Tag Archives: speaking out

Humming Bird: For Everywoman

Humming bird says no words
She just whirrs around the world
But have you ever stopped and heard
Her song for very long?
With a flutter you can soar
Beyond the things you’re looking for
So hover close once more before she’s gone.

What kind of flower do you dip your hours into?
Do you, too, long for a lean-to you can lean your burdens on?
Are we just the creatures that grace your sky with music,
Or do you cherish all the seeds we’ve sewn?
Do you cherish all the seeds we’ve sewn?

Be seen, don’t be heard.
It’s a child’s rhyme she’s memorized
But have you ever listened to the voice she could not share?
And now she sits at the table
Holding hands with men around a circle.
No longer spins their clothes in circles,
Wash clean like a prayer.

What kind of flower do you dip your hours into?
Do you, too, long for a lean-to you can lean your burdens on?
Are we just the creatures who grace your sky with music,
Or do you cherish all the seeds we’ve sewn?
Do you cherish all the seeds we’ve sewn?

She’s a creator, a conceiver,
She’s a mother,
A believer in what’s right and wrong,
A woman who’s seen strength take on her name.

She was a humming bird,
She sang, and once her voice was heard,
Well there were always those
To second guess the way she sees her world.

She’s not the same as you,
There’s something different.
She can’t build the world like you,
There is something different.
She’s got a different point of view,
She’s got cycles you don’t share
And it’s not nearly the same, the same at all.

So humming bird, says no words
She just whirrs around the world
Oh have you ever stopped and heard
Her song for very long?
With a flutter you can soar
Beyond the things you’re looking for:
How will you know the thing you’re looking for when you never could be sure?

What kind of flower do you dip your hours into?
Do you, too, long for a lean-to you can lay your burdens down?
And are we still the creatures who grace your sky with music,
Or have you noticed all the seeds we’ve sewn
Have you noticed all the seeds we’ve sewn?

Where were you today when she
Whirred her children gone, when she
Took back all of the colors of her own?
You were out discovering that
You, too are a hummingbird
And just as fragile, small, and hard to see as her.

You picked a flower to dip your hours into,
To make sense of the burdens buried in your down.
You wished, just for this once, that you could bear her children,
That there were just some things you could leave out.
But, there are just some things you can’t leave out.

So humming bird say no words,
You’re just a wing-span from our world
And have you ever stopped and heard
How strong we sing our song?

We are the same as you
There’s nothing different.
We both have to gather food,
There is nothing different.
Watch the fledglings fly away
Of both our colors they are made,
And the nests are strained with change today.
We’ll be the same after all.

So humming bird says no words
Oh humming bird says no words
Humming bird, she whirrs and whirrs
Oh she’ll be heard.
Have you ever stopped and heard
How strong she sings her song?

Strong we are and strong we whirr,
How strong we sing our song.
Strong we are, and strong we were,
How strong we sing our song.

***
You can listen to a recording of this song on my blog’s soundtrack page. Enjoy!

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The Danger of Silence _ The One-Many (OM) Project

“It was the three things we lived by,” said Oisín: “the truth in our hearts, the strength in our hands, and fulfilment in our tongues.”

Next up in the One-Many Project is Clint Smith’s TED Talk, “The Danger of Silence.” From TED.com: “We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says slam poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

Watch the talk!

I’ve included the transcript in entirety as it’s short, beautifully written, and to the point.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1968 speech where he reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement, states, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

As a teacher, I’ve internalized this message. Every day, all around us, we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide and war. In the classroom, I challenge my students to explore the silences in their own lives through poetry. We work together to fill those spaces, to recognize them, to name them, to understand that they don’t have to be sources of shame. In an effort to create a culture within my classroom where students feel safe sharing the intimacies of their own silences, I have four core principles posted on the board that sits in the front of my class, which every student signs at the beginning of the year: read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.

And I find myself thinking a lot about that last point, tell your truth. And I realized that if I was going to ask my students to speak up, I was going to have to tell my truth and be honest with them about the times where I failed to do so.

