And Words Are All I Have

"Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

"And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said,

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.

And that is not speaking.”

—Audre Lorde

Our Bodies, Our Hearts,

Our Very Selves.

woman alone
It’s hard to not despair for the human race some days. Today is one. I am processing the news out of the state of Texas, this latest grievous assault on women’s reproductive freedom in the United States. One of the strictest in the nation, it bans abortion from six weeks on, before many women even know they are pregnant.

The hypocrisy here is laughable if it wasn’t repugnant. Texas is a state that claims to care about children and yet it ranks lowest among all of the states in child health care (based on three key dimensions). It ranks lowest in baby wellness checks, in clinical care for infants, in maternal mortality, in school funding per child, and fourth from the bottom in rates of child hunger.

No matter where you live, no matter how you vote, whether male or female, this should concern us. I won’t say we are fortunate in Canada to have the right to choose since it is certainly not good fortune that secured us that right. We have fought hard to keep it. It has been hard won over decades in this country, by women demanding full rights to our bodies under the law and holding our lawmakers accountable to that principle, and to us.

Canada's pro-choice movement is vigilannt and stronger than ever. Reassuring also is the fact it is exceedingly difficult to pass anti-abortion laws in this country. Every conservative government has consistently said they will not legislate on abortion. Not because of a pro-choice stance; politicians would risk public outrage, resulting in what they most fear, lost votes. And, quite simply, for many reasons it would be unconstitutional. Abortion is a protected charter right here. In 1988, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's abortion law because it violated women's charter right to bodily security. This has more muscle than the U.S.'s 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which was based on a woman's right to privacy.

Regardless of the safeguards entrenched here, we can never surrender to complacency. The bell tolls for us all in Texas. Roe v Wade becomes increasingly imperilled despite being regarded as immutable when it passed. Other states may soon follow Texas' lead. Florida is already on its way. A domino effect may be in the offing.

Sadness For Beginnners, a poem by Tricia McCallum
The poet William Stafford said “Poetry is an emergency of the spirit.” It was precisely that which prompted within me the poem I’m about to share.

This piece took shape in my head over some time, the pulse of it growing stronger, its drumbeat louder. I see it as a song of solidarity for any woman who feels she and she alone should hold dominion over her own body.

We all have stories. They may not come from our direct experience. Perhaps it’s a story confided to you from a mother, a daughter, a friend, an aunt, the woman you carpool with, met online, or at a book club. But it takes courage to tell our stories and even when we summon what is needed and reveal our pain we risk backlash. When I publish pieces such as this one, including those on violence against women, I am no longer surprised at the anger that comes my way. I think I've heard most of the insults by now. They're predictable for the most part, even worse unimaginative, and it takes a lot to get my attention these days.

This cannot stop us. This cannot silence us. There is power and peace in being an individual supported by the many.

Tell your story.

Then tell it again.

And then ... again.

Just Listen

Women should build a barge,
A sturdy barge to float down a wide river.
Strong enough to withstand any current, wind,
No matter how they may rage.
Let them rage.
Those who launch it will be the first to place their stories there.
Others will know of its coming,
Line both river banks as far as the eye can see,
Await it together, and holding hands wade out to it
As it reaches them, each adding her very own story.
This mountain of stories will grow, becoming monolithic,
So imposing no world could ignore them, dismiss them,
For one moment longer,
Not this many,
The sheer numbers of them.
Here, the place where each woman’s story is finally heard,
Believed, unchallenged.
Where each is given the chance to unfold itself in full,
Uninterrupted, to unfold within the woman’s own time.
Our vessel will accommodate all.
Every story heretofore untold, buried, unspoken,
Will join together there knowing
As Sappho knew, what cannot be said will be wept.
And we will add yet more, one by one,
As the barge makes its way downriver,
Until every woman finds her voice there.
We will moor the barge together,
Add kindling and thick logs atop it
And at sunset, as one, set it alight, this tower of struggle and triumph,
And the fire will be like no other. It will fill the sky and become part of the sunset
And there will be no telling our flames apart from the fire in the sky as the day ends
And women band together to send their stories skyward
To all the galaxies that may be or ever were,
Singing with one voice,
I remember,
And yet
I go on.
campfire 2
pencil drawing red heart

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. – Audre Lorde

This just makes me smile: Jane Hirshfield’s “The Promise.”

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.
Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.
Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.
Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.
Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.
Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,

I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
tricia handwritten signature

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The Music of Leaving - Tricia McCallum

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