Poem: The Active Bystander

1. If you witness violence

A bruise. It sits below her eye.
Nestles under her sleeve.
I see her gaze seek the ground
Always down, the head hanging.
There are no smiles
Or too many.

Her voice is quiet.
Turns silent on certain subjects
When I’m in the room
Or my key in the door.
The phone rings
And she startles.

She does not preen or strut,
But if she does, it’s not because she can,
It’s because she must.
For when she goes outside.

Inside, she beats herself,
Replays the lessons I’m teaching her,
Without me she’s nothing.
Her place is in the kitchen
in the silence
in the violence of false-hope
The self-doubt, the self-flagellating
The self-boxed in an imaginary comfort zone.

Those acts of violence –
How can you separate them
From the normal violence of living?

2. If you’re aware of violence

My father’s anger runs within me
It is a burning red river of rage
That bulges my muscles
And makes me lash out.

I have broken glass
Thrown punches
Yelled, my voice as raw
As the emotion inside me.
But women, these women,
They invite me, they excite
Me, they incite me.
They must be contained
They must be taught
Because everything must be just
So
Everything must
Be right

My world crumbles
And I am lost in violence
I lose myself in its twisted maze
I dream I fight myself, I fight her
I fight to the finish

When I come out
She’s covered in bruises,
She’s silent with me
She’s frightened of me.
But she’s not alone

I’m back now.
And there’s no reason to be scared.
Cover yourself with makeup.
Smile, please.
I’m not that monster.
Not now.

3. Standing up to violence

A mate told me. He said he saw the signs
The way she walked, the way she didn’t talk.
And the bruises. And the tears.
And he made me think about the past.

What I witnessed and believed to be true.
Can I blame my father?
Can I?

I am humiliated
I want to hit her
for giving me away.

But she did nothing
And I did everything

I made her scared
I made her sore.
And I made her lose
What she was before…

Before the punishment
Before the nights of feeling small
And right.
Right?

No more. I said to myself.
I swear that I will stand up,
I will stand up to myself
And prevent myself from being violent
To my woman, to any woman,
To myself.

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