Update: Watch the video of the Slam Poetry Competition here!
Thank you to everyone who made this night such a huge success! You can view pictures from the evening here and read poems from the evening here.
I speculate that even before my words emanate
Most of you have already begun to stipulate
Preconceived ideas resting upon stereotypes
This is a young, probably naïve and delusional
Local, probably affluent and spoiled
Short and small, probably shy
White girl, who has probably never worked a day in her life
And is she’s gonna share a poem with us
Hah, well this’ll be good
I’ve heard it before, who I am, you’ll deprecate.
I’ve always been defiled with labels
But I can take it and recuperate
Because where I come from
Wardrobes and follower to like ratio are more important
Than the content of your character
I grew up with an innate sense of rejection
Hyper-intense need to be the best
I come from a generation
Where cliques form friends
Where your reputation is more important
Than your own self respect
A generation of touchscreens and tweeting
Where eye contact and authentic communication is fleeting
Our voices are only read
And our laughter is never heard
I come from a generation
Where the greatest role models young girls have
Are photoshopped plastic replicas of perfection
For boys it’s pathetic show
A hint sensitivity and affection
I come from a generation
Where the media yanks you from the whom,
Nursing you then spoon feeding you your first words
Pretty or ugly
Fat or skinny
Pretty or ugly
Fat or skinny
Due to whatever insecurity
You let drive yourself mad
You’re guaranteed to let
The things you own start owning you
Because you’re fooled to think they’re all you have
This is your life
And its ending one unneeded online purchase at a time
I want you to understand
You are not your GPA
You are not how much money you have saved
Not the car you drive
Not the contents of your wallet
You are not which smart phone you have
You are the same decaying organic matter as the rest of us
But time out-
We all matter
But we’ve all heard this before
We’re all players
In our very own redundant game of hypocrites
But we all can’t seem to find a way to end it
On repeat I’m watching
Us fail and fumble
As we try to find
A way to transcend it
But why can’t we
Stop speaking in “if only” statements
And start moving forward
And getting over what we don’t like about ourselves
Before we let it hold us back
We all need to
Deepen our love for what makes us different
Maintaining the part of us that’s special
Instead of powdering our faces with lies
And exploiting our Facebook profiles as a disguise
But when the power goes out or Wifi connection is lost
We start to believe we are nothing
If we don’t enact this destined definiton of perfect
At any cost
I say this to my generation
Don’t you dare shatter the truth that you can be anything
Beyond: material, flesh, body, and phony expectations
Our generation must re-establish valid aspirations
When I first heard
The verdict conferred
I put myself in the place
Of Marissa Alexander
Trying to imagine
What she thought
As she sat through
Her trial of lies and slander
Lock me up in a cell
20 years in hell
For pulling the trigger as a warning
At my husband abusing me in the morning
My name is Marissa
I’m a thirty-one year old black woman
The mother of three children
But I will miss their childhood
Because on May 8th
It took a jury twelve minutes to sentence me
To 20 years
It took a jury of my white peers
Twelve minutes to sentence me to 20 years
For firing a warning shot
My heart began to rot
When I heard the news
On July 13
A 28 year-old grown man
Needed to defend himself
From a young boy, so he killed him.
But after 16 hours and 12 minutes
He was innocent.
And I asked myself
Should I have continued
My relations with Mr. Crayola?
Who’s crayon fists scribbled
Various hues of black and blues
On my skin as it imbues.
Because they treated my bruises that I wore
As if they were a contagious disease
They said beware of a black woman who protects herself
But don’t worry
It will only take 20 years in prison to cure her of it
This nightmare is becoming a reality
When everyday I hear of
The brutality and abnormality
Of our nation we call free
How can I sleep
With the fear of every time my child puts
A hood over his head he’s marking himself
As a victim to our legal system
Because on July 13
It was made known that wearing a hood
That wearing a hood means
You’re up to no good
If you’re black and wearing a hood
You’ve invested in your own persecution
And yet we all seem to forget the ones in white
that have those same attributions
When I took the stand
I refused to plea for guilt
To only be canned in prison
For three years rather than 20
Because on the day
I walked away from my husband
I found my dignity waiting for me
At the door outside
It was homeless and broken
But time after time I ignored it
Letting the pounding of a coward’s fists
But on that day I found my independence
Although I was locked up when I fired
I reclaimed emancipation from the shackles of abuse
There was no use in lying
Claiming I was trying
When you catch yourself beginning
To color within the same lines
Of the same primary colors
As slaver owners once did
Free your mind from prejudice and profiling
Let me be a reminder of all the defiling
Those thoughts cause, before it’s too late.
I thank you for your prayers but decline them
I want you to redesign them
As prayers for all humans of all races
That one-day we might
Stop painting pictures
In only black and white
Pre-slam prep with pizza and our amazing emcee, Chinaka Hodge…
A few poets…
And a well-deserved standing ovation for all…
The applause and the accolades continued well after the competition was over….
Don’t cut yourself on the broken pieces of yesterday
the memories like shards on the floor
but I’m barefoot
we are straddling something
much bigger than just “yesterday”
We live in a world that believes
its better to be boring
than absolutely ridiculous
I remember the words once written to me
“Your my hero”
yet my friends and family watched
as my own cape
was caught in one very high up tree.
I bet my mother prayed as she bared me
That I wouldn’t become a product of society
and I remember during days at the beach
most kids would step in their parents sandy footprints
while I backwards tracked my own.
Theres a difference between being strange and broken
between being unheard and unspoken
And just because your living an uphill battle
doesn’t mean your on a downward spiral.
Because there are demons inside
completing task after task
making us want to believe this
One day they feed off food
untouched by an anorexic
and the next push people
off of suicidal ledges
into rocks like pits in our stomachs
when we hear our loved ones are gone.
Sticks and stones
soon become boulders and javelins
and humans have come to the conclusion
that the closer we come to confront our problems,
the bigger the targets in our hearts become.
But they aren’t aiming it for the holes in our heart
rather the cracks on our skin
because our flaws remain shallower than
we remember burying them.
We didn’t burry them deep
like how a skipped pebble that sinks
Like the thoughts of a teen after taking one too many drinks.
our lives can only skip so far in just one blink.
And while some fear
and physical pain
the scariest fear of all is loneliness.
We grow up in a generation
where we laugh at #foreveralone
when in reality
its just a light hearted way
of expressing how we believe
that we will never be loved.
I need you
you are water to my tree
So I can stand tall and proud
with my roots dug so deep underground
with branches reached out
from their plagued scrutiny
to be trapped with my thoughts
is to face reality
inside of me
no fake hospitality.
Not all trees are able to grow
and some are even cut down.
by the people spit words so strong
they burst holes through brick walls
just leaving more debris to tip toe around
but sometimes we need to cut ourselves on all this glass and ruble
because our trees can’t just grow on soft soil.
Because even when we seem lost
we are given the opportunity
to find something greater
Till the day we realize that imperfection is beauty
that tears are not a broken down truck
but the gasoline to keep it going.
Till the day we can look back and say
it only took one baby leaf
to spark a revolution
and stretch into one
very high up tree.
Beauty is always there
but is not always noticed.
But the first time I saw its trace
was the day that you licked the salt water
off my face.
when we were at the beach
and you would sink
into the sand as it melted
from the heat
of your heart
the rivers and creeks
that carried the life
and pinkness to my cheeks.
Though she could never speak
I knew I would never be as good as her.
I was only three
when I first saw the happiness of the sun
and the beauty of the rain.
Then I knew
the time I would see my first glimpse of true pain
would be the day
that I wouldn’t be able to lay
your head to rest
across my left breast.
And most nights you kept guard outside my room
You sturdy slept away all the unwanted doom
because if not
I know you would be to loyal and guilted
to not sleep at my tomb.
It wasn’t until that day
when you ran away
when I skipped a pebble
into a lonely bed of a creek
and for the first time I looked to the sky as I began to speak
“God please bring her home to me.”
Because I wanted to forever hold you
because I was your Lilo and you were my stitch
I was a girl
except you were my bitch.
Then I would watch as the sun left the red clouds scorched,
I found you waiting for me at my front porch.
It was the day I graduated
from sleeping in my parents bed
that I had a nightmare of you leaving
so I went to you instead
I placed my hand on your chest
where I thought would be your left breast
and I swore I could never lay my head to rest
while music was playing
but I found myself in a seldom sleep
because I discovered a new unheard symphony
That somehow felt familiar and sweet.
In that moment I could feel the beauty speak.
It was 1:00 am new years day 2014
when I had a abrupt transition
from sitting in the back seat of this dudes car seat cushon
in an awkward get me the fuck out of here position
to being curled into a broken ball
in poorly lit, empty hallway
with my hand covered like a mitt
intertwined into her chocolate fur
a woven glove that always seemed to have the perfect fit.
Her tummy had filled with blood
and my heart filled with its lust
what seemed to be the brother of satan
who dare lay another
finger on my little lover
but it was too late for Ruby to recover.
If cancer had non-scientific name
it would be “I can go fuck myself”
But tonight wasn’t the same.
I had only seen fear in her eyes
once in my life
but all I saw tonight was pain.
Because she knew that the end came.
And to think that only yesterday she was healthy
But her steps were taken stealthy
so while laying in the back of the car heading to the hospital
We took one last selfie.
That night was the most beautiful version of ugly!
And as she was laying across a stretcher
I couldn’t help but press her
cheeks to my lips.
as through her whiskers
vailed shallow wisps
that felt familiar and sweet
as I held onto her frozen feet
“It’s time to proceed”
The doctor speaks
as she sneaks
escape begins to seep
deep into her life rivers and creeks
as she prepares to sleep.
But before she laid her body to rest
I pressed my ear up to her chest
and listened to her fall to a seldom sleep
as I heard her symphony slow its beat.
And I released her large chocolate feet.
Then before I left out to the dark street
I started to choke
I could barely speak
If I left her now would she forgive me?
I told her how great of a slam poem she would be
then looked at her one last time
The definition of beauty
The piling up does not begin around the edges of my room. It starts with sediment in the creaky places between my bones. Bones, strong as ever, fighting with the grit that keeps them from clacking together. My hip seems to pop when I take a step. I am always either hot or cold.
Soon, there is sand under my feet. I only notice when I’m barefoot. The next day it seems like I’m tripping more often than usual. I tell you what’s happening.
I say, “It’s like there’s something in front of me that I can’t see so I don’t know to step over it.” We both laugh. I say, “This morning I woke up in a bed that was three miles long and forty kilometers wide. I don’t remember where in that vast white landscape I feel asleep; it happened very quickly. But I am now wrapped tightly in the fitted sheet that no longer clings to my mattress. It is neither a cocoon nor a nest but a straight jacket and I am grateful for it. I think if only I could inch down and let it crawl up, let it envelope my brain, I could claim warranted absence of thought, absence of mind.” We both laugh.
The next week it rains. As if every grain of sand said, “Just add water,” now I drag my feet through piles of pebbles. You wonder why I’m so slow.
In three weeks, I am holding stones on my shoulders. I have come to know how smooth they are, how reliable their weight is, how my posture has improved. I spend time tracing the white veins that run through grey stones. They remind me of the marbled pages of an old novel, leather-bound, worn soft on the edges. I want to read these lines the way you read me headlines from newspapers, passionate, without a question in your voice.
But with every word that escapes your lips the piles grow another inch and I’ve got growing pains. These days, I welcome that aching in my shins and behind my knees. I relish the moments when I feel my pulse beat in my temple.
The piles have formed walls that are no less than gilded. This is a sanctuary. This is my temple. There is a great dome—plastered in signs that say, “No trespassing.” Last time I checked this ache was the people’s religion. But I was kept up last night by what I’m sure was mortar hardening. All of the others are worshiping outside.
I imagine you kneeled. You smudged wet ink, folded stiff paper, pressed chapped lips to the envelope, and stuffed your message in between two boulders like a mourner at the Western Wall hoping his tears might seep through.
