Virginia S. Little

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We are the Poets: Crossing Boundaries

The following poetic drama was first presented for The Pedagogy and Theater of
the Oppressed conference in Omaha, Nebraska, March, 1998 by students from
the Creative Writers on the Net class.  The first introductory piece, "We are the Poets", is an example of Linked Verse, a form of Korean poetry. Each of us posted stanzas online over a period of a month.  One of the students then  edited the piece into a single poem.  The rest of the presentation is a result of the students creating character sketches of marginalized people.  All poems were collaboratively edited and revised.  Original authors of each piece are listed. Some of the poems are "response poems" where one student would post a poem and then another student would respond to that character from a different point of view.   This provides an excellent example of how writing online can be a collaborative, cooperative process.  Students then added dance, music, and dramatization for the pieces with a narrator to weave the poems into a more cohesive performance piece.

WE ARE THE POETS: collective writing edited by Molly McDonald
(Stage direction:  Players all stand in varying heights and position, turning toward
audience as they recite their stanza and returning to position upon completion.)

We are the poets,
making dreams of sandcastles and skipping stones,
worn carpets and green Converse All-Stars,
the feel of yellow,
the Everyday.

We paint broad strokes on a canvas,
of colors forgotten in the familiar comfort experienced by most,
of lemonade,
blue bowls,
and purple swirlings in our stomachs,
of snapshots freezing moments in time.

We are the poets,
we set no absolute direction for the reader's journey,
shape no destiny for the path they choose to walk-
we are simply shaping and molding a fluid substance,
not whittling away at stone.

We are the poets,
embodying the strength of words.
Our empowerment of verbs
enables you to command your thoughts-
obey, oppress, rejoice, embarrass, seduce.
Our manipulation of nouns
authorizes your tendency to label-
slut, saint, mother, addict, jerk.
Our reinforcement of adjectives
gives you the freedom to judge-
ugly, skinny, catholic, feminine, racist.
Our pre-meditated deposits of conjunctions
plant seeds of doubt in your mind-

Do we use these words too carelessly, too easily,
manipulating them to our whims?
Do we force only our own truth?

We are the poets,
learning to capture words, and tame them,
possessing a clarity of thought,
a clarity of vision,
that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

We discover complexity in the depths of normality-
the plushness of a blanket,
pearls released from the mouth of a fish,
the glow of a night-light.

We are the poets-
they that create worlds,
destroy universes,
rebuild cosmos,
just to gain understanding,
just to add light to a dark room,
dullness to a bright one.

World and life intermingle with our ink blottings
of late-night-coffee seances,
putting forth an effervescent glow-
the light of freedom, justice, equality, faith,
a  light casting a new reflection on the souls of others.

We indulge them with color, energy, and life,
only to set them free in the meticulous world
of shadow and light,
giving them space to wander, explore, discover.
We are the poets.
We live vicariously through characters
with wild hair,
who never wear underwear,
and chain smoke.
Who laugh at their own jokes,
use the backs of their sleeves to wipe their noses,
who are passionate about Tuesdays.
We are the poets.

NARRATOR: written by Virginia Little and Katherine Blanke- Performed by Katherine Blanke
(stage directions:  narrator lights a candle and sits stage right in a chair throughout the performance)

I sit cross-legged on the floor,
sole candle flame
flickering shadows on the wall.
Almost a graduate,
supposedly grown,
my world lit only by the flame.
It doesn't show the way.
What did they teach me-
parents, school, society?
Their words, who they are.
They determined my path for me.
Don't ever let me see you kissing that black boy.
Don't talk to strangers.
Don't go to the north side of town.
Don't cross the river to the other side.
The boundaries of class, color,
just boundaries of difference.
I didn't question it; I was only a child, I had no say.
I noticed the groups at school,
all groups of the same color segregated by familiarity and fear.
Stay with your own.
Don't try anything new.
Don't contaminate your mind with someone else's crazy ideas.
Stay closed and safe.
And when I question,
my teachers tell me to be quiet.
Don't talk back, my parents say.
My pastor says he doesn't know.
My words fail me without action.
Questioning authority, anything,
I don't know what I am talking about,
they say.
And so the questions are silenced,
until awakened by some movement,
someone reaching, some inner scream,
or an unblinding of the eyes
refusing the boundaries and the bars of the cage.
The light doesn't show the way.
My words become a window
and this is what I see.

