Friday, June 26, 2020

Wild Fridays #25: Thought Provokers


You Are Who I Love 

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery 
   cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees


You with cats in your voice in the
morning, feeding cats


You protecting the river   You are who I 
   love
delivering babies, nursing the sick


You with henna on your feet and a 
gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the 
magazines

You looking into the faces of young 
people as they pass, smiling and 
saying, Alright! which, they know it, 
means I see you, Family. I love you. 
Keep on. 
You dancing in the kitchen, on the 
sidewalk, in the subway waiting for 
the train because Stevie Wonder, 
Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, 
washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June


Feeding your heart, teaching your 
parents how to do The Dougie, 
counting to 10, reading your patients’ 
charts

You are who I love, changing 
policies, standing in line for water, 
stocking the food pantries, making a 
meal

You are who I love, writing letters, 
calling the senators, you who, with 
the seconds of your body (with 
your time here), arrive on buses, on 
trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the 
January streets against the cool and 
brutal offices, saying: YOUR 
CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK 
FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to 
see

You struggling to love or find a 
question

You better than me, you kinder and 
so blistering with anger, you are who 
I love, standing in the wind, 
salvaging the umbrellas, graduating 
from school, wearing holes in your 
shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the 
    weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the 
alphabet, for sound, singing toward 
us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your 
potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and 

   roads
You who replanted the trees, 

   listening to the work of squirrels 
   and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose 

   hands and lives were taken, with 
   or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I 

   love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with 

   the earth
You writing poems alongside 

   children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      
   You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the 

   cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the 
difficult news, you always planting 
the marigolds, learning to walk 
wherever you are, learning to read 
wherever you are, you baking the 
bread, you come to me in dreams, 
you kissing the faces of your dead 
wherever you are, speaking to your 
children in your mother’s languages, 
tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the 
library desk, leaving who might kill 
you, crying with the love songs, 
polishing your shoes, lighting the 
candles, getting through the first day 
despite the whisperers sniping fail 
fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and 
did not beat the odds, you who 
knows that any good thing you have 
is the result of someone else’s 
sacrifice, work, you who fights for 
reparations

You are who I love, you who stands 
at the courthouse with the sign that 
reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard 
Cohen to the snow, you with glitter 
on your face, wearing a kilt and 
violet lipstick
You are who I love, sighing in your 
sleep
You, playing drums in the 
procession, you feeding the chickens 
and humming as you hem the skirt, 
you sharpening the pencil, you 
writing the poem about the
loneliness of the astronaut
You wanting to listen, you trying to 
be so still
You are who I love, mothering the 
dogs, standing with horses
You in brightness and in darkness, 
throwing your head back as you 
laugh, kissing your hand
You carrying the berbere from the 
mill, and the jug of oil pressed from 
the olives of the trees you belong to
You studying stars, you are who I 
   love
braiding your child’s hair
You are who I love, crossing the 
desert and trying to cross the desert
You are who I love, working the 
shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,
bathing your children as you listen to 
the lecture, heating the kitchen with 
the oven, up early, up late
You are who I love, learning English, 
learning Spanish, drawing flowers on 
your hand with a ballpoint pen, 
taking the bus home
You are who I love, speaking plainly 
about your pain, sucking your teeth 
at the airport terminal television 
every time the politicians say 
something that offends your sense of 
decency, of thought, which is often
You are who I love, throwing your 
hands up in agony or disbelief, 
shaking your head, arguing back, out 
loud or inside of yourself, holding 
close your incredulity which, yes, 
too, I love    I love
your working heart, how each of its 
gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my 
own agony, building a forest there
How “Fuck you” becomes a love 
song
You are who I love, carrying the 
signs, packing the lunches, with the 
rain on your face
You at the edges and shores, in the 
rooms of quiet, in the rooms of 
shouting, in the airport terminal, at 
the bus depot saying “No!” and each 
of us looking out from the gorgeous 
unlikelihood of our lives at all, 
finding ourselves here, witnesses to 
each other’s tenderness, which, this 
moment, is fury, is rage, which, this 
moment, is another way of 
saying: You are who I love   You are 
who I love  You and you and you are 
who


I pass for white, and have no personal experience of race prejudice. My mother, who grew up in India, did experience it, and declared herself glad to have 'little fair children' (snowy blonde in fact) though it wasn't until much later I understood why. Myself, I always yearned for long black hair, flashing brown eyes, and a skin that didn't burn severely in the summer sun. 

