Trayvon -- Adrienne Rich -- injustice, rage, the importance of watching and naming...
In thinking about the Trayvon Martin case, I am reminded of this poem by Adrienne Rich…about race and society and the politics of watching and of naming and of rage, of being white and watching and having it not be enough but still having it be important… Not sure exactly why this poem came to mind, but I decided to trust the impulse.
Frame by Adrienne Rich
Winter twilight. She comes out of the lab- oratory, last class of the day a pile of notebooks slung in her knapsack, coat zipped high against the already swirling evening sleet. The wind is wicked and the busses slower than usual. On her mind is organic chemistry and the issue of next month’s rent and will it be possible to bypass the professor with the coldest eyes to get a reference for graduate school, and whether any of them, even those who smile can see, looking at her, a biochemist or marine biologist, which of the faces can she trust to see her at all, either today or in any future. The busses are worm-slow in the quickly gathering dark. I don’t know her. I am standing though somewhere just outside the frame of all of this, trying to see. At her back the newly finished building suddenly looks like shelter, it has glass doors, lighted halls presumably heat. The wind is wicked. She throws a glance down the street, sees no bus coming and runs up the newly constructed steps into the newly constructed hallway. I am standing all this time just beyond the frame, trying to see. She runs her hand through the crystals of sleet about to melt on her hair. She shifts the weight of the books on her back. It isn’t warm here exactly but it’s out of that wind. Through the glass door panels she can watch for the bus through the thickening weather. Watching so, she is not watching the white man who watches the building who has been watching her. This is Boston 1979. I am standing somewhere at the edge of the frame watching the man, we are both white, who watches the building telling her to move on, get out of the hallway. I can hear nothing because I am not supposed to be present but I can see her gesturing out toward the street at the wind-raked curb I see her drawing her small body up against the implied charges. The man goes away. Her body is different now. It is holding together with more than a hint of fury and more than a hint of fear. She is smaller, thinner more fragile-looking than I am. But I am not supposed to be there. I am just outside the frame of this action when the anonymous white man returns with a white police officer. Then she starts to leave into the windraked night but already the policeman is going to work, the handcuffs are on her wrists he is throwing her down his knee has gone into her breast he is dragging her down the stairs I am unable to hear a sound of all of this all that I know is what I can see from this position there is no soundtrack to go with this and I understand at once it is meant to be in silence that this happens in silence that he pushes her into the car banging her head in silence that she cries out in silence that she tries to explain she was only waiting for a bus in silence that he twists the flesh of her thigh with his nails in silence that her tears begin to flow that she pleads with the other policeman as if he could be trusted to see her at all in silence that in the precinct she refuses to give her name in silence that they throw her into the cell in silence that she stares him straight in the face in silence that he sprays her in her eyes with Mace in silence that she sinks her teeth into his hand in silence that she is charged with trespass assault and battery in silence that at the sleet-swept corner her bus passes without stopping and goes on in silence. What I am telling you is told by a white woman who they will say was never there. I say I am there.
“The tone she had adopted helped me speak about my illness in a way that I experienced the accumulated sadness of my story, while at the same time the weight of the world was lessened in the telling.”—
Helmut Dubiel, Deep in the Brain: Living With Parkinson’s Disease
So eloquently put, and perhaps it illuminates the power of narrative and the reason that we get so much out of “depressing” fiction.