INVISIBLE by Drew Davey
(Stage direction:  Young boy in tattered clothes and baseball cap jingling a change can comes to left center stage)

I wipe my nose
with icicle fingers
and my cough feels like
steel wool
scraping my throat.
the chill of the wind
wells tears in my eyes
and the coldness of life
sheds tears on my heart.

I wasn't quite six
when we were kicked out of our house;
Mama's addiction ate the rent money.
Sure wish I had somethin' to eat.
She left me alone
in streets I didn't know,
said i'd be "better off" without her.
I'd hate to see how she's doin' right now...
Every day it's the
same ole thing-
gotta beg to eat
and hug myself for warmth.
Sure wish someone else would hug me.
Most people pass me their change,
sometimes a bill or two,
except that man in the spiffy suit~
he pretends his ears don't work.
The dark invites the cold
and it seems ironic my house once held a refrigerator.
Sure wish I had a bigger box-
 my feet dangle out the end
or my head out the other.
Tonight my feet are especially cold
and my head feels especially hot.
So I think I'll lie down to dream of a better life
where I have decent meals, clean clothes,
and a life I'd love to live.
(Boy lies down on the floor)

I should just mind my own business
and leave him alone.
Never mind that he's cold,
that he's hungry,
he's alone with no one to look after him,
or to play with him,
or to love and hug him.

But if I give him some change,
will it really help him?
Will he buy food or a blanket,
or drugs or alcohol?
Does it matter?
Will it change his life
or just make me feel better for helping out a poor little kid?

Why are children thrown away every day while people
scream madness about recycling?
When will we stop battering our own kind and stop worrying
about material things?

(to boy) How can you just stay here like this?
Do you still hope?
Do you still love your parents who left you here,
cold and alone without a single idea of how to survive?
Do you still dream of growing up and becoming the president or an astronaut?
Can you still love?
Are you capable of love after being left here by the people who bore you,
after being ignored,
after being denied a life that you could live?

BABY-BLUE HAND  by Phillip Rhoades
(stage direction: man dressed in business suit carrying briefcase walks quickly to center stage checking his watch as he walks.)

I must of walked by that kid
Every day for two months.
Passed him and looked away too quickly
Hidden in my own life,
Hurrying to my job.
But today,
While the wind screamed at the ice
And the city shook,
I heard a silence-
One voice simply wasn't there,
Wasn't asking me for change
Like he had all those days before.
I think that was the first time
I really saw him.
Passed every day for two months
And didn't see him,
Refused to see him
Until he wasn't there.
I hated myself,
Worried over what I hadn't done.
I stood and hoped for that voice,
The tiny one with a cough.
But I knew
He wouldn't be asking for change

There he is, just minding his own business
passing the little boy by every day on his way.
Just pretending he's not there,
that his business is more important.

Sir, don't you see?
Can you see that boy over there living in a box,
With no one to love him?
He's just over there.

That could be you someday.
You could be out in the cold,
asking every passerby for change,
feeling as though everyone rejects you.

Do you have some time?
Do you know someone who could help? Anything?
Or is he just better off invisible?

I COME FROM DUST by Marta Brill

Each morning the sun rises over the rows of crops.
And some days I watch my father get ready for work,
tattered flannel shirt, jeans, rough hands, strong back.
I watch his graceful movements with pride.
He walks slowly to the rows.

I've seen the world from the back of a pick-up, following the crops
cucumbers then blueberries then apples then corn
Florida is Arizona is Michigan to me
same sky overhead, same thick dusty roads, same camps.
There are always new friends to be made, just like the one's we left behind.
Friends that look just like me, mirrors of my bronze skin and black hair.

This is my home: humidity.
I come from dust.
I trace my roots to peeling white wash trailers,
and parents with back-aches that never go away.
My dad says things are all right, there is work, we do fine.
Enough money for the gas to get us to the next field.
and some groceries.
Can I have a toy dad?
My torn shoe becomes a car and races around the trailer.

On Mondays the vans come filled with white people. I race to meet them.
They play soccer with us and bring us bikes, clothes, and treats.
Teenage girls give us piggy back rides and swing us by the arms
round and round  we collapse from dizziness.
We give them bags of cucumbers and play our Mexican music.
Soon the van leaves.
I watch the dust cloud swirl as it vanishes beyond the horizon.
I wish I could follow.

