To those who suffer,
Even though I currently teach writing, it wasn’t until the past few years that I genuinely appreciated poetry. I didn’t get it. As a student I always knew I was supposed to be looking for some deep and hidden meaning in text I found simultaneously confusing, pompous, and bland. Consequently, with my new understanding and appreciation for the craft, I want to teach my students how writing poetry can be a profoundly healing experience and can communicate emotions in a way no other medium can.
This spring the middle schoolers in my creative writing club and I explored Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” a poem about overcoming racism, trauma, and adversity and being confident despite the opinions and criticisms of others. We also talked about how writing poetry requires us to be honest and vulnerable so that we too can use poetry to overcome and heal. In response, my students wrote breathtakingly raw, vulnerable, and affective poetry. Inspired by their work, I completed the same assignment I gave to them, and as I wrote, I felt the long-stored pain leave my body, traveling through my heart, my hand, and my pencil to live forever on the pages of my notebook. I felt freedom, freedom at last.
The following poems were written in and represent different stages of healing from traumatic experiences. I hope anyone who can’t seem to rid themselves of painful emotions and memories will consider the power of naming them, writing them, and letting them become pieces of art. I cannot guarantee the process will be quick or easy, but it will be beautifully human.
This post is dedicated to the members of my creative writing club who fill me with joy, love, purpose, and inspiration every single day: Claire, Adelaide, Ellie, Frances, Eliza, Sarah, Rebecca, Margaret, Lily, Josie, Will, Sadie, Liah, Max, and William.
I force laughter.
You force arms around me from behind.
I say, “How about we go watch something? What do you want to watch?”
I say, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
I say, “Can we please think about my boyfriend? Think about how hurt he would be.”
Unable to fight.
Unable to flee.
As I survive as ice, you take and take and take
what isn’t yours
what wasn’t offered
what I tried to fortify, but to what you laid siege.
You say, “You aren’t saying yes, but you aren’t saying no.”
~I have been saying no the whole time
You clutch my body against your engorged arrogance,
seize my innocence in your hand,
I know you want it.
No. You know nothing.
of your hand and the
of your fingernail ever be
from my memory?
Part of me feels nothing
so that you,
all of you,
could feel something.
every sloppy, wet mark of careless lust,
until in breathless, glistening ecstasy you sprawl,
and I feel nothing, nothing at all.
For the first time, I allow
to be more important than
I see the invisible stains.
I feel the intangible scars.
I hear the clang of ghostly chains,
dragging you down but leaving no trail.
But did you know that you are not branded?
Take this cloth.
Wade in this river.
You talk of unwelcome invaders,
stuck like fish in a frozen lake
or footprints in dry concrete.
But did you know that you and they are not one in the same?
Take this match.
Melt by this fire.
Your hands heave heavy shadows
in well-worn cases and bags,
escaping from both past and future,
from what if what was is now to be.
But did you know that you can let go?
Take this key.
Abandon this bondage.
Your fingers tense and curl.
Your eyes frantically search and plead
for an eraser,
a time machine,
a blank piece of paper.
But did you know that freedom doesn’t mean forgetting?
Take this knife.
Peel and puncture,
pry and pull,
gut and gouge,
slice and scoop,
cut and carve them out.
Lower your shoulders and let your spirit mirror the glassy sea.
Unclench your jaw and submit to sunny rays dancing upon your skin.
Dwell in your body, swathed in your innate wholeness, and just be.