My favorite quote of late: "Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness." by Peter A. Levine
I Need to Write This Poem in 30 Minutes
Because that is all the teachers
who do therapeutic writing
with kids in juvenile hall or homeless shelters, have.
Only a half hour because visitation is short
and attention spans are shorter when
you are in distress.
And yet the mentors (as the teachers are called)
take trainings and travel
to places they would never usually go
to sit with youth who are considered
at risk and throw aways and unreachable,
because they receive from the kids
far more than they give.
And because my lover is going to
meet me in 29 minutes
and the last time I saw him I cried
because we wouldn’t see each other for a week
and I wasted half our evening
talking about people who weren’t there
and events that happened in the past,
plus complained how he failed me
and sleeping next to him I dreamt of waves.
The mentors must commit to six months
in case a kid shows up a second time
because most of the adults in their life
haven’t been there. Or they have and been abusive.
It isn’t even teaching. It is sitting
with compassion and letting this place
which is only a piece of paper become
an umbrella, a telescope, a pillow, a wing.
I am at a Starbucks, the music is grating.
In the shared sex bathroom, the toilet
was not flushed and the seat was up.
I used my sandal to slam it,
hoping there was a man waiting outside the door
who would never again leave
the toilet a piss plunge.
What I need to tell you is
mere minutes have made a significant
measurable quantifiable difference, someone
took surveys and conducted interviews
to learn on the page kids shared events
they had never spoken of,
the ways they were left and hurt.
Many opened up in subsequent therapy,
everyone reported it as positive
and a ten year old boy came to his next
appointment with a poignant stapled manuscript,
"The Poems of My Life."
All because someone didn’t so much teach
but witnessed, didn’t help but heard.
In some cases, that half hour was the pivot,
the sail, the wheel, the trapeze net.
At my home I have one of these girls,
a foster child and lately I am failing.
I have not recently told her
she is brilliant or beautiful,
only rude and disrespectful and difficult
and that I don’t know how to handle her.
She is all those things, with worthy reasons.
And only a few steps from the street.
With all my good intentions and do-goodness
I have been a walking sidewalk
guiding her closer. This is my deepest shame.
What you need to know is these kids,
kids you would step over in doorways
and judge crooks and stoners, lost and worth losing
write just as I do, me a woman with means
and the luxury to pursue meaning.
In metaphor and stanza they share they want to do better,
forgive those who have hurt them
and have more hope than most adults I know.
Tomorrow National Poetry Month begins-
linked lines, penning mine and reading others
for most of my life, has saved me.
There was a dime on the Starbucks bathroom floor.
Ten pennies worth of wishes,
ten silver sparks of good fortune.
That’s what art and music and writing is.
I left the dime. We never know
when we voice the unexpressed,
what gift it might give,
how it might save the next person.