Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

Celebratory Statements/Testimonials

Poem–Michelle Berry

OPENING

I have opened for and written original poetry and song for Howard Zinn, Nikki Giovanni, Father Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Cotton, Maya Angelou and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama…but when asked if I might compose something for Zillah on this auspicious occasion…well, that particular task gave me the most pause.

I began the process by gathering hopes, memories and her many writings from my library…

I first met Zillah when she had a cast on her leg and we both posed in the nude for a local arts charity. Trust me; it’s not as juicy as it sounds.

I thought of Zillah several months ago at a reading I gave, during which a white woman asked me what I more identified with—my gender or my race— and that she was glad that I could ‘overcome’ my race. I tried to explain that they were inseparable…and then another in the room that reminded me that she had more privilege than I did. And I thought, I must make sure Zillah is at all my future readings!

But what does one say about a mind so lightning—quick or eyes that study intently and do not break their gaze—how she sees beyond seeing—how she sends such kind notes with such gorgeous handwriting and exuberance that leaps from the page!

There is only a poem I can offer—that can only scratch but a surface of the sea that is Zillah.

For Zillah

BY MICHELLE COURTNEY BERRY

Day marked by clouds no hint of sun your magic conjures, still.
you bring truth to the spaces between us and keep us in motion, ever-vigilant,
our tongues tied

you urge speech,
and warn of the days ahead—
the manmade cancers so abundant, we will no longer give them names they will just be called:
air.
you who have made magic, Zillah, with your great tenderness,
for you are as soft
as you are hard
you are not stone,

but you are fixed
touched as you are by mutations and sexual decoys
touched as you have been by the Great Body of Loss
So many women dismembered By cancers
Governments

Men
Policies
Legislation
War
And more.
So many dead children!
Such dismal grief,
yet still you rose
to breathe fire again
to clutch the hands of women everywhere, still you rose
to love fiercely
even when you yourself were barely alive still you rose
and moved across wind
with silver mind
and blazing hand

and so many urgent writings!
your philosophies
are only complicated and radical
to those who benefit entirely from patriarchy, anointed as they are by privilege.

Yours is a way of seeing
touched by blood
and against the notion of empire
sexual decoys
and globalization.
you teach that gender is relational more than biological

and write how our government seeks
to legislate women’s rights
for other nations
yet our own service women are raped by their colleagues so regularly

it is called normal. You do not mix

love with pity
nor empathy with sentimentality
for the movement has little time for the latter. as the restless sea pounds the shore
you drive us onward
against the tides
and upon the swell of hills
and the tops of mountains
where we will gather
together,
hand in hand
to meet the dawn.
And when the mollusk,
belly-footed and exhausted
carries her last shell home,
because of you
it will leave a shape

like hope behind.

Michelle Courtney Berry

Poet Laureate Emeritus, Tompkins County

From Honoring Zillah Eisenstein, at “Newest Articulations: Anticipating Zillah.” Klinginstein Lounge, September 21, 2012.

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