Ordinary Courage

Ordinary Courage

A Poem by Marie Anzalone

Knowing…

  that the sound the match makes when it strikes

         to light the candle

     necessary for illuminating a path -

       may draw gunfire in darkness.

And doing it anyway,

           because finding  a place safe to be

                 authentic-

                     is stronger than your fear.

Opening…

     to feel the vibration and thrum

        of another’s heartbeat,

              even from within the bitterness

     of cursing your God

          for apparently putting you on this earth

             to walk alone.

Looking…

    into the eyes and heart

        of a great or petty tyrant, 

            and recognizing something

vulnerable and hot and shameful

      in your own being

               staring back.

Admitting…

   that no amount of washing

      erases the stains of humanity

    on the soul’s best garment, as it wears over time

          and still not wearing

             either another's armor or borrowed coat

  out in public.

 

 

 

 

 

 


© 2013 Marie Anzalone



Author's Note

Marie Anzalone
I watched a video this morning. It was of a religiously motivated beheading. A woman dressed in ordinary clothes, that you or I might wear, being crudely but efficiently beheaded with a sharp knife, in a crowd of onlookers. For some small, non-violent offense against religious sensibilities... probably adultery or premarital sex or refusing marriage or belonging to the wrong class of people or for some payment her husband or brother or father refused to send. It was impossible to tell where the video was. It culd have been Mexico, it could have been the Middle East. She was dark featured but nondesript. Point is... someone, a lot of someones, thought that she deserved this.

*** graphic content ahead***

You could see the knife enter her throat. You could see real blood pour as her arteries were pierced. You could see the business-like method by which her head was severed from her body, the spinal cord sawed through, as a life bled away. The triumph as her head was lifted with her sightless staring eyes looking out. I did not listen to the video with sound. The triumph and body stance of her appointed moral executioner suggested that the crowd cheered.

****

People asked me recently why words matter, why people are so dmaned sensitve to "just words." It is because of this video. Because words frame the culture we want to live in. Because words that dehumanize others enable unpseakable acts of cruelty in person. Because what happened in that video is happening to girls and women in many parts of the world for thier humanity of having sex, making poor choices in partners, being born in the wrong place. It is happening to journalists and human rights workers. it is happening at an alarming rate to people who speak out on the environment. It could realistically be me in that video one day.

Words allow us to connect. Empathy lets us feel the fear and pain of the woman being beheaded in that video; imagining it is our sister, friend, wife, daughter, niece. Or us. Honesty lets us face the discomfort of being one of that crowd who watched and did nothign, or cheered, or wished they were elsewhere. It requires courage to realize we could be the one working the knife.

Ordinary courage, to me, is being willing to stand up and say, I want to take steps to ensure that my daughter is not the one slaughtered for her weakness of being female. That my son is never the one holding that knife. That neither stand by and let this happen, either in reality or vicariously, in the places they consider to be their community. The larger I choose to make my community, the more I am forced to care.

It is just me, but my only response to violence can be to make the light stronger.

**updated**

I spoke with the friend through whom I saw the video. He is a student, studying human behavior in religious zealotry; he watches these videos to understand them, to analyze them, to catalog them by type and commonalities; etc. He said, "I have seen several, and it turns my stomach each time."

This was not staged. It is one thing to watch a movie simulation on the big screen. It is another thing to read about it. It is another thing to watch it happening. I am no stranger to bodily trauma, but this left me unable to function for a full day. I felt there was value in facing it, so I watched. There is value in facing our collective shadow, the logic of incivility and dehumanization carried to its inherent potential. I cannot ask anyone else to watch it. If you feel, as I did, that you need to, for your own reasons, I have the link. Message me. I have decided I will not post it here.