Each day I imitate my father's steady stride as he walks toward the rows.
I pattern my movements after his, but stumble over the uneven ground.
My friend Fernando no longer walks beside me to school.
Instead he follows his father to the fields.

I sit in an unfamiliar desk and listen to an unfamiliar voice.
I try to focus on the teacher and the maze of letters and numbers,
But there have been too many faceless teachers,
too many chalked up blackboards.
My eyes shift to the open window.

For the workers a break is a sip of water
a miracle is a pair of second hand shoes that fit.
For me, a break is a dance with the sun
and a barefoot run through the grass.
I laugh with sparkling eyes and grow stronger every day.
I see the world as aflame with possibilities from the back of our pick-up.
But they just tell me I am young and don't know any better.

(stage direction: boy sits on floor just left of narrator, pulls off shoe and begins playing with it as if a toy car)

I don't understand who you are,
why your eyes aren't blue like mine,
why you don't live like us.

Don't you feel limited?
Always on the go, never staying long enough in one spot to make lasting friends,
to go to school.
Haven't you ever wanted more than what you have now?
A house to live in all the time, friends to see every day, a more secure life and future dreams?
Don't you get scared?
What happens when the work becomes scarce and you have no money?
How will you live?
My uncle lost his job.
He says your parents are taking his
and that you shouldn't be here.

Why do we work so hard to
keep you out?
Why are we so afraid of someone achieving
Our dream?

DREAMDANCE by Helen Walls
(stage direction: player sits in a chair with legs covered by a blanket)

People look at me
    as if my soul is incomplete
    because I can't dance.
People talk about me
    as if I'm not in the room
    because I can't stand up to challenge them.
People bury me in blankets
    and leave me in a safe nest at home
    because I can't walk
                 can't walk
       I can't walk beside them.

As you look at me right now,
    I see the distance in your eyes
    focusing on the color of this blanket
    on the shiny floor beneath my chair.
I can fight my distance, my prejudice
    only by living in shadows,
    letting you see only my words.
You can't oppress a sentence
    or stereotype a paragraph.

I try to tell myself
    it happened for a reason-
    that secretly I am a goddess.
But that thought, so warm
    tucked inside my heart,
    seeped out through the hole in my chest
And came out as a sob
    that went on and on...

Kids dream when they're little
    of running for president,
    flying to the moon,
    playing basketball with the greats.

I just wanted to dance.

In bed I listened to my mother and father
    dancing drunkenly in the kitchen
    singing don't you step on my blue suede shoes
And the sounds of their shuffling feet
    lulled my restless brain to sleep.

Once, I lept out of bed
    spun around and around my room
Until I was flying
    and my legs were wings.
I woke up crying,
    at six years old realizing
    the emptiness that would be my life.

I try to tell myself
    it happened for a reason-
    that secretly I am a goddess.
But that thought, so warm,
    tucked inside my heart
    seeped through the hold in my chest,
The hole that no one ever took the time to sew shut--
    Why waste time on an incomplete soul?

Her face is so sad,
mouth closed, unsmiling,
eyes vacant, unfocused, just blank.
As if she can't care about what she's feeling.
I don't know how to talk to her.
What if she thinks I'm staring?
What if she thinks I'm trying not to look?
She's different; she's hurt; I'm afraid.
It could've been me.

I don't understand you,
and I don't think I ever could,
but I feel for you,
as little as those words sound.
Do you still dream?
You can still do anything;
your heart can be your wings,
let yourself fly-
Fly for everyone who thought you were broken.
Fly for the dreams that crumbled at your stilled feet.

Even before she was confined to a bed,
having her feet rubbed was the highest of luxuries.
So I rub them now,
my hands working instinctively
beneath layer upon layer of starched sheets
and rough blankets smelling of institution-
massaging, kneading, smoothing away the knots
solidified by a lifetime of living.
As my fingers tire from the deliberate sculpting of skin and muscle,
I begin to see with my hands
proof of what she's known in her tired bones for years:
It's time for her to go home.
She begins her walk
with the warm evening breeze tangled in her thin cotton dress,
the fabric caught between her legs,
absorbing the fine layer of sweat that has settled on her skin
throughout the sticky heat of the day.
Waves of corn lap up against her heels,
beckoning to her to join them
in their soundless dance beneath the rising moon.
She longs to join in the gentle swirling and eddying of the verdant leaves,
Prepared to lose herself in the timeless movement of the field-
back and forth, back and forth,  back and forth.
But upon seeing the beacon of light streaming from the back porch,
She redirects her path,
Following the dulcet melody of the rusting wind chimes
And the familiar sounds floating out of the kitchen windows-
Shuffling cards,
Crying babies,
The scraping of metal spoons against porcelain dishes,
Heavy footsteps on wooden floors,
Animated voices,
Brewing coffee,
Before the screen door slams behind her for the last time,
she sweeps the coupling june-bugs off of the cement steps,
and gives her marigolds a good soaking with the hose.

