I wrote this poem ten years ago and it resonates tonight...
The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart
(for Henry and Eleanor at 2 years)
1. It all comes at once the ever breaking and mending of the heart. I was dreaming and then I woke to the sun in the sky and a bus full of people heading to D.C. to say no to war. We were driving so close to the place of my birth, the only land my little heart and fists ever knew. Born into exile on tribal land, the makers of the Serpent Mound, the People of the Valley. My own tribes destroyed long ago into states and a history of brutality offering only this lethal legacy of white supremacy.
And yet I can still kiss the Ohio sky and the city, Dayton, only my arms width wide. You know how you can love a place for the geography of how you survived? The girl in me alive again, expect good things from people like you do from trees and rocks and the beloved dandelions of childhood alleys. Dandelions, they insist on calling weeds. Weeds that can make wine and nourish and crowns for the heads of city kids, that deserve beauty.
Always the babies are the back beat to my heart. Even sleeping on this bus going 70 across Ohio I know the weight of them, slung on my hip with great care. They are all heartbeats and openings, soft breath and delicate bones and something of stars that floods them and they shimmer. Effortlessly they re-knit my spirit back into the universe as over and over it is torn from the very fabric of what it means to be human.
In turn I am all mama bear protective, wanting to shield them, realizing with the force of breath knocked out of me, that I would die for these children. I want to keep the world gone mad from their door, from their beauty and souls. I know I can’t and it breaks my heart again and again and gives me the reason to go on.
And to feel how much we need children to be wanted, not had like car accidents or accessories. This society rides it’s indifference towards children with poverty and bombs and a sick disneyfied morality full of toys that beep and flash and will talk to your children so you don’t have to. As if some piece of plastic crap can hold them, when they are still so much stars and deep roots that shudder under the bones of knowing. The true names of things written in a language beyond words on the back of their lids, a map to another world.
2. It all comes at once, the ever breaking and mending of the heart. It is easy to have fun in America, entertainment is cheap and plentiful like gasoline and Big Macs we consume endlessly, on the pay later plan. I tell you almost everyone that has ever been my teacher in life was a drunk once, had to be. Walked closely, the razor edge of self-destruction, wandered lost in America with one more round to take the edge off civilization. One more round to take the edge off remembering. Empty for the promise of a good time to fill you up. Too hungry to ever be fed.
This is the dream. You wake from the troubled sweat of sleep, the blur of lights you navigate by are gone, only the darkness cradling you. Run now from quiet stars into frozen fields, beat cracked hands till earth opens like steaming bread. Go all the way in. Emerge small and newly afraid but clear-eyed. You have to survive America to have something to teach.
And in that is the real lion’s share of joy, because the people who can really party in the scared sense of the word are the people who know surviving is worthy of celebration. Anyone who has ever danced with a room full of people to Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothing or Spearhead’s People in The Middle or screamed along to Bikini Kill’s, Rebel Girl or the drums or the fiddle or whatever gets you off- you know what I mean. Singing and dancing are your birthright. Joy, a commonly held need like clean water and the air we breathe.
Sing now the praises of men that write sexy songs without the tired old hatred of women in the beat. They gave me back a freedom to shake my ass, without feeling shame or dirty. Taj Mahal, I would name a son for you. Sing now the praises of women that never gave up their sexuality though it was bought and sold, loped off by the church and slavery, packaged as Jeans! Beer! Get some! To know true pleasure in a society that wouldn’t know sexy if Aphrodite herself rose up on the half shell and bit Hugh Hefner on his boring porno ass is some kind of fine revolution.
3. It is not original sin we are born into this world with, it is a broken heart we inherit. So often I question the usefulness of things, I want my poems to stop all the rape and killing. I know if we could turn bombs from earth we would. I know peasant or villager are just metaphors by the powerful for people who do not matter. Like the urban poor, they are there to be studied or killed depending on the need. To be studied or killed, depending on the need. Then in that madness they will deny that you grieve.
I am mad with this world and I must remember again that without the music and art of other people. Without the good company along the way, I would be dead or worse. The audacity, the sheer audacity of people to go on loving, demanding bread but roses too. The eleven year old boy in Mississippi who was asked by the cop with the club, What’s your name? and he shouted, Freedom! Freedom is my name.
The audacity of buses and buses of people riding through the night to D.C. and they don’t get weary. And the Muslims in the parking lot of the truck stop in Maryland, facing the rising sun because war or no war, the day breaks and you pray. I am shy now, with my coffee, my lack of cultural ways but I pray too, am humbled by the sunrise that makes me dream a bigger dream.
Rollin’ on in good historical company
marching with all those ghosts
that know the way,
don’t fear the dead
they are the path we walk on
the bones will rise
from earth, blessed clave
giving us the rhythm
to go on marching
fall in love
don’t give up
all at once
and among the mundane details of the day
resistance flows through us
and it is beautiful to witness
and it is beautiful to feel
and the real joy of living
is in that moment,
our scarred and sacred hearts
mending and breaking
mending and breaking
and beating strong.
Note: The title of this poem is from a book by Alice Walker whose words have been a gift to me on this hard, beautiful journey. Much of this poem was inspired by a bus ride from Minneapolis to Washington D.C. and the subsequent Anti-war march I attended on April 20, 2002. The poem is dedicated to my beautiful niece and nephew and to all children. It has been read at many peace and justice events and protests.