I write because I have something to say. I feel it—creeping in me, pooling behind my lids. The memory of what is yet to come hovers above my bed while I sleep, nightlighting my ceiling. It announces itself much stronger when I wake, fed by darkness and dreams. It haunts. It spiders.
I write because words are inchoate in my body, swollen and ready. I have something to give. Could my language change a world? My words create a world? Perhaps in language that is more than language. More than the meanings, more than the images produced when I say “touch”—but, if the warmth of my skin against your skin presses through the words themselves, then you might feel what it is when I tell you that I love, or miss, or yearn.
I write because words flow out of me, sometimes without my consent. (Will this hurt you, my dearest ones? Will it speak out loud what we have kept secret beneath our bed sheets and hidden within our cupboards?) Words. I watch them plant themselves on the page. Watch them take root and branch, finally home for winter. I carry the pages in which they are contained around with me, convinced they are alive and need constant supervision. How will they develop if I am not there to guide them on—these words from deep within me? Should anyone catch a glance, will they perform? Will they dance? Will anyone love them as I have loved them? Once, inside me, they were safe. I fed them and watered them daily—I bled them and swallowed their salt. Wed them and shoveled their dirt. Since feeling is first. Always, always I knew they were destined to detach themselves from my gut—to speak viscerally what I had only thus imagined for them—to color living, breathing hope upon a previously blank (yes, empty) sheet of paper. My void would emerge, a volatile child, and fill a void outside my own body. Fill a space I had not dared to speak. Unvoiced, they could growl and moan—hollowing my flesh, feeding on experience. I’d opened to the world, and the world had crawled inside, willingly—fastidiously, even.
I write to invite strangers to my most private rooms: the kitchen, the doctor’s office, my heart. (I tell you, my heart is a room, with sofas and wall hangings). Why would I open so impiously, so attentive to detail, so theatrically? Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. I am something. Vaginal walls—poetic walls. I say, unhinge the doors and come in. Stay awhile and I’ll tell you something not even my own mother knows.
I write to breathe. After great pain—a poem comes.
I write because I’ve a rich, expansive openness to the sound and rhythm of do you feel it, do you feel it coming life.
I write to ask where I am the poet, am I Mexican? Caucasian? American? Obese, infertile, can you read my body? Do I bear the onus of a cultural inadequacy? I write myself on the page, and if you see any of yourself in me, we are sisters—lovers—mother and daughter, perhaps. Yes, world—you and I connect at the level of deep, deep as the desert emotion. We float beneath sea level in a bed of white sand and eat nopales together.
Is this acceptable, for our brains to stand idly by while we chat about what it feels like to live on this earth? With a broken heart? With a missing limb? With joy intact, even when we are screaming from countless indignities crushing down upon us—beating our breasts, the very same breasts ogled by strangers as we strut our stuff down the sidewalk, the very same breasts that will shrivel in old age?
I write because poems are made of blood and heartache, stitched together with the colorful skin of form, father and mother form, that holds them together—but it is rhythm, sound, and music that move them from one body to the other. Music shares experience—music like infants’ crying. If you hurt me, will I not cry out? If I cry out, will you not hold me? This is a poem.
I write because we are held in poems—in joy as poignant as grief, beyond the walls of the world. When I read a poem that resonates, that speaks, all the past—with its longings and regrets—and all the tomorrow I will do this and sing a song and love you more than I did today, come crashing like waves over me and the moment and the poem. Ah yes, I say—poet, you have been here before. Poet, you too have loved and wept and bled and lost. Poet, like me, you have been overlooked and misunderstood. Poet, you were also forgotten and swept aside. Alone. And yet, we were there together. Sister poet and brother poet, we are formed from the same mold—even if on the street we never would have caught eyes, you, being tall and lovely, and I, being short and strange. In poems we can relate.
I write because beauty is found in the letting go. An overprotective mother, I too long feared my children might fail to flourish on their own. Now, now I’ve learned to birth a child and let her go—the world is filled with childless mothers and fathers waiting to embrace her. She will be filled with everything my body and spirit are made of, and she will acquire the earth as an adopted daughter.
I write because my poems fly. And I am a mother bird.
I write because when I open up and speak, I speak the language of a woman in long, brown skirts—of folding towels, drinking coffee in bare feet, taking the baby for a stroll in the park—I speak of injustice in the social system, the fight against AIDS and sex trafficking, food and education for children, the right of all families (same-sex or not) to love, to marry, to join the PTA—of blood on underwear where a baby once was, and of the suffering of loss. Not every word has formed—ideas still in the embryonic stage often emerge most powerful when finally released. Poetry will hold. And when it is finished, you can hold poetry. And in that moment of reciprocal holding and being held, ruptures coalesce— this is poetry.
I write because we, mothers and other-mothers, need to speak. Lift the false shrouds and scream. Our children are dying in the streets, our children are being stripped of rights, our children are being sent to war, and we are told to stay quiet. I say cry out with all the strength within you! Cry out with the signs on your foreheads, your ankle bones. Signs declaring Mothers for same-sex marriage. Mothers against the war… all the wars… every war… there is no war but war! Mothers for children with eyes. Mothers for children with toes. Mothers for children… Mamas whose babies have been burnt in the fields. Mamas whose babies have been tied to fences. Mamas whose babies have been left in baskets on police department doorsteps. Cry out! And you, all of you—even though you may not call yourself a mother, since there is not yet a word for you, I say create the word, say it loudly, and cry out too! All those who’ve ever held a hand, stroked a beard, loved a world or a flowering field. Across liminal, borderland spaces, gather voice and spill! Together, let us open our hips, wide and vast with memory—the tomb, a broken signal, a mixed dream—and gesture toward the chora, that womb-like space of life and healing. It is an imaginary space, true—a space not yet fully realized. A space that keeps the rest of the world from solidifying into endings, destructions, shattered hopes…
I write because the magical-imaginary is more real than reality—for it is the only place worth fighting for—more, worth ending the fighting for… that place where hope need never starve, where dreams need never fade. Where trees need never stop reaching for sky.
I write because I am full to overflowing and overripe—bananas brown and soggy, mashed into soft bread. What I offer is both pungent and sweet, and I cannot tell your tastes from the seasons. I have swallowed a seed, and it grows out from me. More than that, I cannot necessitate, nor predict.
Earlier this evening, a man in the parking lot was selling a single orange. He’d sliced it in half, and, to every person he passed, he offered out his fruit. I wondered, why just the one orange? Had he picked it from some tree nearby, and he would rather sell it than eat it himself? And who would want just one half of an orange, cut in half by a stranger in a parking lot?
After I’d gone away, I realized that I should have bought the orange from him. He had a need. To fill that need, he offered his fruit. He sliced it open, so you could see that it was good—that it was ripe and would taste delicious. I admired that in him. And I wish I could be so open with my need, so ready to slice through my gift and offer it—without any pretense, without artifice. Simply a woman with an orange.
I write because I cannot know what final purpose they will serve—my words: they are my wounds, my loves, my children, my saviors, my poems—I am mother only. This is my gift. To the world. In return for its gift to me. Should the world spit my words back, I will only re-swallow (pain, humiliation, love, anger, forgiveness, what else is there?) and send them out again—anew. What else is there?
BIO: Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 PEN Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, as well as a finalist in the 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award Contest through Black Lawrence Press and a 2012 National Latino Writer’s Conference scholarship recipient. Her work has appeared in over forty journals, including Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, Crab Creek Review, The Mayo Review, Blood Lotus, and The Southwestern Review. She teaches composition at The University of New Mexico. You can find out more at http://jgivhan.wordpress.com