The poet William Stafford said “Poetry is an emergency of the spirit.” It was precisely that which prompted the poem I’m about to share with you.
The piece poured out of me in free-fall two days ago, in the wee hours, in one fell swoop. after Trump’s latest misogynistic screed. I think it had been forming in my head and heart for a while, the pulse of it growing stronger, a drumbeat impossible to ignore any longer. But it took a particular turn of phrase from Donald to galvanize me, whip me into a frenzy and push me toward creating what I think of as an anthem for all women, a song of solidarity for every single one of us who has endured any form of debasement, sexual harassment, or worse.
We all have stories. They may not come from our direct experience. Perhaps it’s a story confided to you from a mother, a daughter, a friend, an aunt, the woman who you carpool with, the woman you met at a book club.
I am not alone in speaking out. As the election cycle continues and Trump huffs and puffs, he has galvanized women in ways he never imagined. The stories flow from women everywhere, many being told for the very first time. They speak of pain and survival, heartbreak and triumph. They express the painful clutter and confusion in our hearts. Women who have never spoken up until now are saying enough is enough. This is what happened to me. I need to be heard. I need to be believed.
“If it’s mentionable it’s manageable.” Mr. Rogers said that and it is simply brilliant. Brilliantly simple. When we unearth our stories of oppression, share them out loud, we deflate them to a certain degree, render them less powerful, even if only slightly. This was the result when I wrote my poem “Reverence.” It helped me come to terms with the guilt, shame and dread I felt whenever I thought about this event in my childhood. It helped me grapple with it in a way I do not believe anything else could have.
Not only is there healing in the telling. A collective of our voices may also work to enlighten the world to the ways we address women, talk to women, treat them.
There is power and peace in being an individual supported by the many. But it takes courage to tell our stories and even when we summon what is needed and reveal our pain we risk backlash. Just one example is the Irish writer Alvy Carragher who has been vilified since posting her poem “Numb” online about her rape.
This cannot stop us. This cannot silence us.
Tell your story. Then tell it again.
Women should build a barge,
A sturdy barge to float down a wide river.
Strong enough to withstand any current, wind,
No matter how they may rage.
Let them rage.
Those who launch it will be the first to place their stories there.
Others will know of its coming,
Line both river banks as far as the eye can see,
Await it together, and holding hands wade out to it
As it reaches them, each adding her very own story.
This mountain of stories will grow, becoming monolithic,
So imposing no world could ignore them, dismiss them,
For one moment longer,
Not this many,
The sheer numbers of them.
Here, the place where each woman’s story is finally heard,
Where each is given the chance to unfold itself in full,
Uninterrupted, within the woman's own time.
Our vessel will accommodate all.
Every story heretofore untold, buried, unspoken,
Will join together there knowing
As Sappho knew, what cannot be said will be wept.
And we will add yet more, one by one,
As the barge makes its way downriver,
Until every woman finds her voice there.
We will moor the barge together,
Add kindling and thick logs atop it
And at sunset, as one, set it alight, this tower of struggle and triumph,
And the fire will be like no other. It will fill the sky and become part of the sunset
And there will be no telling our flames apart from the fire in the sky as the day ends
And women band together to send their stories skyward
To all the galaxies that may be or ever were,
Singing with one voice,
I go on.