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Where poems come from.

By Patricia Smith

Look at these faces.
aholes.jpg
These six people allegedly held a West Virginia black woman captive for an entire week, choking, raping and stabbing her while forcefeeding her feces and peppering her with the N-word. They doused her in scalding water, ripped out her hair and made her drink from a toilet.
Meanwhile, we’re in the business of poetry.


We line up our stanzas, tweak rhythm and flow, struggle through first sestinas. We step onto stages and spit our histories into sizzling mics. Then some of us cross that thin invisible line, and the recreational creative exercise becomes necessary breath. Words don’t merely sit on a page anymore–they move our lives forward, soothe our cravings, process madness.
These are the poems we write in a sweat, not giving a damn if anyone ever sees them. These are the poems we need to keep from spiraling over the edge. These are the poems that ward off monsters.
I’ve been staring into these eyes all morning. They sent me running for poetry, for a salve against their cutting. As she so often does, it was Gwen Brooks who calmed my breathing:
All about are the cool places,
all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft—
all about are the stormers and scramblers but
what must our Season be, which starts from Fear?
Live and go out.
Define and
medicate the whirlwind.

But that’s not the end of this. I’ve touched pen to paper several times, sat poised with my fingers arced above the keyboard, because I refuse to succumb to the glaring. There is a poem on its edge, searching for sound. The only way to process this story is to write my way into and beyond those eyes. I need a first line. I need a soft place to land.
The story of 20-year-old Megan Williams, the young woman who was battered to within an inch of her name, appears today on Page 19 of the New York Daily News under the screeching headline “Racist Hellhouse.” The six smirking and defiant suspects in the abuse are lined up in their perp boxes. If you get pulled into their eyes, as I did, you might miss the other, larger picture on the page.
It’s Megan Williams in her hospital bed, her face stunned and swollen. Leaning over the bed is her mother Carmen, laying a tender hand on her daughter’s belly. In that touch is the first line of the poem, there where I didn’t expect to find it. In that touch is the very poem I need to write, already written.

Comments (9)

  • On September 12, 2007 at 1:58 pm vita wrote:

    thank you for posting this here
    I just read the article online.
    Prayers to the victim and victim’s loved ones.

  • On September 12, 2007 at 2:01 pm barbara jane wrote:

    Thank you for posting this. This story has been upsetting me, (and) (but) I can’t stop reading it.

  • On September 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm emily warn wrote:

    Patricia,
    How can anyone’s ink not freeze looking into those faces. Human? Yes, human. Then what is a human being?
    In thinking of you thinking of Megan Williams and struggling to put pen to paper, I turned to Paul Celan’s poems. W.W. Norton has a good selection:
    http://www.nortonpoets.com/ex/celanp.htm
    Here’s one from that page:
    With a Changing Key
    With a changing key
    you unlock the house where
    the snow of what’s silenced drifts.
    Just like the blood that bursts from
    your eye or mouth or ear,
    so your key changes.
    Changing your key changes the word
    that may drift with the flakes.
    Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
    packed round your word is the snow.

  • On September 13, 2007 at 8:14 am Marie-Elizabeth Mali wrote:

    “Her biggest problem: She got too much trust in people. We’ve been trying and trying, but we can’t get that out of her,” said her father, Matthew Williams. “You walk down the street, and she’ll come up to you like she’s known you all her life.”
    Heartbreaking.

  • On September 13, 2007 at 8:17 am Marie-Elizabeth Mali wrote:

    I forgot to mention that that quote was from The Washington Post.

  • On September 13, 2007 at 12:06 pm Jilly wrote:

    “O night betrayed by darkness not its own”

  • On September 14, 2007 at 9:42 am Daj Oberg wrote:

    Incredible.

  • On September 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm Celeste wrote:

    Does anyone know how one would go about sending her a card or a letter of support or something? This story has truly truly moved and also upset me.
    Thanks,
    C

  • On June 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm Daj Oberg wrote:

    What happend to Megan Williams and the six people who imprisoned her?


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 by Patricia Smith.