On considering the bronze bust of J. Marion Sims at the northwest corner of the South Carolina statehouse grounds, at a reading for the monument’s removal, 7 Sept 2017

This poem was written for MEND: A Poetry Marathon to advance the removal of the J. Marion Sims Monument at the S.C.Statehouse and read aloud at the monument on September 7, 2017.

 

Now   wasn’t there some good?
            – Bettina Judd, “After Memory,” Patient (2014)

“That a historical figure existed at a different time, with different norms, is not irrelevant. But it is only one consideration in the fraught and important question, as to who should loom over us on pedestals, enshrined in metal or stone.”
– Ross Andersen, The Atlantic, 6 Sept 2017

“The first surgeon of the ages in ministry to women, treating alike empress and slave.”
– from the left panel of the Sims monument, SC Statehouse                       grounds

 

Because he was not, in fact, physician to empress and slave alike; because he used the bodies of black women and poor women to launch what would become a lucrative practice among wealthy women; because he would not have been physician to an empress in a mansion if he had not first experimented on enslaved women in a shed behind his house;

Because Anarcha and Lucy and Betsy are named as enslaved women in his autobiography but are never given voice;

Because he says of Betsy that “she willingly consented”;

Because he invented 71 instruments to aid in childbirth, yes, but because he started with a pewter spoon and a cobbler’s awl; because an awl is a long spike used for piercing leather; because this monument remembers the Sims position and the Sims speculum, but it does not remember the shoemaker’s tool that he used to pry the bones of a newborn African infants’ skulls into proper alignment; because the fatality rate for those operations was 100 percent;

Because he did not use anesthesia on black women; because he was sure they could endure the pain; because they thought blacks had a higher tolerance for pain; because the pain was so great, he asked other men to hold them down;

Because he asked his students to pull the buttocks apart so that he might see better;

Because he whitewashed his woodcuts of black women’s bodies when he moved to New York, so his patrons and students there would not know that he experimented on the bodies of enslaved women;

Because this monument was erected in May 1929 by the Women’s Auxilliary of the South Carolina Medical Association; because the most popular radio show in American in 1929 was Amos ‘n’ Andy; because Martin Luther King Jr. was born four months before in Georgia;

Because the elegant cement curve of the steps of the Sims monument, and the wall broken by the bust of J. Marion Sims so ironically echo the elegant curve of the African American History Monument across the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, a wall of images broken by the historical fissure of the Emancipation Proclamation;

Because the bronze bust of J. Marion Sims, his disembodied head and chest, suggests that this is a monument to reason and affection and not to the body, the disappeared and disappearing body, the disappeared, disavowed, but not disowned bodies of enslaved women;

Because the black women’s bodies erased by this monument are described in great detail in Sims’ biography as loathsome and disgusting;

Because he tells the story with such ease, because he stopped at the store and bought a spoon and then he stopped at his office and called out to his students, “Come, boys, go to the hospital with me,” because he then asked them to lay hold of her buttocks and pull them open; because he says Betsy “willingly consented”; because a jaunty “Come, boys, go with me” is the story of the invention of the speculum;

Because he performed clitoridectomies on women, because hysteria and improper sexual behavior were pathologized as gynecological illnesses;

Because consent no longer means the consent of your owner;

Because consent no longer means the consent of your husband;

Because the elliptical arch around this disembodied head suggests a cartouche, suggests the hieroglyphic oval enclosing a royal name; because the elliptical arch around this bronze bust suggests the halo arching over an image of a saint; because it suggests the clitoris under the hood;

Because when you stand in front of the bust of J. Marion Sims, he looks down on you, on us, looks down on this mixed crowd; because when you stand in front of the bust of J. Marion Sims, he can’t quite look you in the eye;

Because getting rid of a monument is not the same thing as erasing history; because the installation of a monument is not an accurate representation of history but an elevation of a particular representation, a particular representative, a particular reduction of history;

Because we should continue to teach the history of J. Marion Sims, his 71 instruments, his bent spoon, his shoemaker’s awl; because we should teach the names of Betsy, and Lucy, and Anarcha; because we should say the names;

Because even though some say the history of J. Marion Sims may be nuanced and complex, this monument is not.

 

 

[A note on the form: I had in mind the series of “because” clauses that often structure a formal resolution. This does not end, however, with “be it resolved,” since there is not yet resolution.]