Look at her alone in a cold, sterile room
away from family, friends, life.
She's lived her life and now been thrown away.
They say, "We can't take care of you; we have our own lives."
Young grandchildren never visit, despite the parents' promise.
They'll never know her visions, her stories, her wisdom.
All the lost experiences, these lost people,
the lost heritage,
we ourselves push away.

(stage direction: player dressed in priest garb, collar and coat, holds a bible and a cross)

This incense is choking me,
these vestments weigh me down.
I try to be like Christ,
to emulate his spirit:
such infinite compassion and unyielding love
that moved me as a young man.
These days I never know what to think.

I want to touch
the bleeding young runaway,
the empty disabled woman,
the aching worker from the fields,
to touch their faces, but reach further:
I want to sooth their soul.
But my words are lost
in a whirlpool of endless doctrine
drowning out my cries for the
lonely, oppressed, and dying.

People come to me pleading
for help
confirmation of faith.
"Yes my son, my daughter
God above has his plan,
the greater scheme of things.
Say five-hundred Hail-Marys
and don't forget to call your mother."

Sometimes I think I'm lying to them:
How can I absolve in His name?
How can a sinful mortal ever pretend to be clean enough
to give absolution without hypocrisy?

"Hello Jane Doe
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
And as I mouth the words
I feel the distance between us widening.

This cross elevates me to God's messenger;
His Mercury.
Yet it also makes me responsible for His actions.
The actions of an absent being.
I think I see a few holes
in the greater scheme of things.

Why doesn't God appear and give us some help?
I've taught that this isn't his way.
He's detached
and just 'checks in' for his messages.
Maybe it's time he started answering them.

I read in the paper
a child has been found
and left for dead on the riverbank.

After years of searching,
I'm further away from the truth
than when I began.

I don't know if truth exists anymore.

So where do I go?
My bishop?
but he seems more like a glorified administrator
one who manages, not tends, the flocks.
His crosier speaks of indifference.

So where do I go?
At night I read the Catechism, the Bible, Augustine
Squinting at lines of laws and theory
Abstract and Idealistic
they inspire
but do not show the way.

So where do I go?
How can I turn to God and hope that He will listen?

Father, I've seen so many people today.
People with lost eyes and broken souls.
Unloved people with shattered dreams and fogotten hopes.
I see this same vacancy in your eyes.

Who will help the people, guide them, inspire them,
when they are hurt and hopeless?
Where are their leaders, our leaders,
those who show us the way?

These lost people are questioning their faith;
Why isn't God helping me?
Where is God?
What is the president doing to help me?
Where are the Ghandi's and Thomas Jeffersons?
Religious wars, the constant accusals,
"you're not of my faith; you must conform!"
The picketing people outside abortion clinics.
Why must people shed blood for blood?
Can't we walk hand in hand instead of meeting fist to fist?

I know you have these same questions, Father,
and no more answers than I have.
But maybe it's time we look inside ourselves
for the inner glow, the inner fire,
instead of to someone else...
Maybe it's time to realize
Only we can save ourselves,
through our own divine spirits.

GAIEA CRIES by Caryn Senour and Justin Sacks
(stage direction: player center stage with floral head wreath of vine and flowers)

You've circled my equator
you've burrowed deep beneath my surface
left my atmosphere
and been to the bottom of my oceans
but do you really understand where you've been?
You can predict my weather
measure my earthquakes
observe my tornadoes
and record my eruptions
but do you realize my majesty?
You've studied my
Fossils, flaura, fauna
and researched my physics-
but can you really understand My creation?
You have razed my forests, dumped garbage all over me,
but do you truly comprehend what you've done?
You have paved me,
ripped holes in me,
and used me up.
When will you stop?
Take a moment
from your petty
human differences
and get to know Me.

