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Poem: "If You Want to Make Peace" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "If You Want to Make Peace"

This poem was inspired by the "job-related trauma" square in my 8-12-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.  It has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the November 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 goal.  It belongs to the series Walking the Beat, which you can find on the Serial Poetry page.



If You Want to Make Peace


It's been a hard year
for the Boston area police,
and Dale can't help sympathizing
even though she no longer works there.

Terrorism scares and racial tension
feed into an increase in police brutality,
which fuels public outrage and criticism.

Dale feels torn between two worlds,
painfully aware of the pressures on police officers
yet disgusted by the behavior of a few bad apples.
It's all the worse when politicians pander to corruption
and what should be a fluke to condemn
becomes typical of the entire system.

Dale still feels a need to keep the peace --
it's what she does, it's what she is --
but she needs to find new ways of doing it.

When someone uses pink soap
to draw a pig on the windshield of their car,
Dale fights back furious tears.
Kelly is upset too, because she is
a litte chunky around the middle,
unlike Dale's trim and muscular form.

"It's not aimed at you, it's for me," Dale mutters,
but she's looking at the car instead of at Kelly,
so Kelly can't see what she's saying.
Dale has to stop and repeat herself in sign.

That's just as mean,
Kelly replies with sharp gestures.

Dale nods, because she still feels like
a policewoman inside despite her retirement,
and other people still associate her with the job.
Most people in their neighborhood
accept and welcome her here,
but it's not unanimous.

Kelly scrubs the soap off the windshield,
and they go for a walk instead of a drive
because that's what they do
and sometimes the world suggests
a solution to their problems
when they pay attention to life around them.

This time it comes in the form
of a flyer posted outside of the
Nehar Shalom Community synagogue.
A colorful peace symbol made of handprints
adorns the top of the page, under which
is an announcement for a peace meeting
to be held at Café Bartlett Square.

What do you think about going?
Dale asks, hesitation slowing her hands.
She knows that she needs new skills
in peacemaking, and this is a likely opportunity,
but the image of that awful pink pig
still mocks her on the insides of her eyelids.

I think it's worth a try, Kelly says.
We might see people we know,
or meet someone new.  If it's too tense,
we can always leave early
.

So later in the week they go to the coffeehouse,
which is fairly new in the neighborhood,
a spacious place with small and large tables
filling the interior and spilling out onto the patio.
It has a bohemian air and a clientele
tending toward the young and the liberal.
There are students doing homework,
parents and children on family outings, and
in one corner a woman sketching with charcoals.

The meeting is marked by a helium balloon
tethered to the back of a chair on the patio,
peace symbol bobbing merrily in the warm breeze.
A small crowd of people is already gathering.

They do know at least one person there,
Rivka's son Mendel, who probably
posted the flyer at the synagogue.
Mendel waves, and they wave back.

Just then a scornful voice cuts through the air,
"What's the pig doing here?"

Dale turns on her heel,
bumping into Kelly
who has no idea what's wrong
and with both hands full of
coffee, tea, and bagels
can't even ask.

"That's not a kind thing to say,"
Mendel protests.  "We're here to
promote peace, not hostility."

The girl with the blue punk hair
glares at them all, one hand
fiddling with the safety pins
that lace up the side of her shirt.
Beside her sits a Dominican teenager
with a sullen face and crossed arms.

Dale reads their body language
as defensive rather than aggressive.
Threat level low, she thinks, but
there's no book for this kind of encounter
and she doesn't know whether to go or stay.

"Everyone is welcome to attend this meeting,"
says the facilitator, a middle-aged man
with thinning gray hair and a friendly face.
"Today's exercise would benefit
from a diversity of perspectives."

Kelly finally manages to empty her hands,
setting everything on a table.
What's going on? she signs.

Dale turns her shoulder to the group
so she can face Kelly, and gives
a quick summary of what happened.

Kelly frowns at the meeting
and touches Dale lightly on the elbow.
Do you want to leave?  We can.
I thought people would be nicer
.

Dale feels tempted to do just that,
but a public capitulation in the face
of such a simple challenge
would undermine her standing
in the community.  People need
to see her as a woman with confidence,
or she stands no chance of influencing them.

Besides, she won't abandon her ideals
just because they make someone snotty.
That would cost her even more in self-respect
than in the eyes of others.

