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  • Writer's pictureTamara Hart

Unyielding Cage

A few years back, I participated in a poetic stage performance with some local writers. I was delighted to be among my peers; I knew that I was going to have a good time. There were about twelve ladies, including one who had not quite transitioned yet--she wrote these long, intense bouts of consciousness that felt like you were being held under water, surrendering to the liquid death, somehow understanding that she was your friend, maybe even your best friend--it was good to be there.

I had become reclusive after my fight with breast cancer and a particularly nasty divorce. I had fully retreated into my head; it was a place that knew how to entertain a lonely, grown up child. My duel with death had destroyed my hopes for a brighter future, leaving a crumpled and stained paper bag filled with graveyard dirt, salty beach sand, clay, and titanium. "You must survive” was my mantra. Mantra means "a sacred message or text, charm, spell or counsel." My sister said I was bulletproof, titanium--like the song I never did hear on the radio, she sang it to me. She said they all held their breath as I came back each time from the hole being dug for me, with hot eyes no one dared to look into. Something someone taught me about myself number 1,236.

Felicia, who I mentioned was transitioning, was getting stage fright. She did not want anyone to peer too closely, to see the shadow on her face, her long legs, heavily muscled, that looked like they could pull a plow or trap you in an unyielding cage. I was elected to stand with her, to hold her hand while we recited words of power, words of delight, voices blending and entwining each other like young lovers, excited and afraid. It helped. Our Director said, "Tamara, all eyes are on you, you must stand in front, it cannot be helped." No one minded, so it seemed. I was bemused because when I was twenty-one, she could have said that and I would have exploded the night sky with my stars, because I knew it to be true. But now, a cloud-draped moon slowly orbited through that sky, stars obscured.

After the show at Kenan Hall, we were to be interviewed. When it was my turn, the reporter, a brittle, sharp edge of a woman, with chicken eyes, asked me very personal questions. I answered her well enough I guess, because her final question, the one meant to cut, was: What are your credentials? What degree or papers do you hold in order to stand so boldly in front of us and make these declarations? I fumbled--I thought my lived words were enough--startled, I mumbled something about dropping out of college and began an explanation for it when the Director cut in (she was credentialed, papered, published) She said, "Tamara can stand in my stead in any situation, real or imagined, she is bona fide."

Something someone taught me about myself, number 1,237. A memory surfaced of my grand spirit inhabiting the body of a small, fierce girl, lying under a scuppernong grape vine that my Grandfather had planted and loved, telling my stories to a gorgeous writing spider, or Argiope Aurantia, that lived in it. Granddaddy told me that she wouldn't hurt me, so I could enjoy her huge size and beauty in safety, unlike the newborn rattlesnake I saw while playing under the house and tried to befriend. My director's comment, made me feel safe in my own size and beauty.

The battles I fought for so long that kept my spirit contained finally fell away. I was no longer like that baby rattlesnake, hiding and dangerous. I was the Argiope Aurantia, on display proudly using my words to make others feel safe in my power. Like Felicia, I was becoming who I was always meant to be. I was a bonafide poet. That was the day everything finally changed and I was set free.

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