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

          the earth.


We began to hear offering of opportunities barbed with

    scorpion tails. 

      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

    the page

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

without track

    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

alive inside;

     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

carrying posters

“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

were disappearing.


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.