Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Miracles and Other Lies"

This poem is from the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] brushwolf, [personal profile] rix_scaedu, LJ user Moriwen1, and Twitter user Harriet Clough. It also fills the "undeserved reputation" square in my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of Polychrome Heroics.

Warning: This poem touches on some tense points in civil rights history, with some offensive language to match.

"Miracles and Other Lies"

The ethics of lying to children
are more complicated when
the children aren't exactly children.

To the rest of the world,
she may be the notorious Dr. Infanta,
but to us she is Alicia Martins,
not ours by birth but ours by choice.

She may be the most powerful
supervillain in the world,
but she needs us, her Guardians,
more than you'll ever know.

She's not a 700-year-old woman;
she's a 7-year-old girl
with 700 years of experience.

So yes, sometimes we lie to her,
because sometimes that
is what she needs from us.

There are the convenient versions of things
that get used because no one
expects children to understand.

Alicia does not,
my hand to God,
really understand sex
no matter how many times
it has been explained.

She knows what it is
and what it does,
but not the mysteries
of why it's so special.

Sometimes we say,
"it'll make more sense
when you're older,"
but it never does.

Seven hundred years
in a body seven years old
and never growing:

imagine that, and be grateful
it is a miracle that
she's as sane as she is.

Alicia understands death, though,
in all its intimate mysteries.
There is no telling her that
someone has "gone away" --

the knowledge is in her too deep
for any comfort to reach.

Sometimes we say, "it's better that way,"
and sometimes she believes us,
for better and worse are flexible truths.

There are the lies we tell children
to prepare them to understand
a more complex reality, or
to prepare them to believe
in truly confusing abstracts.

There are, after all, things
that even adults struggle with,
such as justice and human rights.

Alicia is still seven years old inside,
so she rules the world as children do --
when she remembers to do it --
and her sense of justice
pretty much comes down to
"that's fair" or "that's not fair."

Fairness is fiercely important to little girls,
and it's better to bear that in mind
before she starts peeling years off your life
because you were bullying somebody
weaker than yourself.

It's easy to say "life's not fair,"
but if I believed that,
I never would have begged her
to save my son, and she
never would have done it
or asked me to join her family.

I believe that we're here
to make life a little more fair,
and if you think that means
I should be serving a superhero --

well, I believe that I am.

Justice isn't as simple
as heroes and villains, but
Alicia thinks in little-girl terms
so we just tell her it's okay
to be a supervillain

even though we know she's not.

There are people who tell her
myths about "welfare mothers,"
not knowing she was born
to a peasant wench before
there was any such thing as welfare,
so her mother sold her to mad scientists
for money to feed the other children.

There are people who tell her
that Kennedy was bad
for being a Catholic
and Reagan was good
for being a warmonger,

never guessing that
she gave both of them
anonymous political advice
that only Kennedy followed.

When the history books
cry triumph over World War II
and do not mention the horrors
before or since, the lynchings
and bombings and labor riots,

she cribs in the margins,
filling in details of what she recalls
from times long gone to dust, and
the seeds of tomorrow that she sees
in the rotten fruit of today.

She is a living history book,
bound in human skin
just like the first ones were.

Every February, people look
at her faintly tinted skin and
preach about Black History Month
and ask what she thinks about
Martin Luther King's speeches.

They don't know that she knew him,
that she marched with him
and got called "nigger nit,"
that she guarded his life
with the slim spire of her body
and took a bullet for him once

that she was in jail for protesting
when he was assassinated

that it cost a million 1968 dollars
to bribe her way out in time

to go cry at his funeral.

It's easier to say
"those people bring it on themselves"
than try to explain economics
and the history of race relations
after what everyone has done
to bring it about,

but Alicia knows all the lectures by heart
and still the one that means the most
is a small quiet voice saying,
"that's not fair."

She may not have a college degree in civil rights,
but she sure does know civil wrongs.

So you don't judge us
and you don't judge her,
because we've kept her safe
the whole long line of us
down through the centuries,
and she's held your world
in her bitty, bloody hands
howsoever you may hate
the ways that she's saved it.

There are lies people tell to children
just to hush them up and get a moment's peace,
lies they tell for fun or for culture or who knows why,
ones we agree with and ones we don't,

but there's one lie we all tell.

We hug her close, kiss her silky hair,
and tell her everything will be all right.

We know it's not true,
but sometimes we need to say it
as much as she needs to hear it

even if it's no more than a miracle
even if it's only a lie

because we need something to hold onto
because we need something to believe in

so that we can keep going.

* * *


Nanette Abraham -- Nanette is tall and lanky, with fair skin and brown eyes. She has long straight brown hair, which she usually puts up in a ponytail or French roll. Her face is plain, even horsey. Nanette is one of the Guardians in service to Dr. Infanta.
Origin: Nanette was born a telepath. It made her life awkward growing up, especially before she learned to hide it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Conversationalist, Good (+2) Nanny
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Good (+2) Telepath
Motivation: Keep Dr. Infanta safe and happy.

* * *
There are many lies told to children.

Dr. Infanta fits the tropes of Creepy Child, Not Growing Up Sucks, Immortal Immaturity, and Older Than They Look. In some ways, she has an undeserved reputation; in others, she's just doing what people taught her to do.

Read about 1300s history.

Fairness is among the first moral concepts that children learn.

Black History Month honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among other heroes.

"Nits make lice" is an extremely vulgar phrase often used as an excuse for abusing or murdering children of color.  While it is difficult to find references for children in the civil rights movement, [personal profile] dialecticdreamer managed to turn up this article about the children of Birmingham; one fifteen-year-old girl had been jailed previously for a sit-in.  While legal minors are supposed to be handled with care, often the practice does not live up to the ideal.

According to the inflation calculator, $1,000,000 of 1968 dollars would be worth $6,802,721.09 in 2014.

"Everything will be all right" is one of the most commonly told lies. Some people find it reassuring, others abrasive, so know the preferences of the person you're trying to comfort.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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