Unpacking Embodying Our Words

In anticipation of Embodying Our Words – a HerStories program in the greater Lansing area held February 18 and 19 – I reread Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay “now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento . . . inner work, public acts” (This Bridge We Call Home 2002). This essay inspired EOW’s theme of embodied writing, life stories that connect to the body. (See the essay in PDF.)

The program began with a talking circle to honor Anzaldúa and explore participants’ embodied experiences. Here is what I read aloud from her poetic prose, which I “heard” on the page in this poetic form:

Knowing that something in you, or of you,
must die before something else can be born,
you throw your old self into the ritual pyre,
a passage by fire.

In relinquishing your old self,
you realize that some aspect of who you are
–identities people have imposed on you
as a woman of color
and that you have internalized–
also are made up.

Identity becomes a cage
you reinforce and double-lock yourself into.
The life you thought inevitable, unalterable,
and fixed in some foundational reality
is smoke, a mental construction, fabrication.

So, you reason, if it’s all made up,
you can compose it anew and differently.

I sat with these words at The Writing Room, a creative-writing circle I facilitate twice a month and fell the night before EOW. Weighing what Anzaldúa’s story evokes about my own, an original poem took shape, “Once upon a time”. I read the poem with Anzaldúa’s excerpt during the talking circle:

Once upon a time I was
a child living with two parents
a child not sexually assaulted

Once upon a time I was
a Bible-thumping born-again evangelical
a Christian full of certainty and fear

Once upon a time I was
a devout wife
a devout intellectual

Once upon a time I was
a believer in the institution of education
a believer in institutional change

Once upon a time
there came a time
to revise me
and another
and another

Once upon a time
there came a time
to become me
again and again

Only two days after EOW, I still ponder the impact of the program. I look forward to sharing more about the experience in the future. Some reflections will be posted at The HerStories Project website and some here on my personal blog.

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3 Responses to Unpacking Embodying Our Words

  1. Dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing. It’s interesting to read again all those amazing words that were spoken on Saturday night. I so want to hold onto that moment, to remain in it, yet I also know it doesn’t really work that way–not fully anyway–but trust we will gather again 🙂

    And such a resonant poem–especially having known you long enough to know a couple of those persons embedded in your once-upon-a-times. But that last stanza…aah…”always moving, never fixing” as I put it once. That state of continual being and becoming and becoming yet again. Lovely!

  2. Dawn, many thanks for your comment. I also cherish the experience, from the smaller circle to the wider one. We had a great range of souls at the table together!

    This poem was the one I read Friday afternoon. The one from Saturday night is a work in progress. At least it has a title now, “Spider’s Dance”.

  3. dawn says:

    Good to have a title…I still need one for mine, and need to revise and polish considerably 🙂 But that will have to wait until I’m finished playing catch-up on my editing. And, yes, what a “great range of souls”!

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