Body Politic

Written for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City address, 31 Jan 2017.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. – I Corinthians 12:15

When thousands of women with pink hats
and placards fill the streets, think
about how a city handles
bodies, guides them down sidewalks
and streets, between walls of stone
and state, about the way a mass
of bodies is a way of saying
something, as when a march exceeds
its brief circuit of the city
and ends up on the interstate,
as if to say these bodies matter,
precarious, here and now. A city
is a body, the old philosophers
say, a leader the head, the soldiers
his hands. A church, they say, or palace
is like a brain, a place to pause,
reflect. Or it’s the heart, stained
glass and cold walls, glimmer
of something larger. But that’s too easy
a figure of order and power. A city
is many bodies, moving, touching,
talking, gathered together, a place
where differences matter and meet,
a song written to the beat of many feet.

In the neighborhood assessment, the teacher
asks us to think about how bodies
move, how and where they go.
How many banks or payday lenders
within a mile of your house, she says,
how many grocery stores, libraries, schools?
These are moral questions. How far
is health care from where you are,
if you had no car? Are there
sidewalks where you live? She turns
her hands up as she asks—as if
they could be filled. What can people do?
What do they have access to?

Sometimes, the prophet says, your body
is your only weapon, he says,
you put your body in the street
to say what needs be said. Sometimes,
he says, you tuck your body in
so the wheels don’t turn. You hold
your hand up, empty. You lift
your hand above your eyes, as if
to shade the sun, as if you’re looking
into the distance, when you’re just
looking to the future, for what’s
not yet here. Hold your hand out
to someone—we do it all the time—
consider how we greet each other
in handshake or bro hug, fist bump
or bussed cheek, what we do
when we meet, the grammar of hands
and bodies, of who we are and what
we think of one another. A mass
of bodies is saying something—
whether it’s a market shutting
down Main, a dinner on a bridge,
a great crowd of witnesses watching
a flag come down, or maybe a room
of people sitting together, listening
to a man who asks them to imagine
themselves part of one body,
one city, one place,
sharing each other’s fate.

*

Our city lifts its hand to shade its eyes.
Our city wants to see into the distance.
Our city does not turn its back.
Our city does not hog the table.
Our city knows everyone is disabled in some way.
Our city offers a hand, opens a door.
Our city likes to talk.
Our city would rather build a bridge than build a wall.
Our city wants to hear your story.
Our city leans to listen.
Our city knows its soul is filled by art.
Our city sets a light out when it’s dark.
Our city is not a clenched fist.
Our city does not turn its back.
Our city never says I alone can fix it.
Our city knows we only get there together.
Our city wipes its brow, gets to work.

Where is Your Next Stop? Launching Poets on The Comet This Sunday, November 1!

On Sunday, November 1, One Columbia and The Comet will host the launch of our city’s first major poetry as a public art program—poems on city buses—with a rolling poetry reading on a downtown bus route followed by a celebration and reading at Tapp’s Art Center (1644 Main).

Repost from The Jasper Blog. 

Poetry on the COMET Announcement and Event

I’m pleased to announce that the poems collected for the project with The COMET have been posted up on the advertising area of the inside of the buses! Here are a few photos of some of the cards:

To celebrate this project, there will be an event titled “Poetry 101” held on November 1. A number of poets will be reading on COMET Route 101 North Main, rotating at select stops. After the rolling reading, the event will proceed at the Tapp’s Arts Center (1644 Main), where there will be light refreshments, and a poetry reading. Anyone who would like to ride along with the poets should report at the Sumter Street Transit Center (1780 Sumter) at 3:30pm. Limited seating, first come, first served.

One Columbia has also collected poems into a chapbook which will be free and available at the event on November 1 or at the One Columbia office (1219 Taylor Street).

As an added bonus, all rides on Route 101 North Main will be free to any riders all day on November 1!

When we’re told we’ll never understand

A reading of the poem “When we’re told we’ll never understand” from “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015.” This poem was written in response to the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and in conjunction with the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the SC Statehouse grounds.

The poem was originally read as part of the Take It Down rally at the Statehouse on June 20, 2015 and reprinted in both the Free Times and The State Newspaper.

 

Tell the Truth, Tell it Slant

ed-readingWant to push your writing to a new level? Want to learn more about craft and voice? Image and indirection. Honesty and lies, making the abstract concrete. Finding a voice, telling a story.

 

I’ll be leading a series of FREE writing workshops (every Tuesday evening in July between 6:30pm-8pm), culminating with a public poetry reading and open mic event at the Richland Library.

  • Tuesday, July 7 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 14 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 21 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 28 — Film & Sound
    Poetry Reading and Open Mic

Share what you’ve created or honed during the workshop, and listen to other talented community members perform their verse.

Don’t miss your chance to work with me and snag one of these high-demand spots!

Registration is required, and space is limited. Register online by visiting the event listings on the Richland Library website. You must register for each session separately, with the exception of the final Poetry Reading and Open Mic. For that event, first dibs to read/perform will be given to those who have participated in the preceeding workshops, and others can sign up in person prior to the event start.