Monday, January 17, 2011

For Rosa Parks and the Nameless Many Who Fight For Human Rights on MLK Day

Here's a poem by Yael Flusberg, for Rosa Parks, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I'm reminded each King holiday that King was both himself a man of great courage and intelligence and moral energy AND a kind of figure for all the people who fought (and still fight) tirelessly for human rights and without regard for the consequences to their person. We always risk the erasure of others when we lionize our leaders; I want to remember the nameless many, from our "civil rights era" to now, the quiet and dignified people, the angry but motivated, the visionary orators and the foot soldiers, who stand up against oppression and injustice, wherever it is--Israel/Palestine, Tibet, or Cleveland.


The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
-Rosa Parks

after the first three hours
the temperature dropped to visible breath.
my fall coat no longer protected and my toes
went numb so i tried to transcend time
by thumbing a rose quartz bracelet
each bead proof of my will to persist,
my mother always said standing appels*
for hours was a sentence of death
for the weak.

in the muddy field where thousands of souls made solitary
by the cold snaked around a makeshift fence,
i found a handful of warmth, a single ruby glove.

i practiced standing meditation following the ringing
in my ears to keep my mind from wondering why
i was on this line, not in my down-covered bed
when i'd see the coffin just as well in the newspaper
in the morning. each time i lifted my sole i knew
i was one step closer to the dome with 108 windows
like a rosary i could pray with my eyes.

it was dawn when i finally circulated once around
the ceremonial space then down to the crypt below
where i begged that her being where she was
would bless where she was laying - and all of us
who'll never have moments like hers on the bus
will still find something worth standing up for.

-Yael Flusberg
From The Last of My Village. Used by permission.

* In the Nazi concentration camps, inmates had to stand appels - a protracted roll call - twice a day regardless of weather or exhaustion. Some gave birth to babies buried on the spot. Many others dropped dead during the hours-long appels or were killed if they couldn't maintain an erect posture.

Yael Flusberg's nineteen-poem collection The Last of My Village reveals how a legacy of familial and cultural sorrow can be shaped-much like a poem-into the capacity to begin again. The Last of My Village won Poetica Magazine's 2010 Chapbook Contest, and is available at When not writing, Yael integrates creative, somatic and reflective practices into her work with social change organizations and leaders. Visit her blog at

Flusberg serves on the Board of Split This Rock. She co-ran the workshop "Yoga and Poetry in Changing Times" at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks Philip for bringing me into your "home." Your intro causes me to reflect on the hero with a thousand (million? billion?) faces -- and those who are invisible, who quietly do what needs to be done and leave the scene before accolades can be doled out. In a commencement address to Oberlin College in 1965 MLK said "All life is interrelated, and somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be." May we all become what we're supposed to this year.

Philip Metres said...

Thanks for the poem, Yael, and for sharing the vision of a mutual destiny. This puts a whole new face on our American "self-making."

ernie said...

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