Shouting my Story

Last night, I received a very encouraging message from an Instagram account known as angela.listens or project.fortem. Angela, a new follower to my Instagram page and hopefully future Stargazer, and I got into a short discussion about bravery, poetry, and vulnerability.

She commended me on my courageousness in sharing my poetry. In thinking about it, and during the course of our discussion, I realized again that my strength lies in my willingness to be vulnerable to give a voice to the voiceless. For so long, I resented my sensitivity and vulnerability because I believed they made me weak, but now, I use those traits to my advantage.

I share my experiences, whether it’s my experience with abuse, rape, suicide attempts, mental illness, because I believe by shedding a light on these topics, I am helping to make them less taboo. By being willing to share my story, I hope to empower others to open up.

Shedding a light on my experiences…

“Now, I’m sharing [my story] and can’t be silenced.”

Isabelle Palerma

It’s not always easy to start a dialogue. For years, I was fearful of the judgment I’d face as a backlash of my honesty. My own grandparents stopped speaking to me for months after I placed my sons for adoption because of the stigma associated with it.

For years, I fumbled with language and struggled to say what I needed to say most. I wrote poems but said nothing.

People close to me encouraged me to stay silent about my abuse or mental illness. They thought less of me for sharing. I’ve lost so many friends over the years because of my brazen honesty and my mercurial moods, but I’m finally stepping into my own stride.

For a long time, I did not have the vocabulary to express myself. For years, I fumbled with language and struggled to say what I needed to say most. I wrote poems but said nothing. I worked for the voiceless, yet I still felt powerless.

It’s only recently that I’ve developed confidence in my own voice, and though my voice may tremble, it is still a voice worth hearing. My poems may be a bit heavy on the mixed metaphors, they might not be rhythmically pleasing, or have that flawless rhyme scheme, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say.

As angela.listens reminded me last night, I am using my voice. I am exhibiting the bravery I’ve long admired in other poets, whether twentieth century poets like Langston Hughes or Maya Angelou or contemporary poets like Neil Hilborn or Amanda Lovelace. For years, I watched the growth and progression of the author/poet, Laurie Halse Anderson, and when I met her a couple of years ago, after admitting parts of my story to her, she told me not to just speak my story but shout it.

Now, I am shouting it and can’t be silenced.

And I have hopes of my voice being heard because just last night, I was told, “I’m absolutely feeling inspired. It’s interesting to me that I’m being impacted in this way by your writing as I generally have a harder time connecting with poetry but I don’t have that when reading yours. I feel a sense of resonance and understanding. It feels very exciting!

What an incredible achievement, and I hope to share more of my poetry with others. I want it to continue to be accessible. For too long, poetry was mired in symbolism and bogged down by the need to fit a rhyme scheme. Some might not think my poems poetry because they do not have a distinct rhythm or rhyme, but it is the emotion that bleeds through the page that gives these poems the depth I desire them to have.

My goals, once I could finally articulate them and I was in a safe atmosphere to do so, have always been to:

  • share my story
  • inspire others to open up about their own story
  • connect others so they feel less alone
  • start a conversation about taboo subjects.

In short, my goal was to provide illumination to subjects generally left in the dark.

I’m working on completing my first chapbook, and with it, I hope to share my voice with more people.

My Beating Heart: a Poem

Originally written in 2018 (revised in 2021)

Within this shelter, your beating heart will be a bomb
(waiting to explode); instead of him, her, or me,
your rhetoric will be because of your enemy’s fractured heart
thudding in their cracked rib cage.

You have written yourself off as a casualty of this war
(a hostage of the situation), and you swear
there is no way to leave this zone unharmed.

(Yet somehow, you declare it a happily ever after.)

Your beating heart demands fireworks
(flashbangs with brilliant colors).
My heart begs for pyrotechnics
(as though it was crafted to create a show).

Cling to your memories, baby,
because as the hours tick onward,
you will be as distant as that far-off town you live in.

Release the demons you have been swallowing
because my memories are mere accessories
and my heart is a hostage to the situation.

Your beautiful energy is hemorrhaging,
losing consciousness with each passing minute.
My cherished self-pity is a refrain to the song we all knew the lyrics to
(yet no one picks that melody for karaoke nights down at the local bar).

How insignificant is this movie scene to the overall effect of the montage,
yet somehow,
it’s all we can think about for days (perhaps months).

This scene is a car crash on a rainy night home,
and we’re counting bits of broken glass as though they are stars.

We have made our bed, as they say,
now, we must lie in it.
(Even as the shattered glass scratches down our back
like a set of untrimmed fingernails, leaving scars and hopeless reminders
of car crashes.)

Your memories constellate at this exact moment in time
(where time ceases to have any meaning whatsoever).

I have to ask you, darling, how could you bear witness to
all the things you saw & still crack a smile?

Your cigarette cologne is a scent you wear
after all these years
like a weapon, like an aphrodisiac.

Your beautiful energy is hemorrahging,
losing consciousness with each passing minute.

My cherished self-pity is a memoir that fell in the rain
and warped all the pages, the ink smudged.

Cling to your memories.
This scene is a car crash on a rainy night home,
You’re as distant as a city far-off.

We will sing melodies of a song we all know the refrain to,
yet no one picks at karaoke nights.
I will remind you of graveyards and ancient tombstones,
fire escapes, and long-abandoned lecture halls

like a ghost.

Your beautiful energy is evaporating now.
We have made our bed, as they say, now we must lie in it.

Unwavering: A Poem

From the prompt “unwavering”.

Like a bullet in its chamber,
her quiet nature could be misconstrued
(perhaps thought empty or aloof).

She’s a lightning bolt yet to streak.

When she clears her throat,
all eyes fall on her
(an audience when she is used to none).

She does not hesitate this time,
though fear clogs her chest
and makes it feel
as though her heart escaped its cage.

Her words come out clear.
Her voice – unwavering.

Pretty Woman Singing with Eyes Closed

This time,
she will speak out
for all the victims,
for all the survivors,
for all the beautiful
that died too soon
with coins on their eyes
to pay Charon.

Her fingers dance and skip
across her numb, denim legs.
She feels as though she wants to scream
(for all the times she kept silent
are piling up like a traffic accident
everyone can’t help but
stop and stare at)

Her truth – and the truth
of all the women before her –
need not be suffocated any longer
(because for so many centuries,
we fought,
dirt underneath our fingernails
from digging our own graves)

Finally, a voice emerges
from somewhere deep
(the voice of her ancestors,
the voice of the dead and the victims,
the ones whose shame crept through
their bloodlines like an insidious poison drip
through sewer veins)

Her chest is an iceberg –
as cold as a glacier.
Her eyes are embers
reigniting with every word.
Her voice – unwavering,
and not silencing or sleeping
until all the sinners are taught
to atone for their sins.