By Melinda Goodman
IAM …ARE YOU?…READY
In her poem entitled, “Power”,
Audre Lorde proclaims,
“The difference between poetry
and rhetoric is being ready to kill yourself
instead of your children”*
And sometimes it comes down to that
You never know what you might do under extreme pressure
You might get crushed or you might turn into a diamond
or something in between…
a lump of coal…
The point is
you hope you will rise to the occasion
and not push the baby’s stroller in front of a bus
to keep yourself from being struck by a truck
The point is
you never know how you might react
That’s why you have to practice
That’s why it helps to know what others have done
Poetry can keep things fresh in your mind
It gives you something to remember when you’re locked up
and can hear only the screams
of doors slamming shut all around you
Poetry is awareness
like the fog coming in on little cat’s feet
it slips under the gate and through the bars
It cloaks you in your own fur
long enough for you to find in that hour
your higher self
hidden inside the lining
Poetry reminds you that the revolution happens in real time
that your laptop is not a crystal ball
Poetry takes your eyes off the screen…
You see the sky, the birds, the mountains
instead of pop up ads you can skip
in one, two, three, four,
that distract you from what you originally came here for
Poetry doesn’t want you to rush out and buy
another packet of gummy bears
Poetry encourages you to stay put
to not run away from your hunger
your anger, your sorrow
Poetry is poetry
that’s why it’s called “poetry” and not
Poetry knows when to stop
even when you want to keep squeezing and digging and causing
all kinds of infection
Poetry knows we can poison our own blood stream
or we can let our body heal itself
Poetry wants to live
Poetry is a suicide note you write
to buy time to change your mind
Poetry talks you out of it
Poetry talks you down off the high ledge
Poetry is sharper than that razor and better
than that hit, that high, that makes you forget
because it makes you forgive
for the times you thought you were saving yourself
when all you were doing was saving the Self
that would push your own child in front of a bus
or use your own lover as a human shield
Poetry makes connections
even while it’s cutting the cord
when it’s time
on your own.
For the Survivors
When we’re children we don’t think we’re being raped
We think we’re being chosen. That’s how they get us.
Yes, it’s strange, uncomfortable, a little stinky, embarrassing
but so is loneliness. So is invisibility.
That throaty husky whisper that says
how beautiful we are. How special. How
can we not be putty in their clammy hands?
And we are chosen. They spotted us. We are the gullible ones.
We believe in Santa Claus or Malcolm X. Whoever is
the Jesus of our day.
We believe if we are just nice enough…just fearless enough…
Whether we’re being called good
or being called revolutionary…
we think now we have our ticket to the big dance,
we finally found a home,
can take our rightful seat at the welcome table.
Willing, eager even,
to be counted, to receive extras
Extra birthday presents are nice.
Telephone calls are nice. It’s nice
to have an adult ask you how you’re feeling. It’s great
to have a grown up who is always on your side,
in your corner.
It’s comforting to be stroked and petted and held and fed. After school
you have a place to go.
No more Saturdays and Sundays with nothing to do.
Now there’s plenty. There’s somebody
who cares where you are at all times.
You now have some one
you can always turn to.
As long as you turn to them.
As long as you are willing
to let them
Melinda Susan Goodman has been teaching at Hunter College in New York City since 1987. In 1988 she published a collection of poems, Middle Sister, MSG Press, Paterson, NJ. She was a founding member of the Audre Lorde Women’s Poetry Center and was a former member of the editorial collective of Conditions, the world’s first Lesbian literary journal. Her poems have appeared in LGBTI journals and anthologies and she was an early recipient of an Astraea Award for Lesbian poets. Goodman holds an MA from NYU and an MFA from Columbia University where she received a fellowship citation. In 2012 she was awarded a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation on the Arts.