I want to stay, Dale replies,
plunking herself into a chair with finality.
She listens as people share their names
and a bit of what brings them here.

Mendel comes over to join them,
bringing with him someone new
whom he introduces as his girlfriend Devorah
from the Moishe Kavod House.

Also new is Will, a Quaker
who used to attend Freedom School
events while those were running,
and now catches whatever peace activities
he can find around the neighborhood.

Dale chats with them, a little,
and concentrates on spreading
cream cheese over her onion bagel.
Kelly has blueberry instead,
more fond of sweet flavors
where Dale prefers savory ones.

"Today's topic is integration,"
says the facilitator Axel.
"I'm going to talk a little about how
different groups make a society
stronger instead of weaker.
Then we'll do an exercise together."

Dale sips her coffee as she listens
to Axel's presentation about diversity.
Some of it she's heard before
at departmental training sessions.
Some is new and more interesting.

Kelly leans against her, touching
along their sides, not being obvious
but lending support and comfort.
She smells sweetly of her favorite perfume,
a lily-of-the-valley blend with musky undernotes.

Mendel and Devorah are smiling
as they hold hands, quietly
enjoying each other's company.
Will seems to have come by himself
but is comfortable joining their cluster.

The exercise begins with listing
conflicts within the community.
"Police brutality," says Eryn,
the blue-haired punk girl.
"Racism," adds Juste, who came
from the Dominican Republic.

A trio of black women nod,
but after conferring, suggest
that housing is more of a challenge with
rents rising as the neighborhood improves.

Accessibility, Kelly signs
and Dale translates aloud.
The policevet has put careful thought
into her own answer, not a source
of conflict unto itself but rather
one that worsens everything else:
"Lack of civic skills."

So it goes around the group,
laying out tensions, seeing how
they spread or overlap.

They share stories about
the impact on their own lives --
there are still some buildings
that Dale can't easily get into,
and Juste is tired of raids
in the low-rent housing.

Next Axel asks them all
to name some things
that unite the community.

"The Emerald Necklace," says Devorah,
and people nod, because Jamaica Plain
holds a majority of Boston's famous parks.
"History," says Mendel, and yes,
they have museums and tours
and a wealth of picturesque buildings.

"Tolerance," Dale says,
lifting her hand linked with Kelly's.
People smile at them, because
the neighborhood is well known
for its gay and lesbian contingent.
Some problems are definitely worse
in other places than here.

"Art," says Will, and everyone
looks around to see glimpses of it
printed on t-shirts and posters,
hanging in shop windows,
or chalked on the sidewalk.
Some people mumur the names
of their favorite murals.

They weave together brighter experiences --
Devorah's enthusiasm about her shared home,
Juste's admiration of his grandfather's wisdom,
the way Dale and Kelly share news
as they walk through the neighborhood.

Finally Axel coaches the group
to imagine how they could use
the common ground to address conflicts.
Conversations rise and fall;
people shift from one table to another.

A cluster forms around Mendel and Devorah
as they discuss using history to show
parallels with current issues.
Another coalesces around Eryn and Will
as they talk about the social applications
of art and how artists can influence culture.

Kelly is thinking about accessibility
and racism and artwork.
It would help, she signs, if artists
would draw different kinds of people
enjoying themselves together
.

Dale is thinking about police brutality
and lack of civic skills and tolerance.
"If we surround ourselves with images
of successful diversity, we may remember
that we're all on the same side here."

Eryn looks at them warily, her fingers
picking at a loose thread on her ripped jeans.
"If people will buy it," she says.

"We can encourage them," Will says,
"maybe even get together a little show
of local artists with that for a theme.
One of the coffeehouses or restaurants
might be willing to host it."

Axel smiles proudly over the group
as he wraps up the discussion,
asking each person to do one thing
using any of the solutions they explored.

As they stand up, Dale and Kelly
reach to clear the table, only to have
Will swoop in and do it for them
because he has seen how awkward
it can be for them to carry things.
"I've got this," he says, "no need for you
to try talking with your hands full."

Sometimes it's annoying when
people do things for you,
and other times it's considerate.
Juste is clearing another table
with swift, practiced motions.

Kelly thanks Will for his help,
and Dale shrugs, because she is
getting past the compulsion
to do everything for herself
just to prove that she can.

Despite the rough start,
it was a good meeting.
Dale wonders if Johnny Long
would be interested in hearing about it.
Bridgework is easier when
someone knows what's going on
both in the police department
and in the community.

