Ways To Go

Your bed was in my dream last night
Beige knit bedspread
Reaching out to my hand
Where I lay on the floor
Counting the wooden tiles
Like building block pieces
In checkered patterns

Now right to left
Now up and down

Cheap and replaceable
So tenants destroy just one small part
With cigarettes left burning
Or oil spilled from bottles promising VEGETABLE
So mothers can count ten servings
With bags and jars and mixes and cans
On pyramids sent back to school

You were on your bed last night
As young as I am now old

Now brown haired
Now grey
Now brown

Because I am dreaming
I do not hate you
And you smile
And you hurt me
And I think of ways to go.

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Due Process

I un-followed a Canadian author who helped shape my identity as a human and as a creator. I un-followed her because of a letter she signed. To be clear (because no small statement is ever clear) I did not un-follow her forever. My feed is an ebb and flow of the things I enjoy, the things that give me hope and the things I hope to know. My feed serves me. That’s why it’s mine. I may find, in the near future, that reading her small, instant words feeds me. For now, I’m choking on it. I also did not un-follow her simply because she took a political or personal action I disagree with. She has built up enough good faith as a creator that I see no need to view the world through a lens identical to hers. I un-followed her because it hurt.

Two words she threw out like a casual sprinkling of flavour on a massive meal: Due process.

I am a sexual assault survivor. I am a multiple sexual assault survivor. In almost every case, it was a man who held cross-sections of power attempting to or succeeding at misusing my physical and emotional form because they could.

When I started to realize – well into my teens – that what had happened to me was, indeed, against our presumed social contract, I began the process of seeking my due.

Due process simply means fair treatment in the judicial system. Not only fair treatment for the person who stands accused, but for the person who stands destroyed. Too visceral? Too emotional? Probably.

Here is due process to a person who has been raped, sexually abused or sexually assaulted:

1

Tell someone. This person may be yourself. Often that’s the first person you tell. If you are young, you may tell yourself after a book or a flyer in your school or an episode of Degrassi confirms that the tearing and ripping inside you is not an anomaly, but a reaction. There’s an overt message that you are not alone in numbers, but 1000 subtle messages that you are probably alone regardless. If you are an adult, telling yourself can happen during, or just after or years later. It can happen when you do that math inside your head that says if I scream he will kill me or if I just make it to the end it will be over and she will leave. Math is a process. Math figures out how much more they have to weigh than you to hold you down. Turns out, it’s not that much. It is not fair that this is how you must talk to yourself, but neither is it judicial, so we will pass this step.

2

Tell another someone. Maybe a friend. Maybe using code words. In my case, it was a guidance counselor. She was not the first person I told, but she was the first to break the code. There is a good chance that the person you tell will not believe you. They may try to find a way to show that it was your fault. This is about you, but it’s also not about you. It’s about constructing a safe cocoon of control that says I would not have made those choices so it would not happen to me or I did something similar once and I am not a villain. Sometimes they will believe you, but since they have spent a same lifetime watching dashing men on film win women over by hands-over-ears ignoring their nos and stops and I mean stops, they will wonder if it isn’t just the way things are. This is also not fair. Now that you have told someone, we may be drifting into the judicial. After all, everyone you tell, even your diary or your mother, can be called up later to testify. That’s the process. Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all, and to smile in pictures at picnics, but then, those pictures may also be called to testify. Anyone/thing you tell is likely to come back at you. This blog could come back at me. Every time we speak, we give a piece of ourselves to that process that we cannot take back with honest words. Words are not proof.

3

Tell the police. Go to the police. We use ‘the’ with police because everyone knows what you mean. No need to give qualifiers, adjectives. They are the police. The police with candies at parades and dirty looks when you walk in groups with other people from school. The police who, perhaps, look more like your assailant than you. Here the process comes due. If you have made it to this part in the process, you are one of only 6 out of 100. 94 out of 100 people chose to stop at step 1 or step 2. You sit in a room or curl up in a ball in a room or pretend you are not in a room and try to take something that is bigger than any part of you and break it down small enough that it will fit on a piece of paper that can go in a file in a drawer or on a computer and maybe turn into fair treatment in the judicial system. If this outcome were common, there would be more than 6 of you. It is not common. Numbers show that. Stories show that. Rooms full of women secure that no one is listening show that. Our arms and our medications and our nervous ticks show that.