One day the people of the world will come together
seeing past race, color, sex, religion,
our oppressors,
and realize the common bond between us.
The desire to touch our Mother, our Earth.
From that which bore us, to that which we will

BLINK by Brian Jespersen
There is a man walking,
through the streets of depression and despair.
A man not in touch with the world.
A man who doesn't care.
He walks through streets of trash,
past hideous crimes,
on past a child being born.
He walks not caring.
He walks not living.
He doesn't see the dawn of sun.
He can't hear the laughter of children
and screams of other distant worlds.
He walks endlessly and aimlessly.
Not a thought of joy.
Not a pain at heart.
He walks,
until he stops

What awakening is there?
The light doesn't show the way.
How can I reach past what has been expected of me?
How can I open my eyes and free myself from the darkness of these
boundaries before me
set by other blinded figures?
How can I learn new things breaking through what I have learned before?
How do I reach through the boundaries of color, of class, of differences?
Let my color melt into yours,
let my eyes reflect yours like the sun on a placid lake.
Let us understand each other without fear.
I am the lake; you are the sun.
Let us reflect each other without the clouds holding us back.
I mirror you on the inside;
we fear, we love, we hurt, we hate.
We are capable of understanding,
we only need to choose to use it.
Why fear the unknown, the uncomfortable?
Why hold the same views, opinions,
and self to go unchanging for years?
I still sit,
my world lit only by the flame.
The light doesn't show the way.
Only in my outstretched arms
and now wide-open eyes
will the path be illuminated,
and seen.

ONE written by Virginia Weldon, performed by Jackie Petto
(stage direction:  player goes up to narrator and takes candle, moves to center stage)

One match
Struck against the darkness,
If only for an instant,
Forever alters our perception
Of "things as they are."
Shadows and distortions
Are transformed
And, in the process,
So are we all.
One candle
Held high above our heads
Illumines the landscape
Around us
Extending our boundaries
Beyond where we stand,
Challenging us to take action,
Showing us where we might go
As well as where we have been.

One Soul, a fire,
Is a torch
Passed from heart to heart
Stirring embers in some,
Igniting new light in others-
And, through them all
Creating a solar fire
To birth a fresh sun of consciousness
As light for our planet.

It only takes one.
One match.
One candle.
One Soul.

(stage direction: each player in turn takes the candle and adds, and One, passing it on to the next player.  All players finish holding hands and bowing with conclusion and bow: We are the Poets.)

HOME AGAIN a post-reflection by Aaron Webb
Words, words, words, words.
How can I sit here, scribbling words furiously
when I could be up
doing, creating, saving?

Maybe the next person that I stood next to in the elevator
would say the right thing
would suddenly turn me into a neat, organized person
who Got Things Done.
Good things, that would save myself, and change lives.

Maybe a walk on the street would show me something
something random and wonderful
that would change my Self into that optimistic, hopeful person
who can spend a night without staring out the window
for sleepless hours pondering the mysteries of
evil, war, death, ignorance, classism
and humanity.
What I would do to be able to believe that it is going to be all right.

Maybe if I had stayed in the bustling room,
instead of cowering in a poet's hideaway
I could have said the right thing to
or heard the right thing from
the beautiful, funny woman filled with life.
Someone cracks the right joke,
looks the right look,
and I suddenly get my chance to be the romantic
falling over myself in loving, giving glee.
A powerful soul, melding with mine,
And that first wonderful kiss of love and devotion
instead of affection or motherly ease.

Maybe I should be sitting open
a receptacle for a spiritual experience
which gives one new life.
Future insurance, just a martyr away.
All life's questions answered by lists measured in
chapter, line and verse.
A trusted mentor to be followed and listened to
even on the deathbed,
a leader who appears on a neat, pious schedule.
The terrifying concepts of
evolution, future, universe, and purpose
set neatly in diamond encrusted boxes.

Instead of the selfish, archival shit,
I could be writing things that Matter.
A fantastic masterwork that could inspire.
Maybe a book that hundreds of people
would travel to discuss:
"The Pedagogy of the Lonely, Heartless, Lazy, Disorganized
Poet who Retreats and Hopes and Loves and Wants"
I could write the ultimate treatise of the
"Win-Win" concept causing Gaiea to weep with joy
and millionaires and peasants to hold hands
their music rising above the cold cities.
Maybe I could write something that would satisfy me!
Maybe these things are within my grasp
or I should at least try to achieve some of them.
But it's all wrong:
I'll write some more shit
rearrange my priorities
snooze through another sunny day
accidentally repulse the caring woman
and cry myself to sleep.


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