Moving forward with poetry and prose
To mark the upcoming women's marches scheduled worldwide on Saturday, espnW asked five poets and writers from around the country to reflect on walking, marching, resistance and movement.
My march begins in the morning.
I tighten my fade & my tie & I wait
until I'm fifty feet past the frat
to put in my hearing aids. My neighbor
starts marching before me -- her hands
buried in the bundle of her youngest--
& waves from the window to Paula
who never waves back as she rolls
off the bus on her march toward home
after a graveyard at Lyndon's so crowded
with whistles & unrelenting hands
she feels she's become a one-woman parade.
Every microaggression, another mile; every
holey paycheck, sexist slight, lousy curb cut,
pink tax, or worker's fight. Are you prude,
bitch, dyke, uptight with miles of boys
will be boys to go before you sleep?
Who's got keys between their knuckles
every night? Who puts their march to bed
only to find it turns back on the light?
I, too, was probably meant for gentler
things than hate: I've been searching
for a long time to find another way
of being a girl that isn't manmade.
If you've been waiting for an invitation
it's arrived. O, second chances--
second shifts, a second fist to the face
of the sky & look: we're a movement
in a clock, pushing our own weight
against another's in the hopes of turning
things around. Pound the pavement
if your privilege is a body that can
(but god how knowing the taste
of pavement can keep you from it).
March on bended knee or with bowed
head, march with wallet open or from
your own small bed. Put your hound dog
howl to the phones, put your queer
shoulder to the wheel -- re-sound
your own resistance & make it run
aground on the front lawn of any House
that won't help you get free. March
like your sisters are dying. March like
your planet is through. March like your own
life depends on it & march knowing
that marching can't save you. March
so they know we'll still get up
& march tomorrow morning, too.
Meg Day is the 2015-2016 recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, and the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street 2014). Day teaches at Franklin & Marshall College and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Every day, the body armor's slick skin
shadows over the parts we hide, knife
blade in the bones, sharp enough to cut
through the web of words we dodge
or dare to shed and shake off like water.
Sister, I see you. Tongue like a fist, seeds
in some impossible dirt, a river in a city,
a moving border, and a tree sometimes, too,
surviving by not moving, just taking
the weather as it comes, deluge after deluge,
a clearing in the atmosphere, whatever's next,
you'll step to it. There's a work we do:
scrubbing clean the mind of outrage
so we can boost each other through
another hoop, say, It's okay. And we even
lie a little, say, It can't get much worse, or
Nothing can stop you. But we know every
day something tries to slit our thick armor
off stealthily so it almost seems like tenderness
or care, something for our own good. Still,
we keep the tough husks, we soldier on, we move
into the world. And you know what I love?
We do this moving for each other,
for the future woman who wants to unzip
that suffocating uniform she's forced into
by self-preservation, for the mothers
that raised us not just to speak, but
to speak up, for the women who lift us
when our bodies fail, for the men who lift us
when our bodies fail, to exalt this body
alive, unsinkable, unfettered, who has been
marching all of her life.
Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including "Bright Dead Things," which was named a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a finalist for the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
Mahogany L. Browne
￼There is no one way to be a woman
￼Today, I create a poem for our children & their soft forgiving bodies
I want to be remembered as someone that moved with spirit
I want to be someone that moved because of the blood of a people
I want my legacy to create a shallow grave
there, our footsteps will haunt our enemies
Let me lie beneath the tree of a good god ￼until
until the sun runs light into a flood of basin water
￼Dim the light darlings
I want to construct a web of shadows
& swing my name in the highest corner until it chimes
My life was never a weapon
￼My tongue was never a nuisance
My body was never a failure
I love myself enough to chant this prayer
until we can all exist together
Let the world learn to love each shape & hum & strand from our tongues
￼This breath of song will honor our mothers
This textured story will honor our grandmothers
& what is more beautiful?
The artist or the art;
￼ the mother or her child;
the killer or their bullets?
All of it is a glimmer fold of freedom
￼￼￼All of this beauty is a song I've been discouraged to sing
Sing with me darlings,
Let us torch the same cages that restrict us
￼Let us shred each bond against the sharp bridges with our teeth
Let us gather their ashes to smear across our cheeks
Let us echo into the hollow of our hands a thunderous life
￼Watch it reach the sky, this yellowing wingless prayer, cockcrow reborn electric
￼Together we call the rain to wash away the hurt, the howl & the dust, each weeping praise;
a reclamation of what has always been rightfully ours.
Mahogany L. Browne is a California-born, Brooklyn-based writer, poet and community organizer. She is the Poetry Program Director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Program Director of BLM@PRATT & Artistic Director of Urban Word NYC.
Resist is too gentle a word.
A tug of an impulse.
Something one does a second serving of cake.
A dog at the end of a leash.
I am more interested in refusal.
In facts, which still exist and carry the weight of centuries.
I refuse to unsee what I have been shown.
To pretend something is not what it is.
This sounds small.
I recognize who benefits if we are confused
If we are unclear
If we are off-balance
If we are afraid
If we are split from the herd by our otherness.
Hint: not us. (Not anyone, really.)
I regard the mirror.
Promise to never stop seeing myself.
To remain visible.
This sounds indulgent.
I make a list of lies.
Refuse those words in my mouth.
I make a list of truths.
Sing them to the heavens.
Even as I am said to be, "overreacting."
(Women are always overreacting.)
I embrace my teenaged daughters.
Who bought Hillary stickers
And gave their Christmas money to Planned Parenthood
And marched at BLM protests.
Who don't want to have children any more.
My children don't want to have children any more.
I hold on.
When they are most frightened.
When they thrash and gnaw about bad times to come.
I hear every fear and correct none of them.
That, I resist.
Award-winning journalist Allison Glock is a senior writer for espnW whose writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ and many others. She has written six books, including her latest, the third in her YA series "Changers," which has been widely lauded as an important series that teaches kids about empathy and tolerance.
"Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul."-- Coretta Scott King
After a week of trekking in the mountains of Nepal, our shoulders were piano wires and our knees rusty door hinges, but it was our feet that threatened failure. At lunch -- the one real moment of rest each day -- we took off our boots to examine the damage. Sarah's little toes were the biggest concern. Each curled in and hid beneath its neighbor, which then mashed down on it, leaving it red and blistered, more boiled shrimp than toe. Plundering our first aid kit, I hammocked a strip of gauze around each shy digit, pulled it into normal toe position, then secured the strip in a loop around her instep. It worked so well this became our custom: I knelt and ministered to her feet each morning -- an intimacy neither of us would have expected to share.
We weren't supposed to be friends. I was a Jewish lesbian living in Manhattan; Sarah, a straight Mormon from Salt Lake City. But after our work forced us together, that's what we became close enough to cash in our vacation days for a shared trip. And there we were, sun-up to sundown, climbing over ankle-twisting boulders, sweating through vast swaths of desert with the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurnas hovering above like hallucinations, and finally summiting a mountain pass in a white-out blizzard.
With each person we passed, we exchanged a ritual greeting: our hands pressed together, we said Namaste and bowed, a gesture that means both hello and I recognize the divine in you.
When I picture the Women's March on Washington, and the simultaneous women's marches around this country and the world, memories from this trek are what I draw on. But if fish together form a school, and starlings a murmuration, then what do you call a group of marchers? If you're against them, likely a mob; for them, perhaps a movement. A movement -- a beautiful collective noun that describes both what it is (a force for change) and what its constituents do to make that change happen.
On Jan. 21, thousands of women of different beliefs and backgrounds will march together in the direction of that change, asserting that "Women's Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women's Rights." Among them, I imagine women beginning conversations with the strangers marching beside them, women who on the surface seem worlds away, and recognizing the divine soul in each, as well as the soul in herself, recognizing how, together, they might move forward toward a better version of themselves and this country.
And what is this act of shared walking if not an acknowledgement by one soul of another? On extended treks, long-story-shorts are pushed aside to make room for detail and nuance, for the questions buried beneath our modern hustle: do my practices match my beliefs? Is the person I am now the person I'd most like to be? Am I acting as a steward for the world I want to live in, for the world I want to leave behind?
As we walked, Sarah and I helped each other toward answers and adapted as we went. After noticing how often we stopped to access our supplies while we hiked, taking off our packs to grab sunblock or a snack, I began to stow such items in the outside pockets of Sarah's pack and she did the same in mine. In this way, carrying what the other needed, we made better progress.
Yes, we were people from very different backgrounds -- to pretend our differences simply fell away would be far too simple -- but we were also two friends grown close through collective endeavors. Even once we'd returned from Nepal, this shared carrying continued, encouraging each other as we each moved into new work that gives back more to both us and our communities.
This is what I'll think of on Jan. 21, as thousands of women join in the streets and raise up their voices. Together, they will march for change and, in turn, will be changed by marching, carrying that movement back home with them.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of the chapbook "In Whatever Light Left to Us," a memoir-in-poems of early marriage, and "Pelvis with Distance," a biography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe. An avid long-distance runner, she lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.