I have listened to the silences of women,
I have heard the silver bullet we bite in our anger
the muffled quilted cover of our patience
the cosmic boredom of our forebearance.
I have heard the songs of our silence
the harmony of our widened eyes facing the moon
the clarity of our hate
the justice of that hate
I have heard the choking stillness of the unreported rape.
I have listened to a phone dangling against a table
while at the other end a woman was being beaten.
“Bitch, “ I heard , “Bitch, I told you not to call anyone
We have heard patriarchs down the the centuries
turning the tap of women’s voices on and off
as it suited them.
“No, your secondary soul may not be heard in the church,
But yes, you will confess on the rack.
And we confessed, yes, we heal with herbs,
yes, we communicate with spirits of
We began to hear offering of opportunities barbed with
We’d be alllowed to attend college,
but not to speak in class,
And it’s still much better , even in these days
to be seen and not heard.
Mum’s the word
whispers the bouquet of the homecoming queen.
We have heard the smashing of our printing presses
in the night
and our own fright, peeling back the words from
winding the tangled black lines of the letters into a ball
a thread of a plot , a yarn
use it later not now too soon.
But the stillness grew and leafed, the stillness cut back
through the jungle
it was sly it was determined it could live without food
it could wait for a break in the weather and take
advantage of night.
under the layers of disguise it kept its own heat
the stifled songs and the beaten down anger were
the rowdy sunburst laughs of freedom
were belly deep below the faint smiles
the slight nods
the soft shuffles
We hear the silences curve back on themselves
we hear the infolding silences begin to unfold, to explode
Gay Pride March, June 26, 1986, Durham, North Carolina
Chips of gray rock sharply edged, pointed,
hard packed red clay, new terrain for the summer,
or should I say old, a return to the South of my adolescence,
the muggy summers of weathercasters’ voices, 60% chance of rain,
overnight low of 75.
In Florida the rain would usually cool the afternoon,
it would disappear into the white sand, and the evening would be crisp
and clean Here though, the rain will not quite boil over;
the afternoon will steam and groan, and if a few drops fall, the red clay
will make quick blood-red rivers and mud that will weight a runner’s shoes.
I am trying not to be afraid.
At first today faces lining the sidewalks seem unbelievably hard.
I think of Barbara Deming’s advice to
establish eye contact with people on the sides
a woman in a grey and white striped shirt, a man still as a painting.
I remember being arrested in the blockade,
singing into the expressionless face of the policemen
“We are gentle angry women”
as two policemen held my handcuffed arms
and another wrote down my name as “John Doe.”
Now almost three years later, no handcuffs, around my wrist today
a lavender ribbon reaching eight feet in the air to a lavender balloon ahead,
a banner saying god is love (I want it to say goddess)
a rainbow of multi-colored balloons---green aquamarine, purple, yellow, orange, red.
We chant: Freedom! Love! Respect! For Everyone!
We are in North Carolina, land of textile miles and union busting,
land of the Klan, the land of Wednesday night prayer meetings---
Banners read Episcopalians for Lesbians and Gays
Christian Gays, Pagan Gays
We are in the land where Sister Rosetta Tharpe gave rock and roll singing
a goal it would rarely reach.
Every few blocks the press and videos gather around some man with a bible
preaching, “Heal yourself homosexuals, you are sinners.”
Freedom! Love! Respect! For Everyone!
I was a cheerleader in high school, I tell Sherrie,
the snare drums and tom toms keep us jiving,
our hands clapping off beats,
back beats, all upbeat,
most of us out for the first time in public
most of the public seeing lesbians out for the first time.
One sign reads, on one side, “For each one marching,”
and on the other, “500 in the closet.”
In my adolescence the green canopies of maples hung over
streets the same as these; at night we pulled apart our hands in the
green pools of street lights to return to each other
as we passed out of the light into the safe and nurturing dark.
How to know and not know.
We did not know
we were lesbians, yet without saying or thinking such a thing
we would live
for the love of our friends.
Behind the school at night we could lie side by side on a pitch-black
football field, an infinite distance from the place where
we had been cheerleaders, a wide spread of stars over us,
the earth under us.
We knew the center of that field as the most delicate of meditations
where every step into its interior took us farther into the stars
and every step was safe
and all directions were good
and we were as far away
from the football field and homophobia, schools and rules,
as the moon.
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho. –Homophobia’s got to go!
There are two deadly toxins attacking us, says one speaker,
AIDS and the religious right. Here this year
four gay men have been killed by each.
The teacher who said she was a lesbian was fired
That’s your business,
just keep your mouth shut,
that’s easy enough.
A student gives an example of ethnocentrism:
European women don’t shave their legs.
The teacher thinks of her legs hidden under slacks.
Just don’t say anything
that’s easy enough
just take off your bumper stickers
just take the altar off the dash of your car.
In Seattle 20 teachers in a gay pride march wore bags
over their faces
“Teachers full of pride, still have to hide”
just wear earrings
just wear a bra
that’s easy enough
just wear an iron band around your breast
just move over to the sidewalk that that we’re on main street
just get off the street
you can spread out later
just don’t mention that word again my father said when I came out
just don’t tell my friends
just don’t tell your boss
just don’t publish anything in the family name
just go a little ways
just go as far as we want you to
just quit kissing with the curtain open
just quit howling
just quit sleeping in the yard
just quit dancing and shaking your breasts
just quit singing in jail
just quit yelling in the courthouse.
In this march they squeezed us onto the sidewalk
(we did not know how many we were
later the news would say thousands)
we were in a long line
we only talked to those nearby.
A black woman told me, “I brought all my kids to walk today
since they missed the civil rights marches.”
