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A Poem for Anita Hill | Anita Hill 20 Years Later

A Poem for Anita Hill

  • by Kevin Powell

    A Poem for Anita Hill written on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Ms. Hill’s testimony at the Supreme Court hearings of Clarence Thomas in October 1991

    miss anita hill
    what happens
    when a woman
    dares to split
    her lips and
    use the tongue
    the universe
    and the ancestors
    gave her to
    fingerpop the flesh
    from lies
    and expose
    the truth
    of a manhood
    gone mad

    miss anita hill
    i thank you
    as a man
    for being
    one of my teachers
    for having the bottomless bravery
    of sojourner truth
    susan b. anthony
    helen keller
    ida b. wells
    annie besant
    frida kahlo
    dorothy height
    eleanor roosevelt
    simone de beauvoir
    fannie lou hamer
    ella baker
    audre lorde
    angela davis
    bella abzug
    sonia sanchez
    gloria steinem
    susan taylor
    alice walker
    bell hooks
    eve ensler
    patti giggans
    shelley serdahely
    ani difranco
    lynn nottage
    debby tucker
    april silver
    dj kuttin kandi
    dj beverly bond
    cheyla mccornack
    malia lazu
    aishah shahidah simmons
    laura dawn
    pratibha parmar
    maisha morales
    richelle carey
    blanca elizabeth vega
    asha bandele
    jessica care moore
    my grandmother
    my mother
    my aunties
    and all the women
    whose names
    we will never know
    and all the women
    who are not yet born

    miss anita hill
    do you know the
    saga of my mother
    a young woman
    birthed from the scorn
    of the old American South
    oppressive Carolina clay of Jim Crow
    hammered between her toes
    with poverty and gloom
    bookending the braided hair
    of her youth—
    first chance she got my ma
    borrowed a greyhound
    bus ride to freedom
    worked odd jobs
    like the one where
    a rich man, a rich white man,
    thought it his civic duty
    to erase his skin of
    everything except
    his robe and his penis
    sat on the synthetic sofa with
    his legs wide open
    so my mother could
    see his private parts
    they didn’t call it
    sexual harassment
    back then in the early 1960s
    they called it a job
    and if you wanted
    to keep that job
    you had to scotch-tape
    the disgust gushing from
    your throat and pretend
    your womanhood had
    not just been used
    and discarded like a
    soda can with pubic
    hair spit-stuck to the rim

    miss anita hill
    what about my friend
    who, just two weeks ago,
    did the good deed of
    checking on one of
    the young people
    from her youth program
    because the girl’s school
    asked her to
    little did my friend know
    that she was moonwalking
    into the den of
    a dream deferred named stepfather
    a poor man, a poor black man
    he didn’t like the questions
    my friend was asking
    him about the girl
    so his manhood threw
    kitchen chairs at my friend
    like they were nuclear missiles
    and when he had abused
    those chairs he took the pieces
    of the chairs and beat
    my friend with those
    when the pieces had
    disintegrated in his hellish hands
    he beat my friend with his fists
    slapboxing with jesus
    one rapper called it
    except stepfather
    wasn’t jesus he was the devil—
    a devil in redwhiteblue boxing trunks
    and my friend an unwilling sparring partner
    stepfather jabbed and sucker-punched
    my friend with body blows
    beat her across the face
    as her braces stabbed and
    daggered the gums
    of her mouth, the blood
    bumrushing her brain the
    way them busted levees
    flooded new orleans in ‘05
    miss anita hill, could
    you hear her sorrow songs
    for him to stop?
    could you see the songs
    of freedom in her black-and-blue eyes
    as she slapboxed
    with the devil, every hit
    he gave she returned best she could
    determined that her funeral
    would not be in the rotted and ruined
    home of a madman?
    but stepfather beat my friend so bad
    that the 16-year-old girl
    stood upright and frozen
    in the track-marks of
    her own nightmare
    for 3 long years
    stepfather had raped
    this girl like it was
    his divine order to do so
    for 3 long years
    stepfather had beaten
    this girl like it was
    his destiny to be a
    domestic terrorist
    9-1-1 the girl
    called 9-1-1
    to rescue not only my
    friend but herself
    she called 9-1-1
    as stepfather slashed
    and burned
    my friend’s clothes from her body
    and readied his penis for invasion
    the girl called 9-1-1
    as my friend’s mind and
    bones were body-slammed by trauma
    and the greasy, sweat-stained floor
    prepared itself for the receipt of her life
    and it was right then that
    the police came through the door—

    miss anita hill
    my friend spent a week
    at a rape recovery center
    she and that 16-year-old girl
    I learned all of this
    when my friend texted me
    one day sharing what happened
    she had been hung so high
    from a shock
    tree that she could not remember if
    it happened on a
    thursday or friday
    but it was one of those
    days, she was sure
    miss anita hill
    the stepfather is in
    jail now and that girl
    has been freed from her
    just the way
    you’ve liberated so many
    women and girls
    from man-made boxes
    20 long years ago
    simply by having the audacity to
    set sexism on fire
    miss anita hill
    have you ever thought
    of how many women
    and girls would not
    be free now if
    your voice had
    not freed them?
    you are like harriet tubman
    your life
    the underground railroad
    that has taken
    so many to a place
    they did not know exist

    and when the
    closing chapters of your
    life are penciled into the moon
    miss anita hill
    they will say
    that you were a human
    being a woman
    a black woman
    a sister a friend
    a leader
    a mentor
    a teacher who
    they tried to mock and malign
    and crush and defeat
    who they
    said did not see
    what she saw
    did not feel what she felt
    but who because of the
    convictions in her
    lone tree, oklahoma soul
    got up anyway
    because that is
    what the selfless do
    they martyr
    even their own
    sanity their own lives
    and in so doing
    they know they
    birth a child called change
    a new birth day
    a new v-day
    where women and girls
    like you, miss anita hill
    like my mother
    like my grandmother
    and my aunts
    like my friend
    and that 16-year-old girl
    and all the women
    and girls whose names
    we will never know
    can say I too can be
    free I too can use
    my power and my voice
    because miss anita hill
    said so—


    © 2011 Kevin Powell

    October 2011

    Kevin Powell is a writer, activist, and public speaker. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including his most recent poetry collection, No Sleep Till Brooklyn: New and Selected Poems (Soft Skull, 2008). Kevin’s 11th book, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: And Other Blogs and Essays, will be published by lulu.com in January 2012. You can email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net, or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell