This is also a poem I have a history of disliking. When I wrote this poem, it was much longer...and was quite boring in parts. It had good pieces, but it was actually kinda dull.
I went to a poetry reading -- my very, very first poetry reading, actually -- and I took this poem. I was scared. Like, body and voice shaking type of scared. But I read it, and people liked it, I got a lot of good feedback on it, but there was that one lady. You know that one lady? That ONE LADY that has something to say about everything. After the poetry reading, when I was feeling all buzzed from the adrenaline of doing something I was scared to do, That One Lady came up to me and said, "your poem was nice...but the ending was cheap. I wanted to be wowed. You can do better."
And just like that, I hated the poem. It has a cheap ending. It didn't wow. Bummer. Another one for the recycling bin, I guess.
It's embarrassing that I let That One Lady, in her gold-tipped pumps and too much blue eye shadow ruin that experience for me, but she did. I have since written and rewritten and rewritten this poem, hearing That One Lady's words ringing in my ears so clearly that my eyes stung with the perfume she bathed in.
Perhaps it's the streak of defiance I have in me -- but in as many times as I have rewritten it, I have never changed the ending. I've tried, but it doesn't want to be rewritten. There is literally nothing else that comes up, other than that cheap, non-wowing end.
So this is it. This is the final version of this poem. Complete with the cheap ending and the lack of wow.
And you know what? I'm okay with that. So there, lady in the gold-tipped pumps.
No, seriously, I want the end of this poem to be kind of quiet. I like the overall arc of the poem. It starts rather quiet, it's intense through much of the middle, and all the way through to halfway through the last stanza...and then it gets quiet again. It needs that, I think. I need it to be that way, because I want the wow in the middle. It's not a wholly satisfying ending, but is the first step of a journey ever satisfying? I think not -- how can it be!
Is an ending still "cheap" if it has a purpose?
This poem is for the women who are story-holders.
It is not for the story tellers.
I’m not talking about stories that come out in coffee shops,
at the water cooler,
over phone calls while cooking dinner or changing diapers,
this poem is for the stories held in the wombs of women.
Impregnated by generations before
these stories send women into a labor of silence.
Fear. Shame. Rage,
and they bestow inconceivable strength.
When women can’t give birth to their story,
they hold it, deep inside, in places that will see no light,
in places where no one can hear the screaming,
and so they become
They hold so many stories in their story-holding wombs,
they don’t know how many stories are there.
Like my story-holder:
I got down the other day in front of my
full-length mirror and I looked and listened,
held it, rocked it, tried to comfort it,
till I heard this story:
my grandmother’s sister died in a fire in the outhouse.
My great-aunt, she was with her when she died,
and all the women in my family held this story
and told no one for so many years, it was almost like
it never happened.
Except for the fact that it did.
Except for the fact that my great-aunt hid in closets during storms and no one knew why.
Except for the fact that her story-holding daughter moved away and made her story that
she didn’t have a mother.
Her story ends that she killed herself
and all those stories.
I guess some stories
are just too painful to be born.
The women in my family are story-holders
but not story-birthers.
We hold our stories tight
ignoring every throb, pang, seize of story pain.
These stories are not safe for work.
Not safe for home.
Not safe for human consumption --
and yet we carry them
and we give them to our daughters to carry.
My story-holder holds my sister’s story.
This story, you must hold close to your heart:
bring it into you, let it feel your heart beating,
bring it in to the warm place between your breasts,
bring it in.
My baby sister had just come home
from being locked behind doors with other girls who
were just trying to live up to something,
just trying to find one moment in which they could feel worthy,
Our teenage bodies lounged on the floor of her bedroom
till she told me she was scared.
I crawled into her bed,
pulled her bony frame up with me
and she cried.
I held her bones against me, soaking in the stories she couldn’t tell
locking them tight in my story-holder
not knowing, not telling, just sharing
And then there are my stories.
As if there is any room, I have squeezed stories into my story-holding womb
kept them locked like a high security prison believing
these stories should be held, as tenderly as an iron-cage story-holder
with teeth and locks and iron bars can hold them
while ensuring they will never, ever escape.
I hold stories differently now.
I could transform my body into an iron, story-holding vessel
unconquerable, removed, disengaged,
I have that power and
the women of my family have taught me well
but I think I
might need to birth the stories and listen to their cries because
this could be my new beginning
my first step.