Home > Work > Writings >

For the Women of Project Pride

Over the last two years, I’ve taught a series of Creative Arts Workshops, sponsored by KQED’s Community Media Outreach Initiative, at Project Pride in West Oakland. To learn more about the workshops, read my newsletter.
This poem is my tribute to the women I had the privilege of working with.


Once upon a time there was a voice. She wore blue jeans shaped lovingly / to the fine fat curves / of her ass, the bold strong swell / of her thighs. She loved / red. And Motown. And silver hoop earrings, and anything lemon-flavored. But most of all she loved / the milky peanut butter smell / of her son's small body. She roamed the asphalt / of West Oakland calling / for her mother, trying to remember / what her mother looked like. Her right hand pressed deep / into the hollow / just under her left breast / where she kept an ache / she could not name.


You say: do you see me? Look – and tell me what you see.

I'm looking at you now. The lovely tired / contours of your bodies. The heaviness of your bellies, bellies that have ripened children, done the work of building life. Bellies that pack enough power to lift this landmass / from Richmond to Hayward / flip it over like a pancake / dump it into the Bay.


And if I know one thing / on this scarred and terrible earth / it is this. Your bellies / have one more life to birth. Your own.

If I trust one thing / on this scarred and merciful earth, it is this. All love begins with seeing. As I learn to write, I learn to love. Because to write anything, first / I have to see it. In its wholeness, without resistance. In its detail, without judgment. And I'm looking at you now, as you look at yourselves: well enough, deep enough, true enough, hard enough / to write yourselves, well, and deep and true and hard / to love yourselves, well, deep, true, hard / to be the wellness deepness trueness hardness / that will rock the world.


Once upon a time, there was a voice. She wore big baggy white t-shirts / to hide the folds of her stretchmarked belly. She twisted her hair constantly, to quiet her fingers' craving for just / one / cigarette. She loved hot dogs. And pepperoni pizza. And tap dancing and ocean spray in her face, and rosemary-scented shower gel, but most of all she loved the taste / of sobriety in her mouth. She stood outside a bathroom door, calling for her mother, poking her fear through the keyhole / with a fingernail bitten raw, her other hand over her ear / to shut out a scream she could not name.


You say: Do you hear me? Does anybody hear me?

I'm listening to you now. The place where you catch your breath as you read / clutch it in your chest as if CPS / were coming to take it away. I am listening to your hearts break / over and over on the page / listening to you re-make / your lives from shattered glass. Listening to the music / that still chuckles in your hips / that nothing has ever quenched. Listening to your hunger / that howls at the junction / of 27th and San Pablo / for lives that rise to meet / your largeness.


And if I believe one thing / on this scarred and silenced earth / it is the fire in your throats just waiting / for a match. If I believe one thing / on this scarred and singing earth / it is the hosanna of your hands. Diaper stained, exhausted, hands that heft / babies and strollers and cribs and parole hearings and 16 months more and god my back hurts and who's he with now and what if I never… Hands that reach again and again for one / word and lay it down / on the page, reach / for a second / word, and lay it beside the first, and sometimes / like a benediction / the third is given to you, and you write – the dangerous sacred irreplaceable / truths of your hearts.


Once upon a time, there was a voice. Her eyes were radiant with hope and flamed with intelligence, her body was a living question mark. She breathed in the world around her, turned it over in her brain, asked: Why? And for whose benefit? Who makes money from this? And how do I / fit into this / shit's-so-wacked-it-ain't-even-funny picture? She loved blues. And drums. And every question her daughter asked, and soft cotton on her skin, but most of all she loved / the muscles of her mind. She had strong feet which had to party / when the beats began. She shook her booty up and down / the corridors of Project Pride, relearning / what her mother felt like; re-defining / what a mother feels like, re-integrating / what it is to be mothered. Her stomach was round and soft with a contentment that she knew. Intimately. She named it / recovery.


You say: Do you feel me? Can you begin to feel – what I must live?


I'm feeling you now. The stab in your knees at the top of the staircase, the rise of hairs on your arms / in exact configuration / of your baby's body. The canyon in your pelvis / when you open your notebook, step to the stage / and begin. I'm feeling the yearning on your tongue, the chill in your toes, each day you choose, and choose, and choose again, to live from joy, not fear. I'm feeling the sadness in your spine for all the lost years, the warrior cry in your chest: never again! The hum in your very cells of coming home. To yourself.


And if I know one thing, on this luminous, fragile earth it is this. You are all / so / beautiful. So fuc-king beautiful. You are the soil beneath the asphalt, rich dark loam / where all life rises. You are the largeness you seek.


And if I have one prayer on this naked turning earth, it is this. That you meet yourselves / in the mirror. Name yourselves holy. Name yourselves power. Name yourselves true and terrified, blessed and bloodied, torn and reknitted, shattered and sanctified. That you rise into your voices, voices that have waited for you, like your children, like your hearts, voices that have always known, voices that have never doubted / you / would / return for them.