Guest Post, Patricia Caspers, Poetry: A Meal Served at the Table of Resistance

Poetry: A Meal Served at the Table of Resistance

Patricia Caspers headshot

 

 

 

On a recent Saturday morning seven of us sat around a table with steaming cups of tea and homemade blueberry muffins. Good friends, we spent a fair amount of time sharing our common despair over the current state of the U.S. government. We had come together to talk writing, but the two Ps – politics and poetry – seem to roll around each other like shards of broken glass in a swelling sea.

 

I do know English and, therefore, when hungry, can ask for more than minimum wage, pointing repeatedly at my mouth and yours. – Eileen Tabios [1]

 

We live in Northern California’s red towns. The conversation we had wouldn’t be welcome in other parts of our lives: at work, with our neighbors, with our families. The ability to speak freely felt like discovering a camellia tree pink as a valentine in bloom during a long, rainy winter.

12.what once passed for kindling

13.  fireworks at dawn

14. brilliant, shadow hued coral – Danez Smith[2]

 

As we finished up, gathered our bags and coats and headed out the door, I was filled with dread at the idea of going back out to a world where I look at everyone I meet and think, “Did you vote for this?” knowing that half of those people would say yes.

In the entryway, I said to my friend, “Time to return to the unsafe spaces.”

It wasn’t until later it occurred to me: I said these words to a woman who at one time was forced out of her home because she’s a lesbian. She’s been living in unsafe spaces for years.

 

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk –
Audre Lorde[3]

 

As a white, able-bodied woman who’s married to a man, I’m not really experiencing unsafe spaces, other than the usual walk through a dark parking lot with my keys between my fingers. That’s nothing new.

Now, though, I am afraid – of what? – that someone will wear a “Make America Great Again” hat to our neighborhood block party, and we’ll no longer have conversations over the fence while pulling weeds? Yes. But what’s the worst that’s really going to happen at that party? I might feel compelled to turn in early for the night.

 

Someone asks 

if the black girl knows she has already been beaten, as if 

the black girl hasn’t always survived beatings. – Deonte Osayande[4]

 

It’s not on quite the same level as a black person who’s worried that the neighbors are white supremacists who feel they’ve been given the go-ahead to burn down homes because racism is now employed in the highest levels of government.

There’s nothing I am or wear that makes me a target.

And yet, every day feels like a long walk alone through a poorly lit garage.

 

I pay taxes and I am a child and
I grow into a bright fleshy fruit.
White bites: I stain the uniform.
I am thrown black type-
face in a headline with no name.
– Morgan Parker[5]

 

I’ve always been prone to bouts of inexplicable sadness, but since November there have been so many nights when, last to bed, falling asleep in the dark, I’ve wished I wouldn’t wake, and in the grayish numb dawn the heaviness clings to me, and I have to talk myself into an upright position.

 

Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.

Remember what happened last time

some white god came floating across the ocean – Natalie Diaz[6]

 

My conversation with myself begins this way:

If I die, someone else will raise my 9-year-old son, and she’ll let him watch rated-R movies and swig Monster energy drinks for breakfast.

If I die, my daughter will drop out of college, and unable to re-pay her student loans she’ll be forced to live on the streets.

 

Isiah is dead— or

Isiah is standing right in front of me,

he doesn’t even know what a bullet means.  – Sean Desvignes[7]

 

If I die, my husband will become an alcoholic, lose his job, lose the house.

No one will walk the dog and as a result he’ll bite people and have to be put down.

If I die, I won’t be here to see the glorious defeat of evil.

I want to see the glorious defeat of evil.

Finally, the fact that I choose whether or not I continue to live is my white privilege.

It’s highly unlikely that another person is going to take my life because of who I am, and I understand that there are so many who aren’t given the choice to stay alive.

 

for even after the dead, there are things to learn,
like reading, and maps, and minus one.
– Zeina Hashem Beck[8]

 

I’ve heard people from marginalized communities say again and again: You thought America was a safe space? That’s cute. Welcome to our reality: Educate yourself.

It’s fair.

 

No difference

if we don’t get along with each other

or speak perfect English—

you can’t help mixing us up –Amy Uyematsu[9]

 

And little by little, I am trying to educate myself, beginning with poetry.

A few kind people have pointed me in the right direction, some poets I have discovered on my own, and some I am reading anew.