In Australia, where her family migrated when she was 15, Mum also passed for wholly Caucasian. My beloved Nana probably didn't, but I don't know: she died when I was four. When a family of my beautiful, black-haired, brown-eyed, olive-skinned cousins came out here when I was seven, I thought to ask if perhaps we had any Indian blood (hoping) but Mum told me, 'Oh no, we have some Spanish.'

As an adult, I found out that many mixed-race Australian children with Indigenous heritage were told the same lie, meant to protect them from things which could befall them otherwise. I might have come in for a bit of name-calling at school if my Indian genes had been visible. My Indigenous friends were at risk of being stolen – i.e. separated forcibly from their families, their land and their culture, abused, and forced into servitude. Or, like black Americans, being hassled, arrested and assaulted by police because of the colour of their skin.

I've done some things in the cause of human rights, equality, diversity, anti-racism ... but the recent upsurge of protest around the world showed me I haven't done enough. How do I know I haven't done enough? Racism still exists; further, it is still entrenched in the power structures of my own country as well as others. WE haven't done enough – but it's for me to do what I can do. 


So what can I do at 80, and with five different reasons for being considered high risk for COVID-19? Not march in protests, obviously. I decided that what I can do is speak out, much more than I already have done. I decided never to lose or shirk an opportunity.


But should I do so from my platform at Poets and Storytellers United? Rather, shouldn't the team members, as a group, be blandly non-political here, regardless of our personal opinions? Heck no, I don't think we should be bland anything! Well, I certainly don't think we should ever get into party politics here (though of course we'll express ourselves freely as individuals); that would be inappropriate and divisive. But I do think Poets and Storytellers United may sometimes declare our stand on matters of principle.

Rosemary, Magaly, Sanaa, Rommy
Maybe you take it for granted that we stand for diversity and inclusiveness, and I hope you do. After all, when you come to think of it, it's fairly obvious that we must – it just so happens (quite unplanned when putting the team together) that we have visibly different racial backgrounds, as witness these profile pics. And it's surely apparent to everyone here  that this whole community of participating poets and storytellers is diverse in all manner of ways. Nevertheless, I think it's worth asserting our principles overtly too, once in a while. 

So I went looking for some anti-racist poetry to share with you now, when this topic is so much in the forefront of current affairs (even though many of us have been writing our own already) – something that speaks on behalf of those who know it personally by living it daily, and something to give the rest of us a deeper understanding. 

To my delight I found a whole lot at Academy of American Poets under the heading Black Lives Matter, prefaced by these words: 


As we grieve the loss of innocent lives and stand in solidarity with those calling for change, join us in reading and sharing poems addressing racial injustice, human rights, the right to protest, and imagining a more perfect union. Reflect, support, and act with these poems.


Some of the poems are gentle, some are enraged, some are bitter, some are defiant, some are satirical ... there's all kinds there, all excellent and moving. But when I came to this one, above, I couldn't go past it. It encompasses a history which I know a little of by reading about it, and which some of you know a great deal about because it is your history; and it emphasises our common humanity – that which is so often forgotten by the prejudiced. I don't want to apologise for it being a longish read, because I think every word counts. Every word opens my heart.


And then I found this next one too, and fell in love with it as well, and didn't want you to miss out on it. As you see from the title, it talks also of environmental issues. 

