Thoughts After Listening to a Podcast Interview of Tricia Hersey

posted November 30, 2023

Raising a child in America is an act of violence
Everything from the crashing together of the two cells
(To say nothing of the act that caused that union
Whether it involved a tender embrace, a feather bed
Or a cold lab, metal extraction tools)
To the breaking of the mother’s infrastructure,
The nervous system never the same, the dizzying pace
Of diaper changes, the fury of the hungry babe.

But what is violence? The act of destruction? 
Isn’t all living ultimately violent? Don’t we have to kill to eat? 

Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, 
so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Did Flaubert give birth, though? Did he pack the diaper bag
Or do Kegels, or even rub shea butter on his partner’s abdomen?

But I was talking about America, not France, so let me be 
More specific in what I mean by “violence,” because I’m sure
You’re frowning now, shaking your head. Consider that
The diaper bag was likely made in China in a sweat shop
Given to you at your baby shower by a friend of your mother’s
Whose wealth came from decades of careful avoidance of noticing
The source of monthly income, the ancestors who made the railroads, killed the buffalo, 

Which is your wealth, responsible for the lives we get to live,
Riding on the backs of others,
The ease my white skin affords me in securing a mortgage,
The land I’m standing on right now, stolen centuries ago
From the Nonotuck, the trickle-up economy of slavery
Which benefited even abolitionist Northerners whether they 
Knew it or not, whether or not they grew mulberry trees to lure silkworms
To breed so they could abstain from importing cotton. 

The grind economy I joined when I told myself what I needed
In order to raise a family is unkind, and hates women,
And my form of 1980s feminism told me all I had to do was add some 
Shoulder pads and insist on equality, work as hard as a man, be smarter, dance backwards,
Bring home the bacon, fry it up etc. and never let 
My abdominal or vaginal muscles sag lest you
Forgot your manhood. 

I am so tired of the hustle.
I am so tired of the grind.
I am so tired of the violence. 

It felt violent to say no to my children, because
This American economy, which hates me, convinced me that they would break
If I didn’t fill the attic with Legos, now built, gathering dust, 
Forgotten, but they served their country, and so did I,
Funding another year’s worth of GDP. 

I didn’t mean to write a rant today. 
I felt peaceful when I woke this morning,
Sat with my teenagers who are so beautiful at the moment, 
Whose eyes are clear as raindrops
Whose skin is as touchable as milkweed, 
Whose own violence just natural, thoughtless, human. 

Don’t become Americans, I pray, don’t buy in. 
Kneel in the dirt and build a house of
Mud with paper windows.
Lie on your backs and gaze at the sky. 
Stop often to search for
The moon, even in the daytime, 
And forgive me for all the times I hurried you out the door, 
Shoved your little feet into snow boots,
Couldn’t tolerate your disappointment
so I got you iPhones, and now all I want is for 
no phones, no hustle, no hurry,

no toxic fuel stolen from the earth 
or your own nervous systems
to poison your sweet bodies. 

I am sorry. I am sorry. I am so sorry.

I am a violent woman choosing, in every moment, to be peaceful.
I am a breaker who has pledged her life to the work of mending.


Me reading the poem. If you liked this, please consider donating to Center for New Americans, because they do great work, and because I wrote this poem and 29 others for their annual November fundraiser, 30 Poems in November.

The Comments

Join the Conversation. Post with kindness.

  1. WOW!
    Only, Wow!
    You are incredible, Nerissa.
    So glad to be able to receive your writing, your rants, your thoughts, and watch them emerge, evolve, and grow on the page.
    I love this!

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