“Speak Up, Down, In-between”

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A random selection of poems from a woman’s heart and psyche. It includes excerpts from my own poetry, Susan Griffin’s, Gloria Anzaldúa’s, Audre Lorde’s, Josefina Báez’s, Nellie Wong’s, Kate Rushin’s, Crystos’, and Cherríe Moraga’s, from the classic book of writings by radical women of color, This Bridge Called my Back, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, and other sources.

I lack imagination you say

No. I lack language.

The language to clarify

my resistance to the literate.

Words are a war to me.

They threaten my family.

To gain the word

to describe the loss

I risk losing everything.

I may create a monster

the word’s length and body

swelling up colorful and thrilling

looming over my mother, characterized.

Her voice in the distance

unintelligible illiterate.

These are the monster’s words.

–Cherríe Moraga

“You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thins strand of web. So, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”

–Gloria Anzaldúa

 call me 

roach and presumptuous

nightmare on your white pillow

your itch to destroy

the indestructible

part of yourself

–Audre Lorde

Amor de lejos amor de tres amor de cuatro
Un ripiao una línea larga turistas
otra ma’ larga que’r diablo nacionales
Un guardia un maletero
otro maletero
y lo mío?
otro maletero y otro má descuartizan la bienvenida
Sospechosos no conocidos al cuartico. Sospechosos conocidos al salón
diplomático
La que tiene una monga en la mano Mírenla ahí mírenla ahí
I ain’t no fucking Juanita Shit
Divisas divisorias dividiendo
parte integral del GNP
Divisas divisorias dividiendo
remesas igual a turismo
Divisas divisorias dividiendo
falsa paridad del dollar
Divisas divisorias dividiendo
reportando para la nación la que no se cayó en el cajón
El país en venta
se vende esta mejora
se vende este Club Gallístico
For Sale
Por motivos de viaje vendo
pasaporte vencido folio de su acta de nacimiento se dañó con el ciclón
regrese a su pueblo vaya a la central pase primero por la regional
cédula expirada usted está casi trancao pueblo-capital-otro pueblo-capital
Con esta me hago ciudadana con viva emoción
Bienvenidos al país mejor del mundo el tuyo
said What?
y sin esperanzas
“Todo lo que dejas te espera… Damn!
mensaje de la Presidencia

–Josefina Báez

when i was growing up, people would ask if I were Filipino, Polynesian, Portuguese. They named all colors except white, the shell of my soul, but not my dark, rough skin

when I was growing up, I felt dirty. I thought that god made white people clean and no matter how much I bathed, I could not change, I could not shed my skin in the gray water

when I was growing up, I swore I would run away to purple mountains, houses by the sea with nothing over my head, with space to breathe, uncontested with yellow people in an area called Chinatown, in an area I later learned was a ghetto, one of many hearts of Asian America

–Nellie Wong

I will not be the bridge to your womanhood Your manhood Your human-ness

I’m sick of reminding you not to Close off too tight for too long. I’m sick of mediating with your worst self Oh behalf of your better selves

I am sick Of having to remind you To breathe Before you suffocate Your own fool self

Forget it Stretch or drown Evolve or Die

The bridge I must be Is the bridge to my own power I must translate My own fears Mediate My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere But my true self And then I will be useful

–Kate Rushin

“As women, we have been taught to either ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces of change. Without community, there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”

–Audre Lorde

My name is Quisqueya Amada
Taína Anaisa Altagracia Indiga.
You can call me Kay.
El cocolo, mi timacle, calls me
chula. He calls me Chula and his
derriengue. And the rest
Gorda. They call me La Gorda.

Chiquita, gorda, mal tallá.
No soy vacana. Ni matatana
ni un mujerón.
Muy normalota. Molleta.
Una morenota.
Otra prieta mas. Sin na’ atrá.
Bling bling ain’t for me.
But you will not believe lo que yo
gusté en Erre De.
Well, not me, me, me.
But me my USA passport
Me my many gifts
Me paganini
Me my hot hip hop steps
Me mambo violento
mambo rabioso
mi mambo sabroso.

–Josefina Báez

A woman lies buried under me, interred for centuries, presumed dead.

A woman lies buried under me. I hear her soft whisper the rasp of her parchment skin fighting the folds of her shroud. Her eyes are pierced by needles her eyelids, two fluttering moths.

–Gloria Anzaldúa

There are women locked in my joints for refusing to speak to the police

Me red blood full of those arrested, in flight, shot

My tendons stretched brittle with anger do not look like white roots of peace

In my marrow are hungry faces who live on land the whites don’t want

In my marrow women who walk 5 miles every day for water

In my marrow the swollen faces of my people who are not allowed to hunt to move to be

–Chrystos

And if you are there behind your skin and if there are tears behind your tears.

and if there is speaking behind your speaking

Let me hold all these her body

entered her voice and asked

as if holding this truth of another woman was like being held, and feeling the softness of herself enter the air

she put her hand on the bone of her own cheek and was held by the knowledge of her body: how being held is like holding.

