Prisoners of War
The experts are now saying that those of us who grew up in alcoholic and abusive families have lived with a level of stress that is equivalent to that of prisoner of war.
We are prisoners of war: trapped in a situation where we are helpless, where the people with the power of life and death over us give us treats one day and explode into violence the next. They exploit our helplessness and make us pay for favors and humiliate us if we rebel.
But these people are not our enemies, they are our family.
We never know what will happen next, or when someone who seemed to be on our side will suddenly abandon us.
Like the vietnam vets with post trauma stress syndrome, we too enter a room with all our senses alert to possible dangers, checking for escape routes. We too do not trust the seeming innocence, the gifts that sometimes turn out to contain grenades, the destruction that comes without warning.
We want to help, but our efforts to change things are ineffective, unrewarded, and unsupported by the larger community.
We no longer know what our feelings are. All we know is stress, anxiety, restlessness. We want to throw bombs too, to end the tension, even if it means our death.
We want to escape, to be free, but can no longer imagine any pathways by which we could get there: the world everywhere is full of dangers, even when we go home it is no longer home, for our sense of safety has been robbed, our sense of belonging has been broken, our power to create has been lost in the dirt and blood.
The Women Learn to Dance
(for the women of Journey into Courage, April 6, 1991)
An inner pain so deep it can’t be put into words.
Take my heart and cut it open and you will find
the blackened seeds of a thousand gardens
the broken bodies of small animals
the tattered remnants of banners that once went proudly into battle.
What has her life been?
The struggle to get free from what weighs her down
and the realization that she will never
dig her way out of this grave.
Dirt and blood and bones must be
The matter she shapes into poetry
if it be called poetry and not the stumbling walk of a cripple.
We come together in the dance:
The Warrior, the Artist, and the Cripple.
As Warrior I swing my shining sword
and clear a space for the Artist.
As Artist I raise my arms like wings
turning in the wind I soar
vulnerable to storms and downdrafts.
Wings broken I turn to find the Cripple
looking at me with tears in her eyes.
As Cripple I help the Artist up and we
stumble along together, calling to the
Warrior who strides on ahead.
As Warrior I turn back
resentment fading when I see their faces.
Welcome sisters into the tough spun web
This is our dance.
Blood & Stone
“Blood welled up among the roots, on its way to the world of men, and in the dark it looked as hard as stone. Nothing else was red.” Rilke, Orpheus. Euridice. Hermes
I want to write a poem, and I don’t know how to do it.
There is an ache in my heart and I don’t know how to explore it,
give it form, let it unfold like a flower. Or blood seeping from a volcano.
There is violence here and so much pain.
Rilke describes the underworld, blood at the roots of stones.
Blood and stones.
What is this pain that is so deep inside.
I’ve bruised myself against your stony silence.
I am open and vulnerable in my need for love, in my childish
attempts to make it better, take your pain away, do something, anything that might win from you a smile.
I offer you my heart’s blood and you remain a stone.
Blind, you crush my eager efforts to show you who I am.
Slowly, gradually, I learn to close and harden.
It was someone else you wanted.
Mommy and Daddy, if I cut myself and wrote you in blood
would you listen?
Blood at the root.
Blood seeking a path among the stones.
This is my life, bleeding away in hard dark places, among the cold faces.
Wanting to flower and not knowing how.
The first poem was written before the first performance of Journey into Courage, the other two were written afterward.