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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Lighting Of The Candles

Every year, as part of their Sexual Violence Awareness Month (SVAM) campaign, the Centre Against Sexual Violence (CASV) runs a Candle Lighting event to honour survivors.

Last year was my first time attending it, and although it was very powerful, it was also a very difficult experience. I had been invited to include some poetry to be read by my ex counsellor, and by the time the poetry reading occurred, I had completely dissociated. TJ, I believe, saw far more of the event than I did. I do remember lighting the candles towards the end, one for Myki' and one for "all survivors", but most of the day is a blur to me.

This year, they held the candle lighting at the centre. It was a much smaller, more personal, gathering, and (despite recent misgivings), I am in a more stable place with regard to this sