Respect Your Elders

Well-behaved women seldom make history.
White women always make history
while we are told to
dress professional
wear heels under 4 inches and
keep our nails under 1
with our hair in one of just a few pre-approved styles.
Don't act unprofessional.
Show up on time
talk quiet and
use correct grammar.
In order words,
don't act like yourself at all.
I don't know what to be more angry about:
The fact that society made you this way
or the fact that you bought into it.
Mama, did you not make mistakes?
Did you not
totally love the dirty sensation of your
heart against your trainer bra 
as you snuck out of your window and 
let the humid summer air
curl the hair on your head
and between your thighs?
Did you not 
taste something forbidden in the 
dorm room down the hall
inhale something sweet and dreamy
and wake up in regret the next day
swearing never again every time
your head struck the toilet seat?
Did you not
drop an f-bomb in a staff meeting
only for it to barely sputter amongst the 
dead silence in the room 
and cringe in regret when
your boss came into your office 
and closed the door behind her?
Do you not
have faith in my mistakes?
That they will bless me
dress me in determination and resilience
when I have been stripped of 
pride and confidence?
Do you not
know that your mistakes have already taught me
what you never knew?
I don’t have to wear your shoulder-padded
tumbled-dry in your judgement and concern
to do well in this life.
I don’t have to separate my selves
or trade them in for something 
more inviting or subjectively appropriate because
well-behaved women seldom make history,
but I will.

Self-Care is Warfare by Marion Berger

I am super excited to share a friend’s thesis project in the form of a self-care for activists online zine. I wrote a poem for the piece, which I’ve copied and pasted below, and there is definitely a wealth of perspective from her and others also included. Take a look! I may post more poetry in the coming months. It seems to be a more effective vehicle for me to express these days.

The Truth

Anger and joy coexist 
but only one is

Anger is the tangible sensation of 
my accumulated experiences
It is only one version of the truth

Anger suffocates me
yet I sometimes succumb
and I bring in a breath of it
and then I notice
I still can’t breathe

Anger is rooted 
It can grow 
and incite perpetual strife
but it is not life giving

I sometimes misunderstand my inherent joy
as an undeserved indulgence
Because anger is a lack of freedom
and joy must be equitable

But joy is not abundance
and it cannot grow in the shadow of guilt
but it is resilient
and boundary-crossing

Joy is not even happiness
It does not discredit anger
and when anger is near
it is merely slightly diluted 

Joy is not perfection
It is the belief that I am worthy
It is the confidence that I can 
negate my own fear 
It is the willingness to discern
what is to be gained from pain

Joy is a self-effulgent essence
It is an omnipresent nectar
that drips from both 
my smile and my tears

It is the most patient part of my soul 
that seeks to distinguish
The truth

Accompanying reflection:

My poetry usually describes my thought processes or current beliefs. In seeking a higher understanding of self and the world, my mind is constantly evolving. It took me quite some time to arrive in a place where I felt deserving of joy, peace, and space. As a woman of color with other privileges I have often experienced guilt for wanting to be happy or feeling hopeful about the future. This poem illustrates where I am now, in part because of cathartic personal growth, but also as a result of tremendous support from friends and family and (what I see as) an increasing emphasis on self-care and celebration within marginalized and activist communities. I hope this piece will help others consider if and how we can hold space for anger and pain without discounting the beauty of life.