4

There are two ways this step in the process can go. You may find, like I did, like a fall from a high height that lands you square on your back, that the last step takes all the wind out of you. It is okay if your process ends here. The next step involves lawyers. Lawyers are people who went to school for a very long time to study a system created before most folks could vote or own property or avoid being property. An apple tree can grow a thousand ways, but it’s still an apple tree. Until we plant something new, this is our only apple tree. This apple tree sucks. People will tell you to have faith in it. They may point to new branches that have grown since you were considered a person. They may say that the roots are strong enough to maintain us through change. That is bullshit. Only 1 out of 65 of us will see fruit from this tree and that fruit is often small and full of worms. Have I lost you? Anyone who tells you that you should not have feelings until due process is served is choosing not to see that no matter how nobly an idea may grow, it is only by its fruit that we can truly judge it. There is no fucking fruit.

5

Some people may think that the previous step is the last one in the process, but there is another. This is a step we take when we’ve exhausted one of the previous steps and found that, no matter what the promise of fairness is, the social contract we have signed has crap clauses. It has the clause that wealthy people and famous people and popular people and really any people can still succeed, no matter what they do to us. They can be free. They can be loved. They can be president. It has a clause that says we are to stay very, very silent no matter what happens, unless the tree gives us grand, ripe fruit. They do not point out the very small text that says it rarely does – and then usually when very pretty and convincing humans with pristine pasts and no scars point at very mean looking humans and say, “it was them!” So what do we do? We hold our hand to our mouth and with a theater aside, we whisper our stories in quiet spaces. We write maudlin poetry and carve lyrics on our bellies. We cry when we masturbate and flinch at gentle touches. We sometimes throw the contract out and shout and shout and shout, only to be met, finally, by a two words that I can no longer bear:

Due process.

Save Al Purdy’s A-Frame. Please.

I am sending this letter today.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith
Kathleen Wynne
Justin Trudeau

Dear M. Erskine-Smith, Wynne and Trudeau,
I am one of the people you represent. Admittedly, I am one of 107,084, 13.6 million and 35.16 million, respectively, but I am one. I am writing to you to remind you that in Prince Edward County there is a building that needs tending. It once belonged to one of Canada’s dearest poets, Al Purdy.

I wouldn’t write you just to tell you a poet’s home needs care. I understand there are seemingly bigger issues you are faced with every day. I am writing to tell you that Canada’s artists need care and taking care of Al Purdy’s home is taking care of us.

I grew up without much money and, if I am honest, without much poetry. I lived in neighbourhoods where we were more likely to have police visit our schools to warn us of the dangers of gangs, than authors to surprise us with the versatile beauty of words. I think we’d have done better with the latter.

Despite that, I am a poet. I am a poet with another job because most blue-collar poets don’t expect that we’ll ever exist solely off our writing. We think that because we live in Canada and our artists are split in to three categories: Those who struggle, those who struggle and find some modicum of success and those who leave us for the US.

People leave because, if you’re some combination of lucky, engaging, salacious and talented, you can become famous there. They have money and fame, but we have community. To keep artists here, that is what we need to nurture. While I would love to have artist’s retreats like Al Purdy’s A-frame all over Canada, I understand that’s not going to happen. But if we keep a few, we’re telling artists they matter. Not with a star on a sidewalk, but with a real place they can go to and create.

I’m writing this in my own tiny home in East York, a one bedroom bungalow that I am lovingly fixing up. My plan is to take my money I have been saving to add a bathtub (we have a shower, but being rained upon is not the same as soaking, I’m sure you agree) and donate it to the A-frame project. Please consider finding ways to help this project. Please give artists something to work toward. We need it and we appreciate it.

Heather Emme
Minimum-wage museum employee, childcare worker and Poet
(go to alpurdy.ca for more information)

Procrastination

At times I put things off until the deadline is looming, even with my professional writing. I think this has to do with the adrenaline and drive that pending potential failure offers. I also like to percolate my ideas as long as possible before I put them on paper (or in pixels, as is the case.)

Sometimes this results in better work, fed by the thrill of accomplishment. Other times it overwhelms me and I almost fall apart. Then I remind myself that I am too old for this, drink a nice hot coffee and get to writing.