The crowd gathered around 8 pm, mostly women, some talking to each other, some milling about to look at artwork for sale, and some picking up pamphlets that explained the function of a women's shelter and a rape crisis center. I arrived early to talk to the other poet so we could coordinate our poems and to doublecheck with the organizer about how long we should read. EveningPoet, a survivor of incest and abuse, planned to read poems about her childhood. Then women from the crowd would be invited to the microphone to tell their stories. And I would finish with poems about healing.
The event was a fundraiser for the Women's Shelter in Snowstorm City. But more importantly, it was a gathering of survivors, a place where women felt safe telling their stories, a place where women felt supported by each other. Many of the women cried as they read or listened. Because the room was crowded, we ended up sitting jampacked together, elbow to elbow. The physical intimacy of all these people crammed onto benches and arms of chairs mirrored the emotional intimacy in the room as women spoke into the microphone, sharing anger, fear, rage, and sometimes triumph.
I had expected to feel drained but the energy in the room, by the time I took the microphone, was hopeful, relieved. Always it is better to break a silence. I read poems about healing, poems about the body, poems about meditation, massage, and reiki. When I introduced one poem, I talked about a friend who had had to leave her marriage and her home, leaving behind - among other things - her garden. I told the story of how a group of us women descended upon the yard when the ex-husband was at work, digging up all the plants and moving them to gardens where we could keep them safe for the friend.
Driving home, I thought about the courage of all the women in that room, what difficult paths so many of them have had to walk. I thought about the people who volunteer at the Women's Shelter, making sure we have a safe haven for women escaping abuse. I admire the work they do, day after day. So often, I think, when a national disaster strikes, we want to help in some way and are frustrated if we live too far away to help. Sometimes I think the best solution is to turn to the people in your own community who need food or shelter, a safe haven or a helping hand.