To write directly and overtly as a woman, out of a woman’s body and experience, to take’s women’s existence seriously as theme and source for art, was something I had been hungering to do, needing to do, all my writing life. It placed me nakedly face to face with both terror and anger; it did indeed imply the breakdown of the world as I had always known it, the end of safety, to paraphrase Baldwin again. But it released tremendous energy in me, as in many other women, to have that way of writing affirmed and validated in a growing political community. I felt for the first time the closing of the gap between poet and woman.
~ Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry, “The Location of the Poet” (1984)
I tear books off the shelves, take my sadness and loss and pain and anguish and anger and open the books, open the books that I have moved from one house to another, one shelf to another, the ones I have read and re-read, underlined and asterisked: A Woman’s Journey to God, These Are Not Sweet Girls, Love Me Like You Mean It—
Give me your blood, your bread, your poetry, your body, your voice, your sweet girls, your mean girls, your angry girls, your growing-up girls, your poets, your boxers, your lovers; give me your creatrix and your cervix and your surnames and your synonyms, your scraps and your fragments, your restraints and your pavement-pounding convention-blasting transformations; give me your buds on trees, cold April rain, praying to the moon, blood on your thighs, every poem you’ve ever spoken a prayer to the skies, the heavens, the loons and the laughter and the laments, psalms and scrolls and polls and pleasure–
Again and again, this is my voice, the one I have howled and swallowed, the one I have locked up, gates of fire– who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will force the truth up and out of her shaking mouth, shaking the fruit from the branches, running through brambles, scratched and bruised and singing, babies in slings on our backs, their wide eyes waiting for our next move, squatting and giving birth and reaping the harvest? There is no time for self-pity or self-induced suffering, no time to add to the choir of silence, the anguish of fitting into too-tight clothes, straitjackets of staying small. Bust out, bust out, take off your armor exposing golden skin and bright-shining hearts, searing seeing eyes calling forth every drop of blood, sweat, tears, bread and poetry you can assemble, a banquet of roses and jade and fury and devotion.
I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
and I don’t need to be rescued
I am not dead. I did not leave. I will be the tree where my children can come sit, climb, eat, rage, rest. I have not lost my mind or lost my way, have not lost the trail, have not gone thirsty or dry, have not adhered to the rules, have not abandoned my dreams or my days or my moon cycles, have not forsaken my parents, my grandparents, the chain of names I have inherited and given up and those I’ve claimed as my own, have not strayed; I have paid dearly, have listened hard, have traveled with a posse of angels at my side, the crown of my head tingling, a container filling with falling stars, have dug my bare feet into the earth, have walked among old falling-down tobacco barns with red, red caving-in rooftops, the workers long gone, so love me like you mean it, love me so fearlessly you’ll let me go, you’ll see that I never left, you’ll see that I am not dead, I am here, I am alive, I am alive, I am alive. I am watching the “great undestined birds go by” as poet Alfonsina Storni writes in “Words to My Mother.” I am listening to every song with steady breathing and clapping hands and dancing figures of statuesque solitude, I am a poem, a great undestined bird, a phoenix rising, an ancient goddess, a not sweet girl guerrilla child of God.
Let this be my truth tonight, after the sun shone on my daughters’ faces and on my own, the man I love leaning against the fence in front of the home we made, the angst of driving away matched only by my expanding heart, my spread open legs, my open mouth, my primal scream, my fierce knowing, my utter surrender, my faith tested and tested again and again and again and again, my words flung like so much seed to the wind, the currents of stormy oceans, the sirens’ call, the crashing rocks, the gathering skies, the blood on my thighs, the life-giving hearts of mothers, mothers, mothers; let this be an ode to the mothers who gave us life, who know the thin veil where water breaks, where voices fail, where reason crumbles and instinct rises, where listening leads to speaking and speaking leads to truth and truth leads to change and change hurts and breaks open and reveals the jewels that have been waiting for a sun to show their blinding gorgeousness.
You are amazing grace.
You are a precious jewel.
You—special, miraculous, unrepeatable fragile, fearful, tender, lost, sparkling ruby emerald jewel rainbow splendor person.
~ Joan Baez
We are jewels, alive, sparkling, bright, deep and unfathomable and capable of so much more than silence or self-pity will ever allow, capable of transformation, made for this, for living, for being alive, for letting the words and the truth spill and overflow and run over our carefully laid plans and blueprints. Let me honor my ancestors by believing in a future, believing in a promised land, Jerusalem, my homeland, a desert under a vast sky, a city of winding alleyways, windows and doorways and women on stoops feeding birds and calling children home as night falls.
And the soul, will it change? You must change it.
Who will tell you otherwise?
Will it be a desolate journey?
Will it be tangible, languid
without a hint of violence?
As long as you are the person you are today
being yesterday’s person as well,
you will be tomorrow’s . . .
the one who lives and dies
to live like this.
~ Nancy Morejon, “Elogia de la Dialectica”
Listen: we are all in this together.
(And, yes, I do live and work believing in a future.) Nothing need be lost, no beauty sacrificed. The heart does not turn to a stone.
~ Adrienne Rich
Image: “Rainbow Tree,” Claire Rosenfeld