Poetry in Spaces of Recovery


I love the photo above because you can’t tell which hand is mine. Just like if I was standing together with these women in the Magdalene house, a safe place for women recovering from addiction and a life in the sex trade, (whether being trafficked or deploying their labor in instances of survival sex), there wouldn’t be anything to distinguish us. The same for the house. Made purposely nondescript in north St. Louis, because whatever drove them inside of it may still be lurking outside to pull them out of it. The house has no signage and the curtains are drawn. Magdalene house is a safe space. Women can stay there for two years and receive medical care and job training.
Inside, the house is cozy and warm. The couch is so soft and cushy, that you can’t tell what’s making it so difficult to get off of it; how far you sink. down, or the collective "Magdalene energy." If you were raised Christian, and I was, you know that Mary Magdalene was a woman who’d been a prostitute, and then began became A devotee of Jesus, even witnessing his crucifixion. The Magdalene energy is witnessing energy.
When I sang freedom songs, and talked about Fannie Lou Hamer, about her being sterilized by the state against her will, about her being beaten by the police, there was  Magdalene energy. None of what I said was shocking. The details in my poems rated a knowing look, a teeth suck, and sometimes a raised eyebrow, but never shock.
Every one of the women was Black, and each of the staff was white. Although the staff (two white women who were excellent and gracious hosts) were eager and knowledgeable participants when the conversation turned to systemic forces behind mass incarceration, and "the war on drugs," I still noticed that they were both young white women.
I sat down with the women in Magdalene House ranging in age from 21 into their 50s. They started their meeting by saying their name, and then their preferred pronoun, and then this phrase: “I am a _____ work in progress, and today I feel ______." I read about Fannie Lou Hamer and we held space for Magdalene energy, the kind that has enough room for healing from unnameable trauma. The kind of healing that makes us leave the stroll, the trap, or the cotton field, no matter how many shocks we must endure, to find the other Magdalenes.
Don't hesitate to donate to Magdalene house. Here are two poems from my book, chop: a collection of kwansabas for fannie lou hamer.  I'm available to share with other recovering groups of women, and for Black History programs as well.

poll tax

weren't right how they did us. wouldn't

kick no dog that ain't barkn' hell,

i was 44. told that doctor 34.

auntie, we just gone make it so

you don’t be bothered with eve’s curse,

he say. i votes for them babies.

babies that won't never stand in line.

white or colord

young folks argue into dawn bout whether

whites can work down here along side

colord. i done washd, cookd, caught they

babies. always behind or below. nevr beside.

my body broke for three days over

this debt. the spirit makes me ask:

aint it time they shared this cup?