So I tell them that growing up, as a kid in a Catholic family in New Orleans, during Lent I was always taught that the most meaningful thing one could do was to give something up, sacrifice something you typically indulge in to prove to God you understand his sanctity. I’ve given up soda, McDonald’s, French fries, French kisses, and everything in between. But one year, I gave up speaking. I figured the most valuable thing I could sacrifice was my own voice, but it was like I hadn’t realized that I had given that up a long time ago. I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn’t meant to be anyone’s conscience because I still had to figure out being my own, so sometimes I just wouldn’t say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence, unaware that validation doesn’t need words to endorse its existence. When Christian was beat up for being gay, I put my hands in my pocket and walked with my head down as if I didn’t even notice. I couldn’t use my locker for weeks because the bolt on the lock reminded me of the one I had put on my lips when the homeless man on the corner looked at me with eyes up merely searching for an affirmation that he was worth seeing. I was more concerned with touching the screen on my Apple than actually feeding him one. When the woman at the fundraising gala said “I’m so proud of you. It must be so hard teaching those poor, unintelligent kids,” I bit my lip, because apparently we needed her money more than my students needed their dignity.

We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t. Silence is the residue of fear. It is feeling your flaws gut-wrench guillotine your tongue. It is the air retreating from your chest because it doesn’t feel safe in your lungs. Silence is Rwandan genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there aren’t enough body bags left. It is the sound after the noose is already tied. It is charring. It is chains. It is privilege. It is pain. There is no time to pick your battles when your battles have already picked you.

I will not let silence wrap itself around my indecision. I will tell Christian that he is a lion, a sanctuary of bravery and brilliance. I will ask that homeless man what his name is and how his day was, because sometimes all people want to be is human. I will tell that woman that my students can talk about transcendentalism like their last name was Thoreau, and just because you watched one episode of “The Wire” doesn’t mean you know anything about my kids. So this year, instead of giving something up, I will live every day as if there were a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition. Because who has to have a soapbox when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?

Instruction of the Next Generation

It was a beautiful Thursday morning and I was out walking with my guide dog, Allegro, whom I have lately been referring to as “my labradorable,” because of his incredible cuteness. If it were safe to run the trail at Aquatic Park, perhaps we would have. But it isn’t safe to run with a guide dog, and this is particularly true for me because for some reason I often find myself ahead of my dog, and you just don’t want the blind human leading the sighted assistance dog. It defeats the whole point. Anyway, we resorted, instead, to walking so quickly that we could have been mistaken for running, but technically were not. Birds sang, very few people came by, the air was clear, the sun was shining but even in the sun it was wonderfully cool, and I was managing to be exceptionally quiet and not trip on anything which surprised me.

I had too much work to do to make the entire loop around the park that morning, so we stopped at an odd piece of wood and some other material imbedded for some inexplicable reason in the road, which makes an excellent landmark, and I gave Allegro a few minutes of being an ordinary dog. He sniffed around happily as I checked the time. We’d gone 3/4 of a mile in twenty minutes flat, which surprised me once again. I’m not particularly in shape, and I wasn’t running, of course.

Completely immersed in the joy of being able to move and be outside, we made time back the other direction just as quickly. I was not a “blind person on a walk,” although I was walking, and still blind. I did not “look blind” whatever that means, and the phrase should be abolished in my opinion. I looked like myself. I walked tall. Even when walking uphill I managed to stand straight, the way my dad taught me to do a few weeks ago. I smiled at people who walked by. I carried myself like I was sure of my belonging in this world, because of that I am completely sure. I did not move cautiously, but like I trust myself to find my way, and hold my own, because I am learning that I can.

Perhaps that is why the little boy said hi to me as I made my way up the sidewalk back to the main road. There was quite a gathering of children on the sidewalk, actually. I’m starting to wonder if there is an elementary school nearby there? Perhaps parents or teachers like to bring the kids there to play. The park has an extensive playground, awesome for a child. Most of the kids walking toward me were talking amongst themselves and this is honestly what I expected all of them to do. I was on a walk by myself and had no need to have a conversation with anyone.

But the last kid to walk by, who sounded like he was between ten and twelve, who was walking with an adult, slowed down and said hello. And I smiled at him and said hello in return and kept walking.

The adult with the group was either a teacher or his or someone else’s mother. I could hear both of their sets of footsteps behind me, and the woman slowed down slightly. The little boy asked, his voice conveying indignant confusion, “What!” I hear that same tone from kids who are being caught out at something which they shouldn’t have done. What, indeed? What had the kid done wrong?

But I could guess the what, in vivid detail. The “what” went like this: the kid had done nothing that “he shouldn’t have done,” but instead, he did something that “people don’t do.” It is a very important distinction, which the adult with him did not make, and by example started to teach him to not make it likewise. It starts with a look. You know the one. You’re fixed with it by someone with more power than you, usually while you are a child looking up, literally and figuratively to the older and wiser grown-ups around you. You got that look when you picked your nose in public, took off your bathing suit in the baby pool when you were a little too old to get away with it, and perhaps when you said hello to a person with a disability when you were twelve, because you’re sociable and like to acknowledge people you pass on the road. Shhhh, it isn’t done. But I’m on the little boy’s side here. What is that about? Why on earth isn’t it as normal to talk to me as it is to talk to anyone else? My abilities, or lack of them, should not matter that much.

Now, I am not advocating for everyone to pick their nose or run around naked. Most social norms are fine. They’re there for a reason, and a really good one at that. However, I become terribly, terribly sad when I see an adult perpetuating social norms that are exclusionary, that harmfully stereotype and prejudge those different from oneself. This kind of “us” and “other” mentality is the source of sexism, racism, and religious wars, as well as ablism– discrimination based on ability– and is at the root of many more instances of intolerant attitudes and actions as well. It perpetuates destructive social barriers, reinforcing a separateness that deforms relationships and further entrenches false beliefs and perceptions that are as devaluing of the people who hold them as they are of the people at whom such perceptions are aimed. What are we saying to our children when we admonish them for acting politely toward another human being, insinuating they have made some social blunder, insisting, wrongly, that the person they were about to speak to is in a different category, has a disability, and so needs to be treated accordingly?

This is how discrimination against people with disabilities continues, It is passed on from one generation to the next. It starts with the planting of a seed, and grows until we are afraid of one another, until we believe the stereotypes, the lies, the myth of our own separateness. Until we cannot think critically about the distinction between the inculcation of healthy social norms and the perpetuation of ignorance, misunderstanding, distrust, falsehood, and fear.

Sometimes children know more than we adults who think we are in fact so much older and therefore wiser. It is too easy to be like that woman and project your insecurities, stereotypes, and limiting beliefs onto the children in your care, or onto your friends and family who might think differently. I was unsure how to salvage the moment and reassure the adult, as much as the child, that it is perfectly okay to talk to someone who is blind. But there seemed little I could do. What would you do?

I continued believing in myself. I continued walking tall. I know the truth about myself no matter what others are or are not doing. I hoped the child might know an adult who could now teach him an even harder lesson: that not all adults are right, that we can make mistakes, grave mistakes, that we are all equal, and to trust himself. I kept on going my way. Then I decided to share this experience. What world do we want to leave to our children? The answer to that question rests, in part, on what we impart to them about the ways in which we live and accept and belong. It is as simple and as difficult as putting aside our preconceived notions of who we and other people ought to or are told to be, and being open to finding out who we really are, celebrating our differences, and by doing so, becoming part of the incredible difference that will make.

Voices From Cnoc Alúine

Caoilte

I will raise mountains to the sky
I will cover Islands with the sea
And I will gather broken things
And weave them quietly through dreams.

I will sing forgotten songs
And lift my voice, though none join in
And I will come by wind and rain
To see the lost live once again.

Ailbhe

Who will count the landscape’s scars
The path is red, blood of old stones
Shards of time, earth mother’s bones:
Once more found, are we never alone.

I

I will journey on the seven tides
To find the reason for your cries,
And I will sit in surrender to
The sadness welling up in you.

For you who are so very dear,
I will hold the far more near
And shed a single, weary tear
For all the dreams that flew from here.

Oisin

The great conversation is not halted
By the sun burnt desires of the taking
I am here in all that is,
What lies broken, all awaking

Do not cast a cry from the tallest trees
For what was never meant to last
Has not future met it’s origin
Has not the child come home again,

Striving for beyond,
And held the strands of the pattern in weaving between her fingers,
To become the song of sunbeams whose streaming laughter lingers?

In your hand you hold the vast and through it learn to soar,
Patiently within you, for child, it is yours.
There is no turning back, only turning, earth and seasons turning,
A time for growing and relearning.

Time to realize we’re all some mother’s child,
Time to honor and continue to rekindle
The wild look in your eyes,
And the color of belonging, green and blue and wise.

Did you really think there would be a single one
Who would not make it to the other side?
Change, the knot
That cannot be undone, it lies

Between our orchestra of longing,
And the whole with fractured facets rearranging.
And among chords played, between silences, we fly,
Letting go of all that’s left behind.

Life shimmers like a firefly’s light,
Transient and tenaciously, we dance what’s yours and mine.
Life leaps in joy and wonder into everything,
Glowing then for all it finds.

Life strikes out in frenzy through forever,
And for that, ever, ever shine.

*This is in response to my friend Ali Isaac’s post, “Almu, The Home of Irish Hero Fionn mac Cumhall,” which you can read here: http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/2014/05/15/almu-the-home-of-irish-hero-fionn-mac-cumhall/.

Walking the Labyrinth

I, born from the clay and carving rivers,
The star leaf and the seed,
I have seen spirit in motion, felt the breath of fire,
And known the sacredness of a smile.

I, deer’s child, wolf woman,
I have heard the world howling with abandon,
It’s body torn apart, great tapestries unwoven.

The landscape, like a weary heart, broke open,
And out of these crumbled, withered lands I have awoken,
And said the words too long unspoken.

The sweat of everyday living,
Glistens like fairy dust upon my skin.
And in this way I began,
And in this way I begin

To rebecome, transform, retrieve
The unkempt dreams I find within,
The heartbeat of the world I’m in.

Here fear no longer dries the rains,
All that impedes me is gone,
Who I am, unwilling to never make a sound:
My cries rebound across these hills.

Led toward center along a spiral way,
I am learning, reaching out to you,
Every twist and turn, the uncertainty of growing
Those living here before us whisper on the wind.

Spirits of this place who knew to balance, how to be,
Who are we, stranded on the web of life, to work our will?
Here as we are, in this moment of peace when, breathlessly,
Land stirs to hush, lies still.

For The Protection of Our Children

<Ask a child’s silence to speak
And you will learn truths you’ve never wanted to know.
When will it be time to raise our voices from the dead,
When will it be time to break our silence?

Victims are defined by spaces, behind closed doors.
I survived—formed bubbles under my skin
To trap the pain.

But one day they burst,
And when they did, acid rain
Poured over whole villages,
Turning their sands red.

There is no scissor-curled rainbow for our stories—only blackness,
When will it be time—boom, boom, boom,
Black echoes in an empty room.

We seal up the places where we’ve been marked
By hands like barnacles, wounded<
Against the tide’s rushing out like breath.

So I try to understand how I could have been
Shaken by a nanny who left me blind
An infant no stranger to death.
Aching to be found.

We lock pieces of ourselves in the past
Afraid of our own shadows,
When it's the adults that hurt us
Who are the monsters of their own closets.

When will we shatter the hourglass of secret time?
How do we mend those childhoods broken
By parents who are themselves approaching darkness 
Encroaching on long dreamless nights?

No wonder many do not speak out
Almost killed for our crying
Those who should protect and care for us
Cut us off from ourselves with the skill of a surgeon.

Rise up out of ash, left by the light we were born with
The tears shed then.
Our only hope for oasis
In the desert of the deserted.

Sound is red and raw, who counts the wounded?
The house of intelligible action
Lies, in shambles.

Truth keens across the chasms that remain
Truth keens, keys bleed,
Screams listen,

Silence shrieks in opened doorways.
How do gods determine when justice has been paid?
The bean sidhe will not rest tonight,
Nor will lurking shape-shifters with the beady eyes that glisten.

How dare anyone break a child.
Who among us dare speak a name?
None in this world or the next will claim you:
To harm a child is to will yourself a slave.

You who use and abuse the least of us,
You sign the warrant of your own exile.
Trapped inside your skin, no kin or kind,
Separate beyond ken, your prison is self made.

