Parallel Conversations Bent On Collision (16)

I hope you enjoyed this poem – there will be more to come from Brian very soon! He will soon be the Feature Poet on End the Silence, so check back to read more of his amazing words.

I want to comment on one stanza of this poem that particularly hit home with me. This poem is not about sexual violence at all, but there are still images and motifs that can connect to the shared experience of life changing without your control.

I particularly love this line:

We are parallel conversations bent
on collision.
Bound to our shames even in exaltation.        Amen

Sometimes having the courage to speak is not the only obstacle to honest communication. Without understanding, our words mean nothing. This is why it is so important to educate each other about our human experience – this way our conversations will not remain parallel.

Plenty more amazing poetry by Brian is to come! Probably more today once I can convince him to start writing!

Brian Francis (15)

Here is a poem by my very good friend, Brian Francis. I will talk about some of the images in the next post

Mason Jars

Granddaddy used the mason jars for homemade holy water.
We’ve seen him bring back to life
what was long since buried
and speak truths in tongues–
we still work to decode.

Donovan catches fireflies
in the jars now.
Everyday they scrimmage,
training for when the dark swarms
like fleets of night,
locusts on a desert in bloom
split him clean
down the middle
and smash the mason jar
in his chest.

Sew him back quickly.
He pleads:
I want to stand electric.

We maneuver these days like the sun
came out in blackface.
A smiling
synthetic exclamation.
The audience doesn’t know
if the tears come from the hurt
of the heart collapsing in on itself
or the honest of bottom
belly laughter.

The name you scream into the pillow
does not know the body beside you–
We are parallel conversations bent
on collision.
Bound to our shames even in exaltation. Amen

The jar held seeds
dreamt to be forests,
but we heard how that story ends.
From outside the garden
mommy says you can’t fly in the face of god.

We’re still working out the kinks–
in these wings stitched from phantom kisses,
ill-fitting compasses that stall on themselves
sometimes,
and the spilt innards of mason jars
we found along the way.
Yeah, there are a few cuts,
but under the right light
these wounds blossom
honest.
In the meantime
we dance.
A storm to drown out the sirens’
shrieking fits, mourning
the moments martyred
in the name of clean breaks.

The Obstacles to Telling Your Story (8)

The bravery that Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie exhibits in her poem “Forced Entry” is truly inspiring. In this narrative, she captures the challenges of speaking up. The narrator of the poem is met with disbelief and even condemntaion when she tries to speak to other about what happened. But she also conveys the importance of standing up for all the women who don’t have the opportunity to speak.

Look closely at her words:

I wish this wasn’t my story
but it is
a million times over
and just when I think it has gone away
it reappears at my doorstep
in another womans face
or on the ten o’clock news
and although I have loved men since
maybe another sister can’t
so this is our story
and it will be ours
until we don’t have to claim it anymore
until women from Brooklyn to Oakland to South Africa
can sit back in amazement and say
“I can’t believe such things ever occured,”
until the word “rape”
can be wiped out from vocabularies
removed from the dictionary
stamped out of our memories
until then, this will be our story
and wounded eyes will tell it
even when we don’t

I think it is so important to acknowledge some of the barriers that prevent men and women who are abused from standing up and telling their story. It is not always a matter of overcoming personal obstacles. The fact of the matter is that most people are raped by someone they know, many by someone close to them. This means that speaking up can have consequences, both physical and emotional, that will follow the survivor around for the rest of his or her life.

The experience of rape is not something that can just be “dealt with,” cut out from a survivor’s life, and then moved on from. It is an experience that is part of your life forever. Tallie speaks the simple yet so powerful message: “I wish this wasn’t my story/ but it is.”

One of the reasons this poem is so powerful to me is because Tallie speaks of the need to stand up together and demand a world where rape doesn’t happen. She is not talking about small concessions or baby steps. She does not think it wrong to ask for rape to end.

But she also acknowledges that, until such a dream comes true, we can’t stop listening to the stories. And not only the stories spoken aloud. But the stories that are spoken in silence.

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie (7)

I want to share a poem written by an amazing storyteller, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie. In this poem, Tallie combines a narrative with a powerful voice that demands to be heard. The voice does not apologize, it asserts its right to speak.