I connect with Lynne and Sherrie
Sherrie pours a cup of water on her head,
the flute player accepts a cup of water to wet her whistle
“Hey could you give me a full body massage too?”
We pass a crystal shop
waves of enthusiastic support
we’re some of their best customers.
at the end of the business section
we swell off the sidewalk
we flood the wide residential street with wild enthusiasm
Sherrie is ecstatic. “There are so many of us, so many of us!”
At the park
we expand over a huge field
carbonated juices are popped and fizzing
testimonies pour from speakers---“I stood in a court and
denied that I was a lesbian,
to keep my daughter; may no one ever have to do that again”
“to keep a child”
“to keep a job”
“come out if you can”
“come out when you can”
“out today and out to stay”
Under a tree in front of the stage
exhausted from driving thirteen hours
and forty-six years to get here,
I lie on the ground,
rocks two inches from my eyes
look like boulders, but
I can flick them with my fingernail,
my head pillowed on a towel
damp with sweat, tears, and seltzer water,
I begin to rest.
Sunday Night Service at the Bamburg County Jail After the Savannah River Nuclear Bomb Plant Blockade—A Monologue
Was this heaven, these bars painted glossy grey,
these hard floors where we circled and sat on our
cracked plastic pillows stuffed
with about seve cups of hay, were these
the comfy clouds for angel seats?
They were, they were sisters,
our visions were so clear and powerful,
the spiders and flies came to sit
on the webs we wove of yarn.
And was this a heavenly place to dry out
after years of drinking,
these sixteen days or uninterrupted company
of radical feminists,
sixteen days of dream sharing, circles of song,
global politics, sixteen days when
time and space gave us their blessings,
and stayed out of our way.
If I had to to shaking and quaking with the toxins taking
their leave of me, a hundred hugs a day
was more than an adequate replacement
for a jug of wine.
We were shaping a focus too sharp to shake,
we were entering another consciousness
that would change the rest of our lives.
So . . . when the preacher came on Sunday night,
we thought perhaps he had come to ask for an herbal cure,
or a few words to the wise,
but no, he had not come to applaud our moral stand against
the Savannah river nuclear bomb plant where workers
were dying and nearby waters were steaming and birds
No. He had come set upon our conversion from
homosexuality and communism.
Goddess, help us, we looked downstairs,
and they were setting up rows of chairs in the hall
to hold us in orderly files while we
endured our conversion.
No, thanks, we’ll stay up here behind these bars;
you’re not going to sink us on that submarine.
We declined his invitation,
to the Sunday night missionary devotions
for the criminal element.
I could have told him, sir,
we are anarchists, we like our spirituality
in circles, where we’re all equal and we can all
preach at each other.
(I could have told him, but I didn’t bother.)
We stayed upstairs on the women’s floor, but
this preacher was not to be escaped so easily;
he had set up the service in the hall cause he wanted his voice
to step up the stairs, go through the bars, and enter our resistant ears
whether we wanted to hear or not.
So there he was,
firing salvos of salvation, rockets of religion,
up into our radical feminist and mostly lesbian heaven.
“Lord, save this Country from Perversion and Peace(niks).”
“Lordess,” we prayed in return,
“Save us from this man’s salvation.”
We didn’t want a confrontation, so
we just set up a non-violent force field,
whisper-singing our own songs,
to keep our heads on our own business,
our goddess sons, our anti-war songs,
our organizing songs (one right from his bible).
“And every one neath her vine and fig tree,
Shall live in peace and unafraid . . .
And into ploughshares turn their swords,
nations shall make war no more.”
When their service was over
(will any of our services ever be over?)
when the preacher bible-thumped his way on out,
and the male prisoners went back to their cells,
our own rituals erupted.
“A day of peace need not be silent;
rejoice sisters, this Sunday night.”
Paper cups became bongos,
the slats of the chair we had broken up to
make Julie’s splints became claves, wood blocks;
the backs of spoons clacked against each other,
and metal forks turned the cell bars
into a marimba.
Then boom, I realize, I’m trying to play music without booze.
It was different somehow from singing we are gentle, angry women
when the sheriff’s squad was twisting our thumbs
to pull our hands apart. Quitting drinking in order
to join the blockade and do civil disobedience was one thing
(I was ready to be serious and sober) but
to do music? to party?
Does anyone see the panic behind my smile?
Goddess, higher power, help this agnostic now.
I am screaming to myself,
I need cushioning for music,
my joints will pop apart, my skin will peel off.
Music is played by alcohol; it doesn’t come by itself.
I need to ride on alcohol’s wide back.
I can’t go on my own.
I look at my friends, at Blue and Quinn, twelve steppers for ten years.
at Lynda Lou and Judy who will quit drinking in solidarity with me,
at Kate soberly swinging on the bars like Elvis in Jailhouse Rock.
I know I’m not on my own.
Our music picks me up and swings me around in its comforting arms.
I’m singing with them-bebop, scat.
My drinking cup is tuned over now
and I’m tapping and drumming out it
for a new dance.
“It’s easy , over easy, it’s dry, no fry,
put your wings in your pocket and fly on by.
When the witches slap their britches
beating twelve to the bar,
we’re getting mighty high,
and we’re going mighty far.
I go to my bunk and listen to the last round,
salt exhileration coming out of my pores and eyes--
ectasy, x chromosome, ex-static, and SOBER!
The trustee comes upstairs and says,
“Y’all better quite down now,
and if you don’t mind my sayiing,
now I see why they call it,
the communist . . .party.
I could have told him, “Sir, we are
radical, utopian, fallopian,
lesbian, Jewish, Christian.