***

This work was also translated into Spanish:

http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/zorra_encantada/1166588/

My Review

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Featured Review

Your notes are intrinsicallly part of the write and I feel strongly should not be seen as mere notes. (as if they ever could)
Again I wonder how people feel so strongly they are right. So much in the right they may take anothers life for whatever reason be it religious, be it personal, be it political or be it regarded as right minded.
Again it is one thing to murder it is a whole other thing to do it as if justified. And here I know I am preaching to the converted, (I've just realised whilst writing that last sentence how ironic that sounds) but evangelism of any kind is inherently wrong minded. It is perhaps the most serious neurosis we have suffered from in recent times. Witch hunts and inquisitions of history notwithstanding. It is this because it cannibal feeds upon itself as this horrific and inhuman act signifies.
This is the wrong of the world. Hate generates hate. The karmic debt placed upon the world by such acts can never be repayed. No the debt is placed upon humanity as a whole. Not just the chief perpatrators, not just the audience but the whole of humanity. Even we who watch the video played on our 21st century technology are as guilty in many ways. Why because the murderering societies that perform these acts know they can publicise their barbarism and therefore recieve an extra frisson by doing so. They can ultimately claim no justification but then morally neither can we. It is allowed. It always has been either overtly or tacitly. It is explained away. The disease is never, ever treated. The symptoms may be recognised once in a while but this is only the tutting of a helpless adult when faced with unreasonable behaviour. It can only be fought against and it is a war that cannot be won.
Your poem is reactionary, political, beautiful, angry, and revolutionary. It is remarkably honest, forthright and strong. It is needed, it is creative in the midst of absolute horror. It is painful and at the same time life affirming. I found it strangely loving.It works on so many levels and yet it will never work on the one level it should do.
This is the reason I feel very, very strongly you should never publise the link to this video. Your write is the correct response. To put it simply it will not be seen by the majority as educational. It will be seen by those who should not see it despite your best efforts. It will be used for the wrong reasons and you will be giving that obscene act of degregation and inhumanity a further life it should neither have or deserve. You are fighting in the correct way. Most who view that video are not you. The people who wuld get the points you are trying to make have got the points already.
I am sorry about the preaching attitude I seem to have taken in this review. A charge of rightous evangelism could also be left at my door and I would have to hold my hands up and say mea culpa. Perhaps it is a question of degree.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 4 Years Ago


4 of 4 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Such a subtle nuance between religion and spirituality... and a universe of dangerous misunderstandi.. read more
Ken Simm.

4 Years Ago

Brought up to have answers. Surely the journey is more important than the destination? Perhaps the S.. read more
Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

We all have our fatal flaw, Ken, and I fear this one may be mine. It has stubbornly all attempts to .. read more



Reviews

what responsibility the witness?

a chance meeting of the man ( a neighbor) who lives just two doors from me, when I, the ATT service
man, had to enter his house to service his internet connection, only to discover him and his family
living in total filth and squalor. i had seen some poor living conditions here in Detroit but nothing
quite this bad. poverty makes a sound like no other; it never comes into consonance or accord
with the sweet harmony of life that I have known. being human means that I can hate all forms
and degrees of brutality.

i have seen the images of a beheading on the internet. i swear to you dear friend, it's not just you
who's response to senseless violence is to make the light stronger. and there is something ungodly
about runaway justice meted out as punishment. whatever a person might have done they certainly
dont deserve their heads to be lopped off, and filmed no doubt, and witnessed by other humans.
and just like my neighbor two doors away, i spend far too much time being appalled. but then,
as a poet, perhaps not enough time.

you have answered the prophetic, even apocalyptic question of what is the role of the poet in
todays society. town cryer? mischief maker? truth teller? shaman? appanage? signifier? messenger?
There is value in facing our collective shadow. and you have done it here.

history: in the early 70s the Black american literary movement struggled with the definition of
what was the Black aesthetic. The conclusion was that any form of art that didn't further the
'revolution' was of no use to it. difine the revolution to mean the armed struggle against the
racist policies in education or government or housing or working conditions, etc. careers were lost.
good artist, writers, poets, playwrights were lost for being not militant enough. then 2008 came
and what was true of discrimination was universal to every race and culture. that the banks had
cheated good working people. that faney mae and freddy mac were just shammers. that the collapse
of the world market meant that the search for the Black aesthetic was platitudinous and prosaic
but illusory.

you're a tremendous writer.
dana

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

I am too tired to respond to this marvelous review, dana, but will return tomorrow. Blessings.
Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

