Skin Song


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Skin Song

 

A gust rattles the leafless branches 

and buzzes each curl of bark

drawing you in 

 

puzzled 

by the noise

 

that now rustles and flaps

in your papery quiet

 

as discord

that won’t be ignored.

 

Maybe this frothy, girthy giant

knew its skin song would startle you

out you 

push you

to leave that safe seeming silence

the mute assent that privilege allows

and honesty, eventually 

bares.

 

Perhaps it knew 

it takes a rough kind of courage

to answer this wind

 

for though you know well

how to keep the peace

 

truth calls to us each

from where peace

is not.

 

I don’t think of myself as an activist, but in my own small, fierce way I intend to make a difference. I wrote and posted this poem about a year ago. Here it is again, with an essay for context, offered within the greater, current context of our country’s race-related violence and protests, including in my home state of Minnesota.

 

Poking at our blind spots is uncomfortable. There’s usually a reason we’ve remained unaware of something that we now need to see, and confronting this can be painful. It takes work on our part — and often help from others — to make clear what has remained out of focus.

I had help from a tree, one windy spring day. As I passed by a giant birch with uniquely curling layers of bark, I heard a buzzy sort of humming. Puzzled, I waited, listening. As the wind fell, so did the noise. When it returned, the tree’s complicated bark began to vibrate and sing. 

This strange song — coming from its skin — was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was disarming, and I grew curious. What is this song? Do we all sing with our skin? If so, what had I been singing with my own? 

The answer had a splintery feeling, like what comes when we recognize the truth: pain, followed by relief. I had seen something I needed to see: In conversations about race, I had stayed silent. I had used my privilege to stay out of the fray. 

Only those of us with white skin have this option. We alone can pretend there is a racial peace to maintain. 

Once a blind spot is visible, there’s no unseeing it. In exploring this one (and I’ve only begun), I’ve seen that my privilege exists at cost to others, and that denying this only perpetuates discord and injustice. 

What’s more, this lack of peace exists not just between me and the world. It lives inside my own skin. Until I acknowledge this conflict, I will also suffer. Understanding my role in changing this is up to me, no matter how scary or uncomfortable the process becomes. Finding out how to change my skin song is no one’s responsibility but my own. 

We all walk around with these splintered parts of ourselves, blind spots we can choose to ignore — until the truth works its way free. It’s the pieces not at peace within us that are asking us to listen.

 

P.S. If you are longing for a guide in this particular unblinding, I am grateful to recommend the workbook Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad. https://www.meandwhitesupremacybook.com

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