i. witness: a loss
|One of my favorite pictures of my |
mom (her kindergarten picture)
When my mom died, there were no words. There was frankly nothing I could say to capture all the tumults of emotions bubbling inside me. I remember sitting on the phone with one of my best friends and, after numbly thanking her for her condolences, wondering aloud, “Is that right? Is that what I’m supposed to say?” No words felt right. Even today, when I speak of what the loss of her means to me, no words feel right.
Yet in the midst of the silence that filled me and the spoken words that failed me, I found myself able to write. I can remember writing in my journal what I felt I could never say out loud to anyone who stood in mourning with me: that in my heart, I think I already knew you were gone. and I remember, when there seemed nothing else to do with my body, going through the closet in my room and finding a bag of mom’s clothes—Suddenly there was nothing to do if I didn’t do it with my hands. I started folding some of her blue shirts and flowered blouses, but when even that felt wrong, I picked up a pen and wrote the poem I would ultimately read at her funeral.
ii. a witness to the silences
The poet Kwame Dawes once said, “I stand as a witness to the silences—to what goes unspoken and ignored—to the things that float away as if unsubstantial but that are filled with the simple breaths of people trying to make sense of their existence.”
The part of this quote that sticks with me is that idea of the poet as the witness of breath—that we are the ones who capture moments, as massive as wars and as tiny as sighs, in an effort to “make sense of existence.”
iii. poetry as witness
Poetry, for me, has always been a place of deep memory. It is a means of remembering. It is a vessel that can transport us between where we are and where we have been, and where we are going, even when memory and experience fail us. It is a way of becoming one with those who have come before us, with who we are now. It is a way of making sense of what has happened, even when what has happened causes us great sorrow—poetry can be both a means of mourning and a means of healing. It is, quite simply, a form of witnessing.
|"It is the poet's obligation|
to bear witness."--Plato
Plato is credited as having written: “It is the poet’s obligation to bear witness.” What I love in that language is that when you look up “obligation” in the dictionary, it is synonymous with “indebtedness”: we owe it to the world. Yet “indebtedness” is also synonymous with “gratefulness”: it is our gift to the world.
When war and senseless violence rage like cymbals crashing about us: we must witness. When babies are born and kisses petal cheeks and tears fall: we must witness. When our mothers go: we must witness. When our fathers break: we must witness. When we feel the weight of our ancestors pulling at our bones: we must witness. As long as there is life, as long as there is death, as long as there is day and night and joy and suffering and breath …
We are the world’s witnesses. It is our sacred charge to be so.
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