I have learned to control most of my emotions when confronted with some of the situations of grindin.. read more
There are three poems I have written "Torreon" "Integrity Leaking Away " (both are here) and Muhammed AL Durrah (not here) that deal with "horrific" content. I know that this kind of writing is not for everyone - but I also believe that poets can get in where others can't - because of our wordsmithing - or maybe we just are able to articulate our strong feelings - perhaps we commune with them more than others - and we are able to take the issue beyond the bullet point reality - to the core of humanity.
As I read this - I think of how so many are simply numb to the brutality that exists in the human soul. For me - things like this - they change me for ever.
The poem is strong, and a tribute (mine aren't - they are unbridled RANTS) It stands and it looks you in the eye. It is a measured conversation to the heart - an admonishment - and that is so hard to do when emotions are seething. (I can't do it)
Kudos to you for being able to articulate such awful reality with conviction and clarity.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Thanks, TL. You are describing what I call the abilty of a writer or poet to "bear witness." There i.. read more
i witnessed a brutal beheading on the internet about 8 years ago by the terrorists overseas....an American "contractor"..it was nauseating and i had bad dreams for months after. well, this definitely fits the bill for my contest, and is an excellent study on humanity. well done, and thank you!

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

You're welcome, quinn, and thank YOU for reading and reviewing. There is something so coldly matter-.. read more
Admitting…
that no amount of washing
erases the stains of humanity
on the soul’s best garment, as it wears over time
and still not wearing
either another's armor or borrowed coat
out in public.

Thought provoking words to say the very least Marie. It is our lot perhaps that these stains are burdens we bear even when our own actions are not the ones to claim the horror. Guilty by association. We can't hide our humanity. I wonder if perhaps this is why so many people are so in love with the romance of vampirism (new word)? Maybe our own humanity seems a curse to us. I shall have to return to this piece in a bit. My train of thought is jumbled right now and I fear I am not making any sense. I am trying to think logically when my heart is claiming my ink, so to speak, at the moment. Until then, a very thoughtful piece worded as only you could...

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Years ago I worked on a campaign with Amnesty Int'l to stop the death by stoning of a woman accused of adultery. By the grace of almost a million supporters she was freed.. That has not deterred the hundreds of deaths that have occurred since then, all in the name of their religion..

Your poem is so well written and I wish in my lifetime writers would never have to pen these sentiments again...


Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Oh Leica, is there a topic more important than religious intolerance today? intolerance of ideas, of.. read more
first of all i love the tone of your voice
i admire you for allowing your soul to be "touched" (it is a rarity)

as for me ...
i don't even want to remind myself how many times i passed limbless beggars without throwing them a coin
how many times i did throw a coin ... don't make up for it
i am guilty as charged

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Thank you, iliOZ- this is something I struggle with all the time, as well. Some days I find myself g.. read more
i realy like the structure of the poem...terrible the subject matter that inspired u

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Thanks, gombeggar, believe me just wathcing it on video was horribly traumatic. I agreed with Lonest.. read more
i've been drinking tto, er toto, er too muchk to mak a sound statement here
i'll get back to you HAI!!!

Posted 4 Years Ago


Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

:-p
I wish I could down, in words, how your writer's note and poem, affected me. Myself, I have endure almost a lifetime of brutality, whether verballi, physically or psychologically, for being myself. Someone, who is different, never truly comfortable within their own skin. Until I realized, I was trapped in the wrong body, genderwise. I know, in many country, this admission of mine, would sign my own death warrant, for being a transsexual and lesbian.

Posted 4 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

therisa

4 Years Ago

I wish, I could share these happier experiences, Marie. :)
Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

I hope you find them
therisa

4 Years Ago

Have found some people, but its a long battle to educate people that being trans, doesn't means I am.. read more
I love this. The first stanza is particularly meaningful to me. Thank you for posting it

Posted 4 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

Marie Anzalone

4 Years Ago

Yes, thank you, I could see where it would be for you.
I appreciate your review.

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Added on April 28, 2013
Last Updated on June 17, 2013
Tags: resilience, faith, testing, challenge, cruelty, atrocity, light, dark, hope, beheading, religious, defiance
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Author

Marie Anzalone
Marie Anzalone

Xela, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala



About
Bilingual poet, essayist, novelist, and technical writer working in Central America. "A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, .. more..

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