Snap. Snap. Snap. As a small child I practiced over and over again. Insistent. Determined. Until, with the passing of years, the passing of my second finger down the side of my small thumb converted itself from silence to thunderclaps. With each unexpected eruption of noise I sent out a tiny warning signal to the world that within the heart of this small child there rumbled a revolution.
Snaps. I worked hard on them. I knew that I would need them someday.
Now when I snap, I can command your attention across a crowded room. Yet, I choose to use that power not for commanding respect but for giving respect, so that I might give the poets their honor due. My snaps do not stand out, they meld into a wave of sliding fingers, crashing on the shore of inspiration, then receding into silent and expectant attentiveness.
Night after night, I listen for those voices that can change the world. I listen for the sound of truth, for the sound of justice, for the sound of change. I listen for the rumbling of the verbal revolution that matches the rumbling in my heart.
I know when I have heard a voice that must be heard at The Shout.
Sometimes when you speak, I fold ever so slightly as if a punch has tightened my gut. As if a string extending from a spot just below my chin all the way down to my belly button has been snapped taut. Tightened. Strummed.
Sometimes when you speak, it feels as if someone has reached right through me to grab my spine and set it straight, heightening my posture, commanding me to own the space where I stand.
Sometimes when you speak, your words shoot right through me, piercing me with their familiarity, making me wonder if words so long a source of betrayal can be redeemed. You drop allusions to words that promised us freedom and left us beaten, and leave me wondering, ‘can these dry bones live.’ You drop allusions to a national pledge recited long before there was or is “liberty and justice for all.” You drop allusions to the very words that condemned my calling for two of the three decades I have taken up space on this earth; whispering “the woman shall not speak” in our ears until we cannot help but shout!
Oh reckless poets, doing verbal battle with the very issues that silence the voices of your peers. I hear you trying. I hear you succeeding. I hear you boxing and wrestling for the win. And when you win, we win with you.
My eyes wander around the room, asking silently in the midst of your unsilenced voice, to those surrounding me, “Can you feel this without being moved? Without moving? Without acting? Without demanding action?”
You make me want to pick up a pen and write notes in the margins of my books, like my momma did in church when I was a child; inserting written words among printed words to preserve the power and to fight ever forgetting your spoken words.
You make me want to stand up and sway like I did at my first concert.
You make me want to dance in the aisle like they do at that funkadelic Sunday worship party we call church.
You make me want to change everything around me – until the things I see match the the words you speak.
You make me believe change is possible. For why else would your words hold such power if we were not able to make those words flesh.
I believe in the power of what you do. I believe that together, the poets and the dreamers and the activists and the thinkers, might just change the world. Because they understand something that not everybody understands: we have no other choice. Words must be spoken. Actions must be done. Community must be built. Change cannot be stopped.
This is why, as a small child, I worked so hard to learn to snap. I must have known someday I would find the voices that would match the rumble in my heart.
For you, I learned to…
Snap. Snap. Snap.