You say you know no one said anything about collecting stones in a glass house. You don’t know that I couldn’t lob one underhand if I wanted to. My muscles have atrophied and I have not held the stones in a long time.
My grade six history tells me Death looks just like Cerberus guarding the River Styx
and I think
if I were to catch the rancid gaze of that antique and crooked beast,
I would feel the Earth beneath my colored shoe begin to rise and boil like some great holy earthquake.
I would smell it’s unknown skin, sheathed in a whisper’s black,
the shadow of a ghost,
the thing that has been watching me my entire life without a single sound. Waiting.
I would suddenly hear the words from it’s terrifying tongue,
falling like crystallized saliva,
breaking in sharp, dangerous puddles at my feet
and I would know the fear of my ancestors before me.
On their boats to New Cities,
they must have felt the beast gliding underneath them constantly,
and on their airplanes and their ships at war
they must have seen it’s pale-eyed reflection
in the foreign men they had to kill for their countries,
they must have known it was waiting for them just as it waits for me.
It would haunt me.
I, sleepwalking, would sift through time and space as if they were so many grains of rice clinging to my discontented fork.
My peers must have known this beast.
The ones that go cradled in their mother’s arms before they see the waiting room filled with pink and blue balloons.
The ones who go much later, an oxygen tank strapped like an ammo belt across their fragile bird-cage rib bones.
The ones that go in between, go in their cars and go in their bars and go in their last mistakes. They see it too.
Because the beast is always there.
I came from a dark place curled in my own spinning thoughts, like my brother years before and my sister moments after, and that is where I will go when I go like the rest.
Because they always told me I could become anything I wanted when I grew up,
anything at all.
So I became absence.
The beast won’t hear me that way.
I’ll slide away and hide away and the beast won’t find me today, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.
The beast will wait.
Shadows glide and fingers slide but the beast will wait.
I sift and I sift, and birthdays are spent sometimes frivolous, sometimes alone, but I will grow old and content and fat with the life in my bones.
And only then will the beast roar it’s oppressed roar.
And I will hear it roar, and the sound will shade my skin a pretty sort of pink and red and I will go in the white-hot rage and valiant battle of a thousand ancestors before me.
I will close my eyes and feel it’s claws around my neck and I will beat my fists against it’s leathered throat until it beats its tattered wings against mine and I am its and it is mine and we are off into my deathday’s nighttime sky.
And then I know only silence.
The beast is gone.
See no evil.
Hear no sounds.
Everything again is fine.
Feel the next life’s sun on my reborn skin and everything will be reset in space and time.
Everything again is fine.
Friends, friendish, unfriended, lend me your ears,
and your hearts, and your mouths and hands and gut,
just a moment root your feet ankle-deep in earth.
Remember to envision your mother’s birth,
the thousand thousand sunrises between you
and Mark Antony’s grandmothers,
the way you’d like to feel tomorrow and all the others,
the way you’ll remember to your children the view:
“Beautiful!” but what else?
the eyes you shone upon the outness about yourself
ten years ago before you put appreciation on the shelf,
aside the books you haven’t read
and the pair of eyes gone from your head,
aside the pictures of the dead and those you’ll never meet,
aside the keepsake jar of earth from right. beneath. your toes.
Remember to be mindful members of the present,
but don’t stress the unspent days gone by,
the slept-in Sunday AM phase is fine,
but a morning mourning is a missed morning more.
Remember to return to a place that’s yours
to let self-consciousness go comatose.
Allow the day in at the door,
be a gracious host.
Insist it have a drink, and a slice of cake.
Will you go through the day or let the day through you?
Carpe diem! and lubricate!
Remember to make each day last
in storyworthy glory unboring.
Don’t let yourself forget but don’t dwell in the past,
remember don’t live fast, die old,
old and on percocet just to keep walking,
working, if you’re self-employed
you don’t get any benefits,
if you’re part-time you’re irrelevant,
so get a good job or hope
your inheritance is generous,
but don’t be greedy,
be the epitome of elegance.
