there are still poems jangling us awake

30 Apr

The puppy is asleep on the couch. The tween is drifting into sleep in her bed. The young adult is reading in a chair across the room. I’m here. Writing things down.

When I was ten or eleven, I remember being at the end of a dark hallway, emerging from my bedroom in the middle of the night (it was maybe 10:00 p.m.) in a panic, worried about my parents’ wrath when they discovered I was out of bed, but terrified of what I had just begun to understand, what I felt as a wild, untamable, indescribable nothingness seeping into my bones. What I uttered finally to my mother, ashen, after I made it down the hall to the kitchen, to the light. The bright, bright light.

“Mom, I’m gonna die. We’re all gonna die.”

My mom gave me a hug and waited me out. She asked me questions, until she understood that I didn’t mean now – we were not dying now. I meant someday. Someday, it would happen. To me. She offered no platitudes and didn’t send me back to bed. She listened, and she finished loading the dishwasher. I remember the sound of plates and bowls clanking into the racks. There was something comforting in the order created by their rows, the order my mom created with them while my heart slowed ever so gradually. I feared leaving this feeling, this dark epiphany, to grow on its own. I feared setting it down, turning away, and I feared facing it, staring into its guttural emptiness. I remember the vinyl of the chair in the kitchen, where I sat on my hands until they were numb and willed my breath to continue.

It wasn’t what my mom said. (Or was it my dad?) It was the loading of the dishwasher that saved me. The simplicity of the here and now. It was life. Going on. Eventually, I drifted back to bed.

Now in the news, there are people I don’t know dying, people whose people I don’t know – but I could. Know them. Couldn’t I?

Couldn’t I?

Rage does not begin to describe what is coming to light.

There is a sharpness. Everywhere. Like the glint of the sun off a knife.

Sudden.

Not sudden.

I went to a Baltimore solidarity action on Tuesday night with a friend. There were so many sharp, jagged poems read by brilliant youth, the youth who will carry our country to its senses, whether we want to go with them or not. There was fury. There was quiet. There were calls to action, stories, placards, fists, cascading laughter – yes, that, too. There was chanting. Of course. Organizers say there were 500 people there. Because people cannot stand anymore for abuse, for the structures that misread and miscast and then crush them. People are burning … things.

I consider the panic a Black mom feels in this country today, the panic felt by a Black girl or boy at ten o’clock at night. I know I cannot begin to understand the way it doesn’t ebb when you walk back to your bed. But I can see. I can hear.

SO MANY DEATHS ARE PREVENTABLE. So many. If someone will stand to prevent. Them. If someone will burn something, do something, focus the light where it needs to shine.

There are a lot of people writing commentary, analyzing recent – and historical – events. That is not my strength, but here are a few I landed on this week, thanks largely to Reshma, Susanne, and Sharmili:

(Feel free to add your own links below.)

Towards the end of the night, a young boy and his mom approached my friend and me. We were holding signs that had been handed to us. They said, “Stop Killing Black People.” He asked if he could get his picture taken with us… this Black boy of ten or eleven pictured with us, two light-skinned, 40-something women holding these signs.

His smile was wide. His eyes were sparkling. He was so clearly, so deeply moved by all of it – and we were moved by him.

His mom snapped the picture. They thanked us. We thanked them.

I don’t have the picture, haven’t seen it. There’s so much that can be read into a photo like that, but where’s the truth?

Eventually, we returned home. To hug our children, kiss our partners, sleep, dream, replenish for another day.

I am thankful for the youth. For the organizers. For the poets. For the people. I am thankful for all the people gathering to say that racism – that police brutality – that violence is avoidable if someone will stand in its way.

If someone. If we. Will stand.

Over and over and over again.

In its way.

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2 Responses to “there are still poems jangling us awake”

  1. Andrea May 13, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    RoiAnn, this is so incredibly beautiful. Your descriptions are so strong, and your voice so unique, I feel like I am there with you. Thank you for sharing this!

    • RoiAnn May 15, 2015 at 8:05 am #

      Thank you for reading! These ideas, these experiences are so difficult to put into words – but so important to share, too, even if more often than not, we get it wrong. I loved your post, too, as you know, and am grateful for you and all the others grappling with a growing awareness that our culture must change. Thank you.

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