a word, it is naming:
here.  I am here,
holding my world in my hand.
Let me show you the color, the shape
the weight of it.
How heavy it can be.
Stay with me so I can
open my fingers.
Let me show you how beautiful it is
when it hits the light.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Day 12: Epigenetics

I don't know how many
lifetimes a child must
die through to end up
sitting in my office with
eyes like caverns that

a body is not big
enough to hold that
grief and so it
like a grave.

Day 11: Love letter from a flip-flop to the arpeggio: A story of unrequited love

Day 11/30's not that my creativity is waning...but...I maybe needed an idea of what to write tonight, so I went to Facebook again.  This time, I planned for tonight AND I planned for the future, because these poems are fun, and I figured maybe I will do one more if I get some good words...we'll see how the rest of the days go. 

At any rate, here was the word call: "Needed for two upcoming poem challenges: Four random things.  (I need concrete item type of things.  They can be random, but they need to be items.  Like toothbrush.  Or printer.  Or ferris wheel). 

As was the case yesterday, they did not disappoint.  Here is the list of words:

buggy whip, giraffe, tank top, Purple Pieman & Berry Bird Pop! Figure, key lime pie, archipelago, flip flop, tea pot, arpeggio, koala, febreeze spray, pool noodle, palm tree, vagina, clitoris, vulva, tissue, diet Dr. Pepper, trash can, peach, geode, flute, puppy, tail, pollywog, kombucha, water bottle, credit card, metro card, keys

With that in mind...the prompt is "write a love letter between two inanimate objects."  I'm thinking, of course, of Sarah Kay's amazing "Love Letter From a Toothbrush to a Bicycle Tire."  I took a stab at one a while ago -- "A love letter from the bell to the air."  

So from that amazing list of words above, the most obvious and only choice to me is to write...

Love letter from a flip-flop to the arpeggio: A story of unrequited love

I have loved you since first note.
Sitting on my shelf at Target,
waiting for my forever home, I was
practicing my monotone flips and flops, when you
came over the muzak-playing radio station in
soaring, trilling, rolling, resounding tones.
You sounded like
the first flip-flop weather day, like the
going to the beach day, like the
went to the park and did not step in dog poop day,
and made me want to sing my droning song with
new life.

One time, I tried to tune myself to your key:
hit my flop square against a foot I thought would be tuned to G, but it was
just a little sharp:
you flawless stream of music.
I love the way you
start out slow and then
become faster, almost
falling over yourself -- like I do when I run and my flips and flops smoosh together
becoming flops and flips
down and up, up and down --
we have so much in common, you and I.

Dear Arpeggio,
bounce with me along the paths of life.
Let us race up and down the scales together:
you holding tight my strap, and I, holding firmly to your notes, and together, we will create a masterpiece of tonal flips and flops --
you sweet chord.
Let us rest together gently upon your staff and I promise
to forever bring you home
to middle C.