I Don't Know What Will Kill Us First: The Race War or What We've Done to the Earth
so I count my hopes: the bumblebees
are making a comeback, one snug tight
in a purple flower I passed to get to you;
your favorite color is purple but Prince’s
was orange & we both find this hard to believe;
today the park is green, we take grass for granted
the leaves chuckle around us; behind
your head a butterfly rests on a tree; it’s been
there our whole conversation; by my old apartment
was a butterfly sanctuary where I would read
& two little girls would sit next to me; you caught
a butterfly once but didn’t know what to feed it
so you trapped it in a jar & gave it to a girl
you liked. I asked if it died. you say you like
to think it lived a long life. yes, it lived a long life.

It seems such a sweet, hopeful piece – then the last verse, particularly that final sentence, packs the quietest and most deadly punch. That nice, kind, comforting, deliberate lie, pulling the ground out from under.

You can find out more about these poets by clicking on their names. You can read more such poems by clicking on the link to 'Black Lives Matter', in the second half of this post.


(And yes – for those who noticed – there is double spacing between some verses of the first poem. It was a cow of a thing to transcribe, not at all straightforward, and a simple copy-and-paste didn't do it. I've adjusted the spacing laboriously three times; now I'm giving up.)

Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors.

20 comments:

  1. I read and taught students to analyse many poems about race and identity during my time as a teacher: all gems, some controversial, some eye-opening, some I have forgotten, some I could never forget. But we never studied poetry from Australia or New Zealand, which I couldn’t understand. I first discovered racial inequality in Australasia in novels and films like Rabbit Proof Fence.

    ‘You Are Who I Love’ is an epic poem – in length and content. I love the direct address, the use of the pronoun ‘you’ to get the reader’s attention – it is addressed to someone in particular, to the reader, to everyone. There are many lines I could comment on, but I these jumped out at me:
    ‘You better than me, you kinder and
    so blistering with anger, you are who
    I love, standing in the wind,
    salvaging the umbrellas, graduating
    from school, wearing holes in your
    shoes’;
    ‘You decent with rage, so in love with
    the earth
    You writing poems alongside
    Children’;
    and
    ‘You in brightness and in darkness,
    throwing your head back as you
    laugh, kissing your hand’.

    Fatimah Asghar’s poem also uses direct address to get to the heart of the reader. These lines made me smile:
    ‘your favorite color is purple but Prince’s
    was orange & we both find this hard to believe’,
    and I love the way she introduces the butterfly resting on a tree and then lets it metamorphose into a metaphor.

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    1. When I went to school, we were taught the work of English and American poets, and some white Australian poets, but no Indigenous poets whatsoever! I don't think white society knew they existed. It was the same, I believe, when my children were first at school, but then Oodgeroo Noonuccal came to prominence and was followed by others, and now Indigenous writers are on school curriculums, though I think it is up to the individual teachers how much emphasis they get.

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  2. Both poems resonated deeply, thank you so much for sharing. I do take for granted this group stands for diversity, inclusiveness and love. I am so grateful for all of you who make it one of the finest poetry groups I've encountered.

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    1. Awww! What a lovely thing to say! It is indeed a wonderful community.

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  3. "You Are Who I Love" is such a treasure, a microcosm of who we all are … our diversity and yet our sameness. If only those among us who practice hate could see the light! As one person, we may not make any earth-shattering changes in our society; but we, each of us, have a responsibility to reflect love and acceptance, one at a time. Thank you, Rosemary, for this week's post.

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    1. And thank you, Bev, for your wise comment. To make a difference to other individuals, in the place where we are, is still valuable.

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  4. All of my written work for the last few weeks touches on these themes. It's been a rough time to be a POC in the US, even though none of this is really new to us.

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    1. It must be incredibly challenging at present in so many ways – even though, as you say, not really new. (I had to stop and figure out POC; easy enough, but not a term in use to the same degree here. However that's only a surface difference.)

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  5. This is such a touching post, Rosemary!💘 I love and resonate with both the poems especially; "You are who I love." The world would be a better place to live in.. if everybody practiced love and compassion for one another.💘

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    1. Oh, wouldn't it! And what is so odd is that that is what all the great teachers have always taught – yet (en masse and institutionally) we don't truly give it a go.

