Thursday, May 28, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Lesléa Newman

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before the Virus
By Lesléa Newman

I.
I remember shaking hands:
damp, sweaty hands and dry, scratchy hands,
bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes,
two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched
between a pair of big beefy palms.
I remember hairy hands and freckled hands,
young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands,
red polished fingernails and bitten jagged fingernails,
stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dying,
dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the good earth.

II.
Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand
to show a stranger he had no weapon.
The stranger took his hand and shook it
to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve.

And that is how it began.

III.
I remember sharing a bucket
of greasy popcorn with a boy
at the movies
(though I no longer remember
the boy or the movie)
the thrill of our hands
accidentally on purpose
brushing each other in the dark.


IV.
I remember my best girlfriend
and I facing each other to shriek,
“Miss Mary…..Mack! Mack! Mack!”
and the loud satisfying smack!
as our four palms slapped.

V.
I remember high fives
and how we’d laugh when we missed
and then do a do-over.

VI.
I remember the elegant turn
of shiny brass doorknobs
cool to the touch.

VII.
I remember my mother’s hands
tied to the railings of her hospital bed
and how I untied them
when the nurse wasn’t looking
and held them in my lap.

VIII.
I remember holding my father’s hand
how the big college ring he wore
rubbed against my birthstone ring
and irritated my pinky
but I never pulled away.

IX.
I remember the joy of offering
my index finger to a new baby
who wrapped it in her fist
as we gazed at each other in wonder.

X.
I remember tapping a stranger
on the shoulder and saying,
“Your tag is showing.
Do you mind if I tuck it in?”
She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.

XI.
I remember salad bars and hot bars.
I remember saying, “Want a bite?”
and offering a forkful
of food from my plate.
I remember, asking, “Can I have a sip?”
and placing my lips
on the edge of your cold frosty glass.

XII.
I remember passing around the Kiddush cup,
each of us taking a small sip of wine.
I remember passing around the challah,
each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk.
I remember picking up a serving spoon
someone had just put down
without giving it a second thought.

XIII.
I remember sitting with a mourner
at a funeral, not saying a word,
simply taking her hand.


Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Cheyenne Marcelus

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.

***

Content Advisory: suicide-related language

Opening the Space
By Cheyenne Marcelus

I bruised my shins and scraped my elbows trying to dance in this tight space;
I bruised my forehead on the ceiling fan when I tried to fly;
I slit my wrist on the door trying to escape;
I carpet burned my knees praying for deliverance.
Every break in my skin served
as a reminder that I was just
too big.

There was no room to toss and turn in my sleep;
I lay awake rubbing my fingertips against the ceiling,
it was low enough to touch.
I thought I'd hurt myself if I ever
stood tall.

But I grew tired of slouching.

So I took a sledgehammer to the walls
and opened the space;
I opened a window and let the light in;
I broke out,
I read,
I traveled,
I danced wildly across the continents
and prayed in tongues.
I left home
and came back without conventions;
A tight grip on loose morals,
forsaking traditions.
Arms stretched so wide
I put pressure on the walls,
opening the space that confined me.

Every break in my skin eventually closed,
opening me up to the universe.



Listen as Cheyenne Marcelus reads "Opening the Space."

Previously published in the self-published poetry collection Good Me: A Poetic Journey to Self-Acceptance and Self-Preservation.

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Jessica A. Sanchez

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.

***
Content Advisory: Reference to Dying

Covid-19
By Jessica A. Sanchez

I don't pause for tears
     Beyond this stained mask

I persist

In the spring
     Where the virus blooms

You see deciduous wisteria's
     My purple gloved hands

You see an endless river
     Tears in my eyes

In this silence where the words gather
     You shed your leaves

I pause for your heartbeat

     You perish in the new light of summer



Listen as Jessica A. Sanchez reads "Covid-19."