Before I learned to stop practicing poetry-reading in the mirror, I would declaim in the hallway in front of the full-sized glass. One of the poems I was memorizing, "Global," concerned my mother's move to New York from Alabama, her resentment, her racism. My mother had been a real Southern Lady, who never liked airing dirty laundry. She died in 1997. Only after her death was I able to write poems that were honest about her. I didn't realize how much material would be freed up for expression after my parents were no longer living.
As I got to the most difficult lines in the poem, the light in the hall flickered out. I couldn't read the page. I turned the light back on, started again, and the same sudden blink of darkness occurred. "It's only a faulty electrical connection," I told myself. But I went into the kitchen and had a beer.
After the third time of the lights-out treatment, I had to admit that my mother was trying to shut me up. The censorship--or at least the sense of taboo around charged material--was palpable.
I went outside on the porch and practiced peacefully without interruption. I knew that I couldn't let my dead mother censor me. I knew that I was onto some dangerous ground, a place of shame, in my narrative. And that while shame might not be my best material--there are no guarantees in creative work--I could trust that if I censored myself, my best work would not stand a chance of coming to the fore.
I don't perform "Global" very often. But I do read it from time to time. I haven't been struck by lightning or swallowed by earth. It's just a poem.
My mother communicates sometimes, less often. That's another story--of how the tribal Maori healer who came to Knoxville performed a healing ceremony on me. A tale for another time.
As I attempted to edit this blog entry just now, the power in the house went out, the computer went down. Never underestimate the strength of a Southern Lady or a Jewish Mother!
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.