*inspired by Andrea Gibson’s anthology, by the same title
My sister bought me Andrea Gibson’s anthology, “We Will Be Shelter,” for Christmas. It’s a beautiful collection of poems that reflect social justice themes, paired with organizations that support social justice causes. It got me thinking – how can I be shelter? And thus, I arrived at this poem.
1. The day my mother told me there are some things I shouldn’t tell her
I became a woman.
She said some things were too painful and the sharing of them only made her worry
and then made me worry about her worrying and it was a cycle we could forget
with closed mouths and throats that hummed instead of sang.
I didn’t stop telling her things.
But I stopped being oblivious to effect of my words
2. They say you will step over many bodies if you walk this road,
they say at first it won’t get better, but it might get different,
that if you can believe in change, even for 5 minutes at a time, you have a chance.
I remember standing in a circle of held hands the day I had 102 days clean
my face uplifted like a received blessing
the press of calloused flesh to my tender palm a benediction
I remember the first time I could go to the laundromat without being afraid of running
into my past
and the way my name began to fall from other mouths like it was welcome there
and not just a bad taste
I will never forget my unrelated brother and the day he died,
the wind whipped up from the lake so fast it could be felt from NY to Georgia
His smile is a wrinkle on my heart now
3. There are easy rules to follow too, if easy is what you are looking for
– don’t google your symptoms. ever
– don’t weigh yourself, your body is more than the sweet tug of gravity and anyway, God, doesn’t it feel good to be anchored to the world now?
– sing in the shower, in the car, while making dinner – give your throat every chance to practice forming sound and rhythm so that when you need it, your voice will ring out like a true bell
– and never give up
– just don’t
4. When I was 17, I wrote a list of ways I would stop apologizing for my presence
I didn’t know then that my body was already forming question marks over every word
that to stop saying sorry meant learning a new language
putting these bones to new use, digging these bones into the ground like tent poles
staking out my territory in the flesh landscape I was given
and learning to be grateful for every hill and valley that can be used to shelter you
I didn’t know that you needed refuge too
I didn’t know refuge could be a ship setting sail for new lands
look, we have come up to the top deck and even now, I can see the future spread out
like shiny lights in the distance
5. These are the ways I can be shelter
This woman that I am, this stitched together tongue, this humming throat
rubbed raw from finding harmony in the silence
This square hand I have, linked like a circuit breaker to my heart
go ahead, grab it
let this be rule 6: there is never a wrong time to reach out
no reason too good or bad, big or small.
These are the ways I can be shelter
the way I remember my brother who didn’t get to live to see the disease shaken
the stories I still tell about my chosen sons, that I gave freely back to the world
the poems I have written for my unborn daughter
and the way I have strung hope like Christmas lights around the entrance to my heart
and written messages to the future saying “be better’
This is how I am shelter
how I have swung the doors wide open, sifted sunlight through my ribs
built a safe room out of my arms and put them around you
sang every lullaby I knew into the phone until even the static on the other end of the line
laid my body in the shape of a comma next to yours,
so that you didn’t have an excuse to end the sentence
told you “don’t you ever stop telling me things.”