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Wednesday Shout Out

By Rigoberto González

Sarah Browning is the founder of D.C. Poets Against the War and the director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness. Her activist furor is a birthright, having been born into an activist family—a sensibility she is passing on to the next generation through her example as an artist, an organizer and an important citizen poet voice speaking out on the injustices being committed by our current government’s misadministration.

Another March
January 2003
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.
–Yehuda Amichai

On Saturday we will travel
the Metro to Union Station
and walk to the Capitol
and demonstrate. The Maoists
will be selling their newspapers,
the cyclists peddling their flyers,
transvestites flinging purple boas,
their banner reads: Celebrate perversity!
We will celebrate each other—
rabbis from Iowa,
hippie girls from Delaware colleges,
a Muslim contingent from Texas,
high school kids with cigarettes.
Our children will be grumpy
and cold. They will complain.
We will all stamp our feet and yell
the slogans of so many years.
We will find the perfect
hand-made signs:

To distract our children,
keep them giggling
as the papier maché coffins go by—
the angels of death, skull masks,
photos of bleeding babies—
we will point to Uncle Sam on stilts,
a silvery Statue of Liberty.
Someone will take up the chant
again, the drumming will continue
and we will watch
our breath rise into the cold
Washington morning and disappear.
We will not know
where our chanting goes
when the march is over and the Metro,
buses, trains, long skein of cars
returns us to Mt. Pleasant, Parsippany,
Oneonta, Chattanooga. We who believe
believe our chanting reaches
the ear of God. We who do not,
believe the thinning air receives us—
our harsh and lovely voices.
I will stand in the cold
and try to warm my only son.
As a person who also comes from generations of activists, I identify closely with the energy and excitement of the speaker’s experience at a march. I’m particularly tickled by the memory of the motley crew that one finds at protest rallies. Every group left out of the politicians’ conversations converges to add to the communal outcry, and to find solace and strength in the demonstration of solidarity.
But what’s most interesting about the population of this poem is the truth about the presence of children who are receiving their political education at an early age: it takes patience, and revolution is not about the now but about the future. The value lesson here: it’s not about where one comes from (“Mt. Pleasant, Parsippany,/ Oneonta, Chattanooga”) or even who one is (a transvestite, a rabbi, Muslim from Texas), but about keeping hope and the possibility of change alive.
Browning’s book is filled with unflinching looks at such urgent matters as the war, poverty, feminism, and race relations in America. She speaks honestly from her position as a white woman navigating the touchier subjects that many white writers are afraid to discuss, let alone write about. She’s a firm believer that the responsibility of dialogue is every citizen’s.
(From Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, published by The Word Works, 2007. Used with the permission of the author.)

Comments (9)

  • On December 12, 2007 at 4:29 pm Grace Cavalieri wrote:

    Sarah’s poetry is like her life: vibrant, meaningful, passionate, and a stunning encounter. She deserves these kudos and more!
    Grace Cavalieri

  • On December 12, 2007 at 5:57 pm Dara Gordon wrote:

    I like how the more impersonal third-person plural makes the march and marchers seem inevitable and necessary, a force of nature, as iconic and familiar in Washington as monuments, and like them, they are markers and masks to the violence of the state.

  • On December 12, 2007 at 8:28 pm Francisco Aragón wrote:

    I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah read from her new book this past Sunday in Arlington at the Iota Poetry Series, which has been a fixture for 13 years now, I learned. And she curates a wonderful series, Sunday Kind of Love at Busboys and Poets on 14th and U in the District.
    She is a model on many fronts.

  • On December 13, 2007 at 9:50 am Sheryl Luna wrote:

    A genuine concern for others is there, rather than a facade. So much of this war is being put on the soldier’s families, with so many of us living on the peripheral of that real loss. I’m glad to see her here. Poems of provocation and witness matter.

  • On December 13, 2007 at 10:26 am Mary Morris wrote:

    If you are a poet and find yourself moving to Washington, DC, you are bound to meet Sarah Browning, founder of DC Poets Against the War. You will march with her against an unjustifiable war, be moved to action by her awesome embrace of the personal in subjects of social justice and humanity.. You will again read her book, Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, and savor the taste of the bitter and sweet fruit there. The truth is in her poems. They are contagious. You will wake up in the nightmare/dream of America.

  • On December 14, 2007 at 5:52 pm Matt wrote:

    I think I’d be more convinced of the importance of “poems of witness” if I heard about one actually being used in legal testimony. Here’s an idea–instead of expensive state-of-the-art security systems, let’s give every bank security guard a notebook and pencil and have them write a poem when someone tries to rob the place. Rich descriptive language will really impress the police, much more than video evidence.
    Actually, photography and documentary film are probably the only forms of art with any real “witness” value. Definitely more than poetry anyway.
    Let me know when the poets end the war. I’ve been sending my heartbreakingly earnest anti-war poems to W since ’03, but for some reason he hasn’t ended the war yet. Do you think he reads them? Golly gee I sure hope so. I’m sure he’ll bring the troops home any day now. Maybe just one more poem will do the trick.

  • On December 15, 2007 at 12:20 am Sheryl Luna wrote:

    Gee, I thought I got to be the bitter poet!

  • On December 15, 2007 at 2:56 am Rich Villar wrote:

    Perhaps your approach is better, Matt: we should send a phalanx of snarky jackasses to Washington and kill ’em all with sarcasm.

  • On December 19, 2007 at 9:30 am Tommy TuTone wrote:

    A Reply to the Political Poetry Skeptics
    How must a human being
    behave in a world at war?
    Should we rally round the flag
    or hole up in a bar?
    Read poems from Abu Ghraib
    and wince at Botero’s gore?
    Or write 20,000 poems
    and march til our feet are sore?
    There is no magic bullet,
    but certain rules apply:
    1) Do as you see fit
    2) Don’t shit on those who try

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, December 12th, 2007 by Rigoberto González.