The time has come to break the silence,
The time has come to raise our voices from the dead,
To seek to put an end to this unconscionable violence,
Until our seventh generation knows nothing of such pain.

Forget-Me-Nots

Dear broken little boy
We’re sorry you’ve been molested and abused
Your priest said he did nothing wrong
But nobody should ever have to be used

We hope that you don’t mind
That he’s now preaching down the street
All of his acquaintances
Swear he’s really nice to meet.

Dear shaken little girl
We’re sorry someone caused you to go blind
You didn’t see long anyway,
I’m sure that you’ll adjust just fine

Your nanny’s gone to work with other kids,
We Hope you have no problem with it
The very minimum of charges against her have been filed
We prayed for her soul, she didn’t mean to be unkind.

Dear battered woman, dear shattered man
Dear victims of slavery, misogyny,
Those estranged from their homeland
Your government and social worker’s done all they can

We’ve issued an apology
But don’t think sorry
Means we understand.

We’re glad that nothing like this ever happened to us,
We hope that you can cope
And act like nothing is amiss
Whoever did the things they did to you
Might be tried and caught, but probably not.

There are not enough resources,
Or people who care
If while you grew up,
Love was just not there,

We hope it won’t affect
The way you do your job.
You’re an inspiration,

Here’s a get well card
From the corporate mob:
Your reparation,A bundle of roses
But no forget-me-nots.

Dear grieving teenage mom who could not have her child
We hope that this experience turned you off from living wild
And your endless sorrow has convinced you that abortion’s always  wrong
You should have been strong and kept your baby alive.

We’re the ones who warned you with our “educational” signs
Depicting four dismembered infants above the slogan “right to life,”
We’re just looking out for unborn children we don’t want them to die
Just don’t ask us to protect them, that’s all done on your time.

And while we cause a scene and tell you how to live your life,
We cut funds for schools and childcare and we still sleep through the night.
Once the children are born, we’ve won our fight,
Especially when they’re disabled or poor—remember, working is their right.

We’re glad that nothing like this ever happened to us,
We hope that you can cope, come home to the god in whom we trust
Whatever the circumstances
A man just never was at fault, absolutely not.

There are not enough resources
Or people who care.
With nothing growing inside you,
How could love still be there?

We hope it won’t affect the way you feel about God’s Word
You’re an inspiration,
Here’s a get well card from the evangelical herd:
Your reparation, a bundle of roses
But no forget-me-nots.

No forget-me-nots,
Because it’s safer to forget,
But what’s remembered lives,
And I cannot forget you.

No forget-me-nots,
Because then we could not forget
That what’s remembered lives–
And I could not forget you.

Go out and smell the roses but don’t grab fistfuls of thorns
Whatever we ignore leaves its red stains,
Its sharp pains,
Its stark remains upon our hands.

I will take your hand,
Wipe the tears from your eyes,
Forget you not.

Dear child of this universe
A lifetime in every cell,
The world shines with your radiance
Though you’re just here to be yourself.

And all that you’ve been through,
A testament to strength
While you lived or you died fighting,
It never was in vain.

Love is not a thing
That you can win
Or force or gain.

Dear tentative night traveler
Who’s never felt at home,
Hope is not outdated,
Nor is empathy outgrown,

And there will still be wonder
Long after you make your life your own.
You let the feared wolf hunger
And the loving wolf has won.

There’s no need to run for cover,
You’re safe here,
And you are not alone.

We know being human happens to every one of us
Through the pain and darkness, hope shines everywhere we touch.
Whatever your circumstances,
It won’t always be easy, absolutely not.

It’s hard to find the resources but most of us do care,
Dreams will grow inside you and love is always there.
You will find yourself again along a spiral stair,
And realize there’s so much laughter, and joy, and tears to share.

You’re an inspiration just because you dare
To breathe your spirit of life into everything you are,
No matter when or where.

Don’t bother with the reparations:
What could they be for?
When you’re already whole and forgiveness won’t keep score,
Half-baked gestures of apologies just won’t fool you anymore.

Life’s not just a bed of roses–
A door that opens often closes,
But if you find yourself outside,
Don’t just stand there looking in.
What’s remembered lives, I’ll forget you not.