And now as you read these poems
–you whose eyes and hands I love
–you whose mouth and eyes I love
–you whose words and minds I love–
don’t think I was trying to state a case
or construct a scenery:
I tried to listen to
the public voice of our time
tried to survey our public space
as best I could
–tried to remember and stay
faithful to details, note
precisely how the air moved
and where the clock’s hands stood
and who was in charge of definitions
and who stood by receiving them
when the name of compassion
was changed to the name of guilt
when to feel with a human stranger
was declared obsolete.
Tuesday night, I stood at a gathering for Trayvon Martin with a few hundred people outside of Burlington’s City Hall, listening to the passionate and stirring words of grandmothers and middle-school students and community leaders and teachers, men and women, black and white, young and old. I stood near the front, considering going up to the microphone, listening, and also thinking about how I can choose to wear a Jewish star, and how this has not always been true, and how I can kiss my girlfriend in public, and how this has not always been true, and how a black man does not choose what the world will see him as, and how I am a black man, as evidenced by the recognition I experience when I look into a stranger’s eyes and see myself, and a grandmother, though my children are still young, and about my privilege, yes, and how earlier that day a man called me “sweetie,” drawing up his assumptions and projections against my petite frame.
Most of all, I wished I had an Adrienne Rich poem to read. This morning, I learned of her death, and cried.
In Those Years
In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, and you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and, yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to
But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I
I stood there, thinking about my children and ancestors and Melissa Jenkins, who was murdered in the Northeast Kingdom a few days ago, and a society that has fragmented itself into so many I‘s and we‘s and they‘s and you‘s, some more prized and protected than others.
Until we stop to look into each other’s eyes, rising above our own stormy personal weather to see each other’s wholeness and humanity, there will be work to be done and poems to be written.