New Poem: My Whiteness

Last night I participated in my very first Poetry Slam at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts and … I didn’t make it past the first round. I learned so much though and heard some amazing poetry. The woman who eventually won read directly before me in the first round and the man who came in second read directly after me. I knew I couldn’t beat them, but I wish I had been able to read this poem then. But man, it was a good night.

And if you just want to hear it, here’s the audio recording.

My Whiteness
April 6, 2017

With not a stitch of hair on my head,
my whiteness came first

My femaleness came next
but, first, and not at all
unexpectedly, came
my whiteness

For years, as I rallied
my feminist cries from
age twelve on,
my whiteness was the
first thing served up
allowing me to bellow
at certain men
with little to no risk

I didn’t see how my whiteness
wore me like a protective bubble

to keep danger out
consequently keeping me
safe from understanding
the differences in the
parallel lives lived by
women of darker hues

My whiteness blind-folded me,
slapped my ass
and sent me out in the world
as if my path were the only one

My whiteness came first
hard, bright and loud
like a flash bomb
that tamped down the
voices that spoke in
frequencies my ear was not
tuned to hear
that told stories in a code
I wouldn’t crack
because
I didn’t have to

My whiteness paved my way
and bought me drinks
and changed my tires
and waived that traffic ticket
and opened those doors
while I thought I was doing
it all on my own, with the
talents and treasures God gave me

My whiteness isn’t a burden
or a curse
or a shame I wear like
last year’s purse

My whiteness is a ticket
I didn’t purchase
the entry fee and the raffle ticket
and the complimentary drink

My whiteness requires no apologies
nor shame
but
my willful ignorance
does

I can no more pop the bubble
of its protection than I can
change the pigment I’ve been given

but

I can throw paint upon it,
or words or shapes or
fabric drapes
making visible
the invisible shield
of my whiteness

Revolution

I carry the revolution
wherever I go

she’s with me
urging me on
to choose the good
over the simple
to choose the many
over the one

She urges me on in song
and prayer
and in the big yellow moon
in a sky of slate
and in the wind
of resistance
she begs me to look out
and then in
and then out again

Who needs you,
pilgrim soul
she asks
who needs you?

And though my wandering
is sometimes only in
a space called cyber
I know, through the revolution,
there is someone who needs me.

With gratitude for those
who show up
in person and in pixels
and remind me
again and again and again, again
that justice for all
is a lofty and necessary goal.

When I die

When I die
I hope my hands
are reaching out

touching the face of a beloved,
accepting the grace of a loving god,
offering peace and love to the world

Whether my nails are trimmed,
or the skin on my hand resembles shed snakeskin,
or if my rings are resting the bedside table

It matters only that my hands are
stretching up and out
away from the me I know
and toward all I love and leave
and all I’m heading to

Where my hands point
I know my soul
will follow
in life as well as in death.

94. My Soul

Partial lyrics of a hymn
come to me in the quiet

“oh my soul, my soul”

I wonder who else is
launching that lament
into this night’s sky?

Syrian orphans?
Indigenous Water Protectors?
Black mothers?
People of faith (or not)
made victim of an election cycle
designed, it seems, to tear
us all from each other.

Oh my soul, my soul

It cries for you
for reconnection to hearts
that beat in wonder, in beauty,
and in love.

Oh, my soul, your soul

92. Pad See Ew and You

pad-see-ewThai food is a treat
almost as much as
seeing you, my love,
my baby, my friend.

How lovely to look
up from my noodles
that slap my face and
soil my shirt to see

you there, looking back
at me. Precious,
rare, sweet and spicy–
pad see ew and you.

62. Between

Leaves dot the porch
still here and there
not yet a blanket
from porch to street

And the window is
open to a softness
that is, itself,
an opening

to an ending and
a beginning
and all the life
we lead
between

47. Ancestors

You call them ancestors
but I can’t help but
think of them as ghosts
whose only job
is to make sure
I know I’m connected
to something other
than the thoughts
inside my brain

even if it is only
the love inside
my heart.

43. Some Days the Past

Some days the past
comes at you fast
and hard
like an Indiana
rain storm in
summer–

all lightning and
thunder and wind
and water everywhere

Other times it
whispers in
like the cat alighting
onto the counter
where the butter dish lives

And before you know it
there’s a crash
as the dish breaks
into a thousand pieces
embedded in your heart.

32. Ghosts

The resale shops
are full of
ghosts
lingering
on couch cushions
and pirouetting
on chests of
drawers with
weathered and
flapping veneer

I run my hand
over a blanket
hand knit by
someone’s
grandmother
and I can feel
her hand reaching
out for me,
imploring me
to keep my fingers
on the yarn
acknowledging
the work of her
life.

The ghosts who
trouble me most
are those who cling
to lunch boxes
or hula hoops or
stingray bicycles
things I may
have actually
had
or dishes that
match the pattern
that were my
mother’s wedding
gifts.

I take refuge on my
bed, covered with
a quilt hand-stitched
by women decades
ago.

Don’t let them
tell you ghosts
are only scary.

Somedays
they are the only
things that may
keep you tethered
to this world.

30. Knuckles

My top knuckles
in four fingers
ache

and I wonder it
isn’t all knuckles
in all fingers
and the
thumbs

and keep on
painting, and
packing, and
making myself
useful as my
old life gently
slips into a new
one

A pain stabs
through my
index finger
and doesn’t
linger
as it finds it’s way
through my
heart


photo credit: https://features-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/OLD-HANDS_original.jpg