–Susan Griffin

Why must woman stand divided? Building the wall that tear them down? Jill-of-all trades

Lover, mother, housewife, find, breadwinner

Heart and spade A woman is a ritual A house that must accommodate A house that must endure Generation and generation

Of wind and torment, of fire and rain A house with echoing rooms Closets with hidden cries Walls with stretch marks Windows with Eyes

–Genny Lim

Images. Voices. Memories. Actions. Our differences cross out borders, fringes, divisions. The “I” and “the Other.” Absorbed, mixed, dispersed, blurred. Sketches of our shadow.

We are breathed, intersected with metaphors of losses and triumphs. The frontier is not a landscape but our female body.

Imprints in our eyes, hands, breasts, hips, shoulders, minds, and labia. Our hymen broken, our territory has no walls, no boundaries.

–Joy Karin Weyland

I have been ripped wide open

by a word, a look, a gesture —

from self, kin, and stranger.

My soul jumps out

scurries into hiding

I hobble here and there

seeking solace

trying to coax it back home

but the me that’s home

has become alien without it.

Wailing, i pull my hair

suck snot back and swallow it

place both hands over the wound

but after all these years

it still bleeds

never realizing that to heal

there must be wounds

to repair there must be damage

for light there must be darkness.

–Gloria Anzaldúa

“Being Afraid Was not An Option”

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“Being poor and a mom poses a double challenge when raising children and making the decision to migrate. Women face the courage to do something unimaginable. This is the story of Altagracia—an excerpt from the manuscript, Uncoiling the Serpent Goddess: From Myth to Spiritual Freedom by Joy Karin Weyland.”

I met Altagracia in a community literacy class that met regularly on P.S. 182 in Washington Heights, the largest Dominican community in northern Manhattan. Mayra, one of my colleagues from the Women’s Collective, invited me one night. We walked together into a classroom of ten to twelve women who sat in school benches in a circle. Mayra introduced me to the group as a researcher from Argentina who was writing a book on women’s migration. That night, Altagracia’s narration stood out because of the added dangers posed by crossing the Mona Canal, one of deepest passages in the world, in a small boat.

“When I climbed on that yola all I could think about was my children. I did it for them,” Altagracia said as tears fell down her cheek. The women in the room nodded in empathy. During the seventies and eighties, it took an average of eight years for most women to reunite their families; their migratory journeys becoming a leap of faith into the underworld.

“It was about fifty of us,” Altagracia continued. “By the last day, there was little food and water. We had been at sea for four days waiting for the right moment to sneak passed the Coast Guard watches. It was so scary to be in that boat. Sharks were surrounding us and the Captain asked the women whether anyone of us had the menstrual cycle. We all said no but he was suspicious. He kept looking at me for any signs of blood.”

My eyes widened. I had heard of Captains who threw menstruating women off the board to avoid sharks.

“There was a baby in the crowd who kept crying and the Captain told the mother to nurse him and make him stop. Two men suggested that we all nursed as well because soon we would have no food or water, but the other women didn’t allow it.” Altagracia’s voice trembled.

“After four days at sea, the Captain announced we were almost at shore and we had to jump.” Altagracia fidgeted with her fingers. “So when he said jump, I did. The weight of the plastic bag with a change of clothes pulled me down and then up. When my head was above water I could see the lights ahead of us and I swam towards them, hoping I would soon reach the shore.” Her eyebrows rose as if looking for an act of faith. Then she continued.

“One of the men swimming next to me was drowning and he tried to grab my leg. I held on to my bag to stay afloat but I kept sinking with his weight. I thought that was the end of the trip, and my family would read about me in the papers. Then I saw my friend pulled out a knife and he threatened him. He let go of my leg, and I grasped for some air. I was so tired. I didn’t think I could swim all the way to the shore.” Altagracia’s hands fidgeted with her hair.

“The ocean led us into the beach shore of a condominium complex and I hid in a back yard. It was just the two of us now. Everyone else had run in different directions. I must have dozed off when the voice of a woman woke me up.”

“Wake up, wake up. You can’t stay here. I could be fined for hiding illegals,” She said in a Puerto Rican accent, rolling the r’s.

“Please help us,” I said as I lifted my hands begging. She frowned, but something made her change her mind and she took pity on us.

“Okay, you can spend the night, but you have to leave by dawn. I’ll bring out some food and blankets. There is a shed in the back.”

“My heart stopped pounding. I knew we would be safe. The next day we wandered around the streets of the town of Cabo Rojo. The idea was to blend in with the locals and pretend we were tourists. I had a few dollars and I invited my friend for breakfast. As soon as we saw a public phone, he made a call and his cousin picked us up an hour later. We both had a plane ticket to New York where our families were waiting. That night I dreamt about my children and when I woke up I knew I had done the right thing.”

“Why?” I asked while I wiped my tears.

Altagracia responded. “I couldn’t pay for my children’s books, shoes or school uniforms. My husband had migrated but he couldn’t send any money. I worked hard but it wasn’t enough to pay for rent and food. If I had stayed we would still be poor. Being afraid was not an option.”

 

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[Disclaimer: The stories in this Blog do not coincide with the women in the pictures. Names have been changed. I am solely responsible for the facts gathered and on which the stories and images are based. Nonfiction narrative asserts descriptions understood to be factual and may incorporate fictional elements to clarify and enhance them.]