Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

thanksgiving 1992
The artist as a young girl (circa 1993)

I count among the things I suck at performing poetry.

I mean, I guess it’s all a performance when we present it orally.  But despite what pictures may suggest; I’ve won a slam before even, I see myself as a reader, a storyteller; I don’t perform my poetry.

As I head back to the mic beginning next month to share Breathing Lessons 101 with audiences (it’s been a minute) I am reminded from whence I came.

writers in the school john marshall 2000
What pictures say I look like during readings.  Passion!  Drama!  (circa 2000)
What I think I really look like when I read. (circa 2000)
What I’m sure I really look like during readings. Contemplative. Chill. (circa 2000)

I wanted to be a performer of poetry once upon a time; spoken word was where the cool kids/poets were.  They made poetry cool.  So I wrote this poem to be a part of that set.  (Didn’t work).  And without any real effort memorized it.  Only to share it

once, fail miserably at “performing” it, and retreat almost permanently to the page.

Tonight I still remember the poem.  Any copies I have are stored in my office boxes of “archives” or on a diskette (if anyone remembers those) so this transcription is from memory.  (Funny the information we hold onto).

The poem tells me so much about my 19 year old experience, hopes, knowledge, and fears.  Which is probably more important than this craft stuff to which I’m alluding.

The poem was called “Listen to Me.”

You shout at me from bass heavy speakers of hooked up hoopties with rims and tints
like I’m the one who stole your self- righteous dignity and if I did it was only because you let me.
While you’re all caught up in those Aquarian risings, the struggle still continues
and the smokescreen behind which you hide isn’t making our strategy—which took over 400 years to map out—any clearer. I looked for you but you had dodged their bullets and yet taken refuge
in Snow White and although you say she’s just a friend I can’t pretend I didn’t see the branded T
for token across your chest when we were making midnight sing.
Yes you are still my bronzed emasculated Adonis, Greek letters stealing the Igbo, Yoruba, Gullah strength that makes you forever mine but this iron burden that you call love is weighing me down. Don’t you know that I cannot cherish the four letter lovewords and the overzealous pet names
only make me cringe? I am a woman all by myself and never your bitch either way.
We have to work on that sneer that you call a smile and those Uzi eyes
that puncture mamas’ inflated hopes and then maybe we can talk about love.
About loving you back to me.
I don’t know how it feels to be kicked in my manhood but I cannot and will not accept the blame
Anyway I saw you kick yourself just to seduce my sympathy and at the same time you reduced
my suffering to a joke and the dream to a warped vision. And I could choose to hate you for that,
but I would rather listen to who, what carried you away on this white horse.
Because the struggle will be lost without you
and I need you. Fighting it not for me or about me but with me.
So stop shouting for a minute and stop shutting me out with your 40 ounces of false hope
and your impossible dreams, each one hand-wrapped in brown paper
and listen to me.

(1994)

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2 thoughts on “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

    1. Speaking aloud may well be one of my least favorite parts of life, true story. But thanks to required Sunday School recitations I became fairly adept at it early in life. All my public conversations are on a basic level, performance.

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