Forced Entry

by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

He broke into me
stole something
a brazen thief
never charged with forced entry
because “Please don’t” didn’t lead
to blue black marks on the lock
and no one sees the bruise prints
the scratch marks on my spirit
these don’t make police reports
the dignity missing from my step
doesn’t qualify as physical evidence
I shake when I see him
only my homegirls seem to notice
their golden light, protective around me
his boys’ mantra is “lying bitch”
they mutter it with sharp machete eyes,
occassionally someone rouses himself to say it-
“Lying bitch”
the words weigh down the wings of airborn birds
and for the first time
I see these men not as men
but as terrorists in training
camaflouged bombers on
the ground floor of truth
taking dynamite to it’s foundation.
I see myself as a prisoner of war
an exile
a survivor
I wish this wasn’t my story
but it is
a million times over
and just when I think it has gone away
it reappears at my doorstep
in another womans face
or on the ten o’clock news
and although I have loved men since
maybe another sister can’t
so this is our story
and it will be ours
until we don’t have to claim it anymore
until women from Brooklyn to Oakland to South Africa
can sit back in amazement and say
“I can’t believe such things ever occured,”
until the word “rape”
can be wiped out from vocabularies
removed from the dictionary
stamped out of our memories
until then, this will be our story
and wounded eyes will tell it
even when we don’t

The Fear of Speaking (6)

In the poem “A Litany for Survival,” Audre Lorde explores the range of emotions that a survivor of sexual violence may experience. Even the most basic daily tasks become a thousand times more difficult because of the amount of fear, second-guessing, shame, and pain that a survivor can suddenly feel. The phrase those that “cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice” resonates deeply with me. Even the simple idea that we as humans are in control of our own lives can be completely destroyed after experiencing sexual violence.

Look more closely at her words:

when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

I spoke earlier about the fear of communities when it comes to accepting sexual violence. There is also an incredibly fear that survivors feel when it comes to speaking their stories. There is a fear of being judged, of being blamed, of not being taken seriously, of being ignored. These are all legitimate fears, but it is important to note (as Lorde mentions) that the fear does not go away when we are silent. Instead, it tends to grow. Look at the powerful words that Lorde ends her poem with:

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

And notice how the word “remembering” is stuck between those two phrases, standing alone. Because it is important to “remember we were never meant to survive”, but it is also important to “speak remembering.”

Audre Lorde (5)

I want to further explore this idea of speaking. In this poem, “A Litany for Survival” Audre Lorde touches on so many of the struggles that people endure when they are searching for their voice. If you have comments on the writing or on the themes presented, please share them below. I also want to clarify that the themes I will be talking about today are not universal. Anyone who experiences sexual violence faces a unique set of circumstances. Of course there are similarities that we all share, but it is important to remember and acknowledge the differences. These works are presented as a means to think about aspects of the experience, not as a method to define.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours.

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with out mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
me may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

-Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn

“Kingdom of the Unspeaking” (4)

This poem “Down” is really about loss, but many of the themes of loss correspond with the experience of surviving sexual violence. After experiencing sexual violence, the range of emotions is impossible even to explain. But there is a sense of loss of the self as you previously knew it. There is a longing to return to the past, a desire to communicate with others in your life whose voices are suddenly silent.

Atwood writes about the “kingdom of the unspeaking” and the “kingdom of the unspoken.” These two phrases are incredibly meaningful to me. Sexual violence is an issue that is widely unspoken. You may hear a few sensationalized cases on the news and believe that rapists are all athletes or creepy looking men in vans who will pounce on you if you happen to walk home alone. There are dozens of stereotypes about rape that condemn this issue to silence. But the most powerful factor limiting the conversation about rape as a societal problem is FEAR. Fear that it may one day happen to you, fear that it already has, fear that there is nothing we can do.

I also identify with the phrase “kingdom of the unspeaking.” The story of a survivor is not always a voice that is welcomed. It makes people uncomfortable, it makes people scared, it even makes some people angry. It is those first few experiences where a survivor speaks – whether to a friend, family member, loved one, therapist – that can have a profound impact on his or her recovery. If the voice is met with criticism, fear, or silence, the voice may choose in the future not to speak.

Margaret Atwood speaks about loss and silenced voices. This is a subject that any survivor knows well.

Margaret Atwood (3)

I want to share some excerpts from a poem called “Down” by one of my favorite writers, Margaret Atwood.

They were wrong about the sun

It does not go down into the underworld at night .

The sun leaves merely

and the underworld emerges.

It can happen at any moment.

At first you think they are angels,

These albino voices, these voices

like the unpainted eyes of statues ,

these mute voices like gloves

with no hands in them,

these moth voices fluttering

and baffled around your ears,

trying to make you hear them.

This is

the kingdom of the unspoken,

the kingdom of the unspeaking:

all those destroyed by war

all those who are starving

all those beaten to death

and buried in pits, those slit apart

for reasons of expediency or money

all those howling

in locked rooms, all sacrificed

children, all murdered brides,

all suicides.

They say:

Speak for us (to whom)

Some say: Avenge us (on whom)

Some say: Take our place.

Some say: Witness.

In the next post, I will talk about the power of some of these images.