It’s not perfect, this fragile understanding. It will never be perfect, but I keep reading, along with many other forms of resistance. Maybe it will help. Maybe it won’t. In any case, I don’t want my death to be a tiny white flag of surrender. If it comes to it, I want to die fighting this beast, a sword in one hand and a poem in the other.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying,  

            eating of the last sweet bite. – Joy Harjo[10]

 

 

[1] “I Do,” Eileen Tabios, Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/53813

[2] “alternate names for black boys,” Danez Smith, Buzz Feed: https://www.buzzfeed.com/danezsmith/not-an-elegy-for-mike-brown-two-poems-for-ferguson?utm_term=.owQXarYpp#.viXVe12oo

[3] “A Litany for Survival,” Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn

[4] “Gradual Transformations,” Deonte Osayande, COG: https://www.cogzine.com/deonte-osayande

[5] “I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against a Sharp, White Background: An Elegy,” Morgan Parker, Apogee: http://apogeejournal.org/2014/08/27/i-feel-most-colored-when-i-am-thrown-against-a-sharp-white-background-an-elegy/

[6] “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglican Seraphym Subjugation of Wild Indian Rezervation,” Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec

[7] “In Offense of Vision,” Sean Desvignes, PANK

[8] “The Invented Mothers,” Zeina Hashem Beck, Heart Online:

http://www.heartjournalonline.com/zeina/2015/6/6/two-poems-by-zeina-hashem-beck

[9] “Someone Is Trying to Warn You,” Amy Uyematsu, Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain

[10] “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” Joy Harjo, Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/49622#poem

 

Guest Post, Patricia Caspers: Writing Sugarless

Sweet Pea

Before I talk about my struggle with rejection letters, it’s important that you know how much I want you to love me. By “you” I don’t mean a general second-person all-encompassing kind of you; I mean you: the person reading these words awash in the light of a computer screen. And by “me” I don’t mean the don’t-assume-the-author-is-the-narrator kind of “me.” I really mean me, here, tapping at the keys in the dark, dog snoring softly at my feet.

My only hope of winning your love is to woo you with my words, to be smart and funny, and whip up a mean metaphor or simile now and again, so that’s what I’ll do if I can. Sometimes I can’t, and if I can’t win your love I will console my sorrow with an ice cream sundae or maybe a chocolate-covered cream puff.

Well, that’s how I would have consoled myself four months ago, before I gave up processed sugar in all of its devilish incarnations.

I gave up sugar because I wanted to know what drove me to eat it, in any form, in the car, and on the beach, in front of the computer or behind a book, after every meal, and just before I brushed my teeth. I thought if I sat quiet and still in that place of craving, the answer would rise to the surface of the abyss, returning like a bottle I tossed into the sea as a young girl. When I had the answer it would be over; no more cravings.

Of course I had the answer all along. I never tossed that bottle into the sea. I swallowed it whole, washed it down with a Coke sipped through a Red Vine, and it’s been sitting in my belly ever since: Sugar = Love.

Except that it doesn’t.

Now I’m working on the part where I love myself so completely that I don’t need your love, or anyone’s. I’m so not there yet. I’m reminded that I’m not there every time I open a rejection letter, and the urge to drive myself to the ice cream stand is so strong I very nearly have to chain myself to the porch rail and sing myself lullabies— because besides eating sugary products, writing is the one thing that I have, at times, done well. It is the basket in which all of my eggs lay. Or is it “lie”? Well, Sometimes those eggs do lie. They say, “This poem is your best yet. It is sure to be scooped up by the editor of [insert name of fabulous journal here] because you and the editor are both fans of skydiving clowns and blue-eyed mares named Maggie.”

Four months later I open the rejection, and it’s not even personalized. Sometimes it’s such a clever form letter that I can’t tell whether or not it’s personalized, and I have to go look it up on Rejection Wiki, which is incredibly humiliating, or would have been if I had ever dared to admit it to anyone before now.

There are very few places where people are rejected outright — romantic relationships, employment, college admissions, immigration, and the submission or audition process— where someone says bluntly, “No, not you; You’re not good enough,” and of those, the latter two are the only rejections that are likely to happen on a daily basis for the rest of our lives, although my rejection letters seem to gang up on the same day, like unwashed teenage boys loafing outside the corner liquor store, emitting a gauntlet of testosterone and cigarette smoke through which I was required to pass for my daily dose of Blow Pop.

If you’ve ever received a rejection letter, you’ve felt the misery, however brief, so I don’t have to tell you. My trouble is that I’m eternally optimistic, so when those poetry eggs whisper their sweet nothings, I believe them every time, no matter how often they’ve been proven wrong.

The rejection letter is the price I have to pay for that optimism, and indulging in a little snort of post-rejection sugary goodness was like paying that price with credit. Sure, the sting was still out there, but “I’ll get to it later,” I’d say. “Pass the cookies.” Now my credit’s run out, and it’s all cash on delivery, Baby. So what do I do instead of sucking whipped cream straight from the can? I write about it, and then I write some more, and the cycle repeats.

Do you love me yet?