I haven’t written or shared Spoken Word poetry in a very long time, but felt utterly compelled to do so yesterday as way to deal with my own feelings about the current tragedy of the Camp Fire effecting so many Californians right now, including my own family who lost everything. I wasn’t sure it was my place, but art is for expression, and this is sincere, and meant with love. This is not my best performance, but it is meant to be spoken, and the time is now, so this is what I have to share. Here is a raw cell-phone recording. Thank you for listening.
I grasped and set the boundary,
“Hands off my pens!”
I understand you lost everything you had.
I don’t know fire, but I’ve lost it a few times,
and I am not comparing scars, believe me,
I wish I didn’t have to say this at all, it’s just
that I’ve had my share of crisis cause it’s a thread
woven into my fabric, so trust me when I say
this is for both of our sakes.
Because, you see, you’re not thinking clearly.
You barely escaped with your life and the clothes
on your back. Your land is in the ashes
you’ve been breathing, and so is the life you built.
You worked so hard for decades, and you found solace
in your field, your safety, when it wasn’t safe in love and
that place has burned down, too.
And you have bruises and cuts from helping
the few get out you could before you escaped.
And you feel guilty because you didn’t stay and burn.
You watched in the rear-view mirror
as the flames swallowed everything and the air.
An Apocalypse that made Mordor of your home,
your neighborhood, your church, your trees,
your entire town, the roads out. And even the cars
your people were trying to escape in were burning.
Most of the deaths happened only five minutes
behind you when they were trying to run.
And some of your people turned to black soot and smoke
that blacked out the sun with no sky left.
And the death toll rises each day they find more bodies,
and you know they haven’t even counted the skeletons yet,
cause the fire was so hot, many were cremated.
And we’re breathing the dead.
You’re breathing the dead.
And their dishwashers, and sinks, and refrigerators.
Your scissors, vacuum cleaners, glue. Your art, your garden,
your cat you couldn’t find when the fire reached your walls.
All evidence of living; gone, scattered in the wind.
We are all breathing those losses,
memories and toxins, and I’m coughing up blood,
And everyone’s pens. Your favorite pens.
So I got you some of your very own,
and put extras into your hand and out on the table
in case you misplace them, cause I know from experience,
people are always losing their pens.
And I know you never liked writing but I handed you
a notebook and taught you about writing to purge,
no holds barred, no critic, no grade,
and you have nothing to lose now so you may as well
just let it rip, just once every day, to have place for the chaos
so there is more room inside you to think,
to survive, and live.
And it may not be your thing,
so you’ll have some spare paper
but know that writing is my lifeline.
And you know what they say about emergencies:
put your breathing mask or your life-vest on first,
and then help those near you because it’s only
human survival-instinct to pull someone down
if you’re drowning, and well,
none of us need to die today.
So come inside, and here’s some nourishing food,
clean water, and a warm shower, a bed, fluffy pillows
for your head, and soft blankets,
(people always underestimate soft blankets).
And here’s some really fast internet
for all the business you’ll have to attend,
and for watching the tally of structures burned and lives lost,
searching for names you know on the lists,
and seeing the videos posted from phones of families
driving down the burning roads while flames
lick their tires and their children cry.
Here is my heart while you’re frozen in shock, and my mind
as you navigate the aftermath, and when you’re there for
your friends, whenever someone is found safe.
Here are my arms when you grieve, and here is my
encouragement when you are tempted to blame yourself
for not seeing whatever sign you imagine could
have spared you, or anyone, this.
Here is my love in the present darkness,
and an N95 breathing mask you won’t wear
because you don’t like things on your face and
because you want to stay close to all of them.
And here is my voice when you cannot speak,
here is my support when you’re devastated and trying
to make plans. Here is the space I will hold if you shake
and cry, and when you stare into the blankness
that is now your life.
And here is a notebook just for you,
and a handful of your favorite pens.
And though my heart is aching for you and
breaking for the thousands upon thousands
effected by what is now considered
the most destructive fire in the history
of our state,
And while I wish I could give you
so much more than love and shelter,
hands off of my pens,
cause I have to breathe
if I’m going to help you breathe, too.
Copyright © 2018, Season Naify Braswell
All rights reserved
Image Credit: Noah Berger/Associated Press