when you were a fugitive icon
that musn’t be pictured.
We made the thoughtless mistake –
printed your likeness in a journal
seeking to tell your story but
in those brash days
the fatal consequences
of one mistake,
not yet knowing, myself, the reflux fear
of post office walls and polaroid shots.
Gravely it was pointed out –
the jeopardizing act
we had committed.
Painstakingly we effaced every copy,
rendered your face blank,
i carried that with me
through the years:
holding on to the picture of
your sharp eyes beneath
the whiteout mask,
wanting to retrace
the rocky path you chose to take
when you started out way young in Texas
to breach the daunting racist walls –
stretching voice, then hands, then arms
across the color chasm
in ways that others hadn’t.
i struggled to embrace
the raw courage it has to take
to place your blood your bones
on the brazen line for freedom
again and again and again and again and again and again.
i tried to follow
from my fugitive distance
the disjunctive patterns
that shaped your life –
capture, escape, silence, then capture –
your face no longer banned to us but now much worse!
Barred and sentenced to a centenary caging –
their blietzkrieg effort to efface your courage
and render you unrecognizable.
But we have learned through years of aging effort
that recognition is not some cheap commodity
to be printed or deleted
like lurid labels or romantic fables.
While we may choose to disguise it, shape or revise it,
like your face it flowers doggedly
from a life of stretching and struggling,
thinking and sculpting,
Recognition roots deep
in friends who stretch across the decades,
in family who embrace across the bars,
in comrades captured and comrades escaped,
and in all of us gathered here and far
with purpose this day
to celebrate the revolutionary woman
you truly are.
January 24, 1999
For a Bay Area event recognizing and celebrating Marilyn