The day is sunny and warm
as Dale and Kelly stroll
down the sidewalk, looking
at the art shops and boutiques.

They find themselves drawn to
the bright shapes of Dominican art
with its focus on community life.

Amongst prints of José Morillo
and Tito Cánepa they discover
some by a local artist who has
rendered the Jamaica Plain Music Fest
in vivid hues and stylized lines,
the community a mosaic of people
dancing to their own beat, together.

Dale and Kelly buy that one
and hang it in their living room,
a reminder of what they are working toward.

* * *

Notes:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
-- Nelson Mandela

Jamaica Plain has occasional problems with police brutality, a rising concern in today's world.  However, on the whole this community seems to have a better-than-average relationship with its police department.

The peace poster looks something like this.

Café Bartlett Square is a recent addition in Jamaica Plain.

See the Nehar Shalom community resources.

Moishe Kavod House is a shared house for Jewish folks.  It looks like a good example of intentional community in an urban setting.

The Jamaica Plain Quakers used to run a Freedom School with activities on nonviolence and urban youth.

Peace work may include negotiation, nonviolence, and integration.  The exercise presented in this poem was inspired by the Do No Harm Framework.

Interfaith work is challenging yet rewarding.  I found some useful ideas in this essay about a Jew visiting the Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain.

Jamaica Plain has many art murals.

Dominican art often has a stylized mode with super-saturated colors.  A good example of this is "La Fiesta" by José Morillo.  Tito Cánepa has a slightly more realistic style as seen in Tríptico:  Enriquillo, Duarte, Luperón."

The Jamaica Plain Music Fest is part of the community arts activity each year.

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10 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
siege From: siege Date: November 10th, 2013 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
This poem about making peace inspired me to a poem about finding it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2013 06:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you found this so useful.
From: technoshaman Date: November 10th, 2013 08:31 am (UTC) (Link)
The poem is good.... the quote from Mandela in the notes is something I needed to see. Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2013 08:36 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>>The poem is good....<<

I'm glad you like it.

>> the quote from Mandela in the notes is something I needed to see. Thank you.<<

It's a very advanced and challenging technique of pacifism, but very powerful too.

I've long thought that the difference between warmongering and peacemongering is like the difference between a fighter and a mage. The fighter starts out fairly tough and able to kick some ass right away, then gets steadily stronger. The mage starts out with party tricks, gets his ass handed to him, and is lucky to survive for as long as it takes to start doing anything very effective ... but winds up being able to wipe the field and nobody can stand against him. It's just, you know, most people don't want to roll up 30 characters in order to get somewhere. They want to get their game on right NOW.
From: technoshaman Date: November 10th, 2013 08:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're welcome!

*re-applies that to real life* is *that* what it is... that the soldiers start out doing well at 19 or 20 or 21, but the peacemakers need another 20 years of time in grade to get the *XP* needed to tell people to sit down, shut up, and LISTEN without getting shot?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 10th, 2013 09:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're welcome!

>> *re-applies that to real life* is *that* what it is... that the soldiers start out doing well at 19 or 20 or 21, but the peacemakers need another 20 years of time in grade to get the *XP* needed to tell people to sit down, shut up, and LISTEN without getting shot? <<

In essence, yes. Even child soldiers can be effective with a gun or a grenade. With material weapons, the tool does a lot of the work, even more so with modern ones than traditional ones. Training is more about strategy than tactics. With peacemaking, the tools are primarily internal. You can use the leverage ones as soon as you know them, things like picking people's brains. But to press them down when they want to fight, it's will against will, so most folks just don't have the oomph until they're a lot older. The ones who have impressive peaceskills at a young age usually packed it in like a lama does.

Another effect of age is that peacemaking relies very little on the body, so they don't take a hit when the strength and stamina begin to drop. Fighters do; they peak early and drop fast on a physical level.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: November 11th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC) (Link)

nonlink

The target for the link on "La Fiesta" by José Morillo is http://José Morillo, which of course doesn't go anywhere.

Edited at 2013-11-11 03:58 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 11th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: nonlink

Fixed, try it now.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: November 11th, 2013 05:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: nonlink

WOW, I see what you mean by "super-saturated colors".
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 11th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: nonlink

Yeah, that's typical of much Hispanic art. I love how the colors make it pop off the page.
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