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  6. I like the realistic point of view and tone of both poems, the way they address subjects and listeners eye-to-eye. These days need writing that speaks clearly, that holds the world and the people by the hand and say, "Yes, I am speaking to you, speaking of us. Would you listen?"

    And I'm with Bev when she speaks of our differences and sameness. There is strength in diverse points of views and feelings, especially when people have something they love in common, and when they listen to each other.

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    Replies
    1. Very good point, Magaly, about the directness with which these poems speak.

      For your second point (and Bev's) – well at least in this little microcosm of the world, this community, we have in common the love of writing, and we do know how to listen with open minds and hearts to each other's communications. I think there must be many such enclaves all over the world, and I still believe the majority of people are decent and kind, so it is puzzling – as well as disturbing and disgusting – that the opposite is so entrenched and widespread.

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  7. Rosemary, I like your description of a diverse but not divisive community that we have. There is too much division in the world right now. Friendships destroyed because of politics or family members separated over ideology. The harm may take years to repair, if that is even possible.

    We all come from different places and each of us have a different journey. Each of our unique stories add to the community. I revel in the idea that we have a wide range of voices from across the world. I don't look at skin pigmentation, I read words. Rather than look at a belief system that we may not share, I look to the stories that describe our worlds. An echo-chamber is dull/boring and how can one grow in that environment?

    Once again, Rosemary, you've introduced voices that may go unnoticed by me. You are doing a great service by sharing the voices of others. Thank you and Cheers!

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    1. I'm glad you feel it's valuable, Joel. I like your echo-chamber remark; it reminds me of what my Dad used to say: 'It'd be a dull old world if we all thought exactly the same.'

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  8. one thing i noticed during the recent lockdown is the grasses were growing tall and abundant, wildflowers poked their colours out from every sidewalk, pavement and flowerbed. butterflies were showing off their colours everywhere. so nature, left to herself, can heal pretty fast.
    Thank you for sharing these poems, and hope that these protests can right some of the wrongs that are plaguing this world.
    We are going into our General Elections early next month, in the midst of the covid crisis. maybe it's not right.

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    1. I hope good people get elected for your country – both humane and efficient, both wise and sensible.

      Yes, it is astounding and heartening how well and quickly nature can heal. Hopefully we won't destroy too much more of it and tip the balance irrevocably.

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  9. Rosemary, I always enjoy your perspectives on writing and how you introduce us to poets that broadens our scope and reading. We are a diverse group. I am so thankful for that especially with so many of us locked down by a virus. Poetry is a powerful voice for change, for calling our eyes to look at the beauty around us, and on and on and on. I feel extremely blessed to be able to be part of such amazing writers.

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    1. Indeed yes, it's wonderful to be able to visit each other, with warm mutual appreciation of the good writing and diverse personalities.

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  10. Rosemary, this is one of the important and timely posts. Both poems you shared are powerful and command the reader to sit up and listen.

    But what I find even more powerful is your commentary. First, thank you for sharing a bit of your family background because it shows not everything is always black and white, even though our world is bent on making us believe otherwise.

    Second, I respect your acknowledgment “WE haven't done enough” and also agree that it’s up to everyone (who wants to) to do what they can. I’ve done my fair share of protests march during my student years. Nowadays, I turn to writing both as a form of protest and therapy.

    Third, and as they say any time one expresses support of a group or the people in it, they are showing solidarity with them. And so, a big thank you for not only thinking but also saying this aloud “Poets and Storytellers United may sometimes declare our stand on matters of principle” And of course, there are many ways of making solidarity part of our every day lives without getting into party politics.

    Last, I’m of the opinion that you are the thought-provoker, in this case, as you make us think as well as inspire with your action; writing this very post, for instance. For we (as writers and poets) cannot afford to remain bland in a world, where inequalities still persist. Thank You!

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