*** TRIGGER WARNING*** This letter is the response of a rape survivor to the sentencing…
Well, hello, October. Come on in and sit down!
Fall is upon us, my favorite season of the year. October has always been my favorite month, for all of the color and slipstream feel to it, the in-between time where we can begin to take into account all that the summer months of long light and deep warmth have offered to us. The very first poem I ever wrote to show was in third grade, called Autumn, pasted to orange construction paper after I’d written it out longhand on lined paper in the most careful script my little girl hand could muster then. Autumn was my favorite word that week, from the vocabulary lessons I did with my father at the kitchen table together on Sunday nights. 10 new words each week whose definitions and pronunciations he helped me to learn until I could use each word in a sentence.
I’m sure I learned the word autumn during October as the leaves of Southeastern Pennsylvania were turning their vibrant colors. I still have that first poem, the construction paper faded from brilliant orange to a muted ochre, not unlike the dusted and bleached colors of the high desert I now call home. When my father passed in 2007, I found that poem in a hidden file of poems I’d written over the span of 30 years that he had kept. The poem itself now hangs in my studio where I write, to remind me of one of my first loves, this business of words and image. I was blessed by my father’s deep presence, his love of language and justice and service that have influenced me indelibly, as did my mother’s strength and resiliency.
I am also blessed to be able to live my life in the pursuit of those passions, and to have them fold over upon each other in ways that always lead me forward. For me, poetry is its own form of justice and service, of deep presence and the magical construction of word and image, a way into a truth the heart is trying to tell. And October always reminds me the necessity of telling the truths our hearts are speaking, the truth of our own lives and the stories they have offered to us. So many of us have difficult truths that we have been asked to live, histories of violence and denial folding over into healing and hope. In the United States, October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a campaign designed to unify people in the effort to end the violence and to honor all survivors, men and women and children all, in an epidemic that impacts more people than most of us realize. In this country:
1. One in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of violence at the hand so their partner in their lifetimes, according to The Center for Disease Control.
2. Three women and one man are killed A DAY in a domestic-violence related tragedy, according to The Bureau of Justice.
3. Literally millions of children witness domestic violence during their upbringing, with half of them experiencing directly being abused, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The statistics do, indeed, warrant the use of the word EPIDEMIC to describe the prevalence and impact of such intimate and often vehemently hidden violence.
I myself am a survivor, as my brave mother was before me.
It was through poetry and telling the truth of my own history that I was able to reclaim my own life after it had been ravaged by the violence that I had experienced. Poetry gave me the entry point to save myself, to break the silence in which the violence itself bred and to move forward understanding that the violence itself did NOT define me BUT that my actions in the face of it did. My first collection of poems, the scorched earth, is the account of my coming to terms with that history and moving forward to becoming the poet and activist and speaker and woman that I am now so grateful to be. I self-published the scorched earth many years ago and am honored to have that collection reissued as a Second, Expanded edition, with a full-length compact disc companion included, in early 2014 by an award-winning press. If someone had told me all those years ago when I first published that collection what would unfold by doing so, I would never have believed them. And yet, here I am, at the onset of October, aware that telling the truth of my own story not only saved me, but made it possible for the life I now live and to offer that unfolding out in service to others who are or have experienced such violence themselves as they find their way forward into hope and healing again.
On October 1, 2013 President Obama proclaimed yet again this campaign to observe October as National Domestic Violence Month, in which he states:
“Ending violence in the home is a national imperative that requires vigilance and dedication from every sector of our society. We must continue to stand alongside advocates, victim service providers, law enforcement, and our criminal justice system as they hold offenders accountable and provide care and support to survivors. But our efforts must extend beyond the criminal justice system to include housing and economic advocacy for survivors. We must work with young people to stop violence before it starts. We must also reach out to friends and loved ones who have suffered from domestic violence, and we must tell them they are not alone. I encourage victims, their loved ones, and concerned citizens to learn more by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or by visiting www.TheHotline.org.”
If you are a victim or a survivor, you are not alone. There are so many resources available to assist you and so many people around you who have experienced what you are going through. CAREFULLY reach out and ask for help. The SURVIVOR’S RESOURCES page on my website is an exhaustive list of international, national and statewide programs available to help you reclaim your life with dignity and hope.
As we enter October, the month of honoring survivors and the month in which poetry helped me to save myself so many years ago, I hope that you are surrounded by people whose hands hold you gently, whose presence is only blessing, who remind you daily as my own father did for me that YOU are worthy of love and patience, of kindness and compassion and of a world in which you are nurtured and safe enough to thrive.