These lines refer to my cultural experience of the Black Church of the South and Black Pentecostalism, using “broad arcs’ah hallelujah” as a touchstone for how church members often run euphorically around of a sanctuary when they have been “touched” or “visited” by what we call the “holy spirit”. This metaphor, juxtaposed with the speculative “dream of freedom” of life and joy that I use to fallen victims of anti-Black and/or anti-Black Queer violence (Freddie Gray and Ahmaud Arbery in this case), helps to forge a searing truth about what it means to be Black and/or Black Queer in the United States, trying to imagine spaces of respite and celebration under the threat of violence and death. Such metaphors can reveal and/or conceal, depending on how they are used.
This truth in metaphor is often obscured by what people assume to be “fact” versus “fiction.” A narrow notion of “fact” is thought to stand in direct opposition to metaphor, story, embellishment. The reality is that truth is made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Consider a set of grandparents who have been married for 50 years sharing the story of the day they first met. The “facts” could be simple: They met in a cafe. She dropped her cup. He paid for her to have another one. They then sat and talked for hours.
But the story these grandparents tell could use devices like embellishment and metaphor, because these are more indicative of the emotional truth they felt when they looked at each other for the first time.
What if the truth of their story becomes about how her heart raced when she looked deep into his eyes as if she could see his soul? What if it was the way the musicality of his voice sounded like flutes blending in his ears when he first spoke to her?
Through poetic language, deep emotional truth, or emotional logic, goes through the memory of what they felt at that time. This metaphorized or embellished memory, for them, could be truer, more factual and more real than a rote and interrupted recitation of their physical actions.
LIGHT QUALITY OF POETRY
A poetic light can enlighten all human things. In Audre Lorde’s famous essay “Poetry is not a luxury,” she writes: “[Poetry] is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we base our hopes and dreams for survival and change.
For marginalized people, poetry is indeed not a luxury, but a language. I (Justin) know him as a burning light through which we could light the way to a future we were told we would never have. For me it has often been a beacon in the dark, guiding my ship to port. But it is also the fire of the torpedoes, the fire of the rockets, the flame of the missile which I learned to launch in protection.
For me (Christine), poetry has been a means of embody in language what otherwise remains ineffable, to consider more fair and healthy means to be and to relate to the world, and to dig spaces where sensory input, dreams, intuition and emotions have equal play with other aspects of being human. As Rankine says, “The future comes if you can feel.” For me, poetry can be part of a decolonizing effort for the way it helps us express what it is like to be in bodies in social spaces, in physical places and in the time of life. ‘evolution.
We often think of light as soft, soft. We believe that the unveiling of social ills is gradual, following a linear path that says, “It will happen soon” or “We can’t stay like this forever… can we? But consider those of Plato’s cave: aware enough of light to get used to shadows. Think about what it means then to enter the sun: to be forced to enter into this light, this truth. It would hurt and burn, wouldn’t it?
Could you bear it? Or would you run back to the comfort of your shadows?
If poetry is light, if poetry is truth, then why would you already you think it was easy? Soft? Soft, tender? How could you believe it was a luxury?
Poetry has power. But can a poem pull a knee out of a neck or stop a bullet? Can words heal a toxic lake or a human body? Can they end empire building? Can they save parents from the fear of losing their children?
We do not know. At least not yet.
Our poems are not shields. They are not force fields. They are not defensive. But they are weapons. Poems can be blades, batons, bullets in themselves. They can also be vessels that we take to challenge our fears, to move to a place of vision. Moreover, as Lorde writes, “Poetry is not just a dream or a vision; it is the skeletal architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge over our fears of what has never been before.
So we repeat: poems are weapons.
They are weapons because in the face of darkness, hatred and denial, truth is a weapon, to like is a weapon, even joy is a weapon. And in the worlds of hope, soul and testimony that poetry creates, they shine hot and bright. Submit yours here.