Respecting the Stage

shapeshifter poems


the legend is whispered
in the women’s tent
how the moon when she rises
follows some men into themselves
and changes them there
the season is short
but dreadful shapeshifters
they wear strange hands
they walk through the houses
at night their daughters
do not know them


who is there to protect her
from the hands of the father
not the windows which see and
say nothing not the moon
that awful eye not the woman
she will become with her
scarred tongue who who who the owl
laments into the evening who
will protect her this prettylittlegirl


if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him


the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

                                     — Lucille Clifton


Today we had our second session with the teen peer educator group to work on the workshop they’re putting together on intimate partner violence.  I am so in love with this kids.  They are funny and smart and incredibly talented.  They have been working on a series of theater pieces and are building in informational pieces to expand on the scenes. 

I chose Clifton’s Shapeshifter poems because of the connection between her experience and the work the kids are doing.  Today is Poem-in-Your-Pocket day, and I was going to give them all a copy of this poem.  Instead I let them choose from a basket full of poems I’d printed out for them.  I may still give this one to them, however.

They start their work by sitting in a circle and doing a check-in.  They have to say how they’re doing on a scale from 1 to 10.  The first time we worked with them, I was surprised by the numbers that we heard going around the circle.  These are teenagers.  Aren’t they supposed to be all angst-ridden and pissed off about everything?  We went around the circle and they were all, “Oh, today was ok day.  I’m like a 15,”  “Oh, I’d say I’m a 35.”  What?  I was feeling ok that day, and I was going to say seven.  A measly little seven.  Today was no different.  They were all off the scale … including one young woman who was “about a one thousand.”  What’s that about, and how can I make it true for me, too?

Then we got to see three of the pieces they’re working on.  They are so powerful and painful and beautiful.  These laughing, happy, I’m-about-a-one-thousand kids  get into character and the anger and hurt, the fear the hatred pours out of them, slams you in the chest.  Too amazing.  I was wowed beyond description by their skill, their force.  And then the scene is done and they come back, the kids we were laughing with before group started are back.  It really blows my mind.  Working with them is such a pleasure and an honor.  I can’t wait to see them perform. 

Such ugliness, such pain
roiling, coiling hard and tight
twisting their faces as they explain
attempts to fight
for their lives, for the right
to live safe, to live
whole, to find ways to forgive.

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