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.
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:
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
and so many urgent writings!
Yours is a way of seeing
and write how our government seeks
it is called normal. You do not mix
love with pity
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.