I know it’s tough, but–
Remember the speeches of all your advisors,
especially me, I’ll preach that I’m wiser
than you (damned if I don’t make
every line about my life).
You wish that you knew if these are lies or
the truth, but you keep on listening
as I sing you my blues.
Do as I do as you do not yet know
how to see the mind through the maze
I paint between lines,
you listen unfazed ‘cause you see with your eyes,
you sit there glazed over, just analyze
the hate this naysayer conveys.
“Beautiful!” what else?
Lend me your criticisms,
I’ll hand ‘em back, I won’t listen,
I’m too attached to me.
I’m written in soliloquies of inhibitions,
Revelations, penance for bad metaphysical directions,
I’ve written a hundred intangible confessions,
I fall every time to metapoetic vindications,
because I’m a hypocrite, don’t listen
don’t listen to me, no,
this is about you!
How you always forget,
how you always get bored,
heed these words a bit more,
this is how you toss out advice
like you’re pimping a whore,
this is how you reach for a vice
though you’d never before,
this is how you hold
upright on the floor.
Lend me your vision,
my eyes can’t find me.
Lend me your feet,
there’s no ground beneath mine.
Remind me it’s hard to find the right words–
as usual, what else?
Yesterday I was reading a book about how to slam and a tip was
try not to shake.
As if this wasn’t about letting you see me feel.
I am not calm, cool and collected.
I am not wired to be calm, cool and collected.
We all know high school is about being cool.
It’s how we learn to cope
with the things we don’t understand.
How to master the art of hurting with style.
How to keep a smile plastered on your face
and keep it there
after a shitty grade, a shove in the hallway.
How to look pretty with a hangover,
to roam in packs,
how not to cry when you feel like a ghost.
This is how to dip your head down like a wilted flower
when you blush,
how to shut up when you start stuttering,
how to hold your own hand when an earthquake
begins to grow under your skin.
is how to not let them see you feel.
We all know feeling isn’t cool.
This is how you hide every doctor’s appointment,
every psychiatrist and therapy session.
Pretend you’re going shopping
when really you know the only thing you’ll be coming home with
is new pills and some tips on how to handle yourself.
This is how you pretend your armor is stronger
than their insults and remarks.
This is how you let them break you apart
and this is how you pick up the pieces alone.
It’s always easier not to talk.
as if the best way to stop the bomb
is to hide the ticking
as if the explosion won’t happen
if you bury the dynamite deep enough.
The only strength is being tough, right?
And just pray no one sees your cards and calls your bluff.
Pray no one can hear your bones shake,
pray no one can hear the skeletons rattling in your closet.
Denial is pretending you know how to swim
Secrecy is drowning alone
but honesty is learning how to grow gills.
I know that some words are easier than others
it is easier to say tired than depression.
But what I have learned is that the nameless pain is the heaviest.
and to go forth and give words to your wounds
requires a strength that is sometimes hard to reach alone.
Your story is not a cake.
You will not become lesser with every slice you share.
What I know now is that the pain has to ripple before it can fade.
Every time you reach out, every stone you throw out
will echo your hurt until it disappears.
What I know of the darkness is that it does not exist;
the darkness is merely an absence of light
and there is no shame of seeking that light in the hands of others.
There is no shame in asking for help.
There is no shame in feeling like a stray dog begging for scraps of attention in a junkyard
you are strong for doing this.
I am strong for ripping off my muzzle.
What I know is that not everything can be fixed
but pain fades and scars heal and it is never too late or too early to speak.
And this is how to let your friends hold you when you tell them.
it still counts if you speak better with a little alcohol in your blood.
is how to stand in front of 250 people and tell them.
Tell them “I am strong because I let myself feel and that is such a brave thing to do.”
And what I know of my friends
is that in them is a well of strength
deeper than the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean
and what I know is that I will always be able to draw from that well
when I let them hold my battered heart in my palm
until all that remains is a shadow,
until I can barely remember what it was like to fight alone.
This is how to heal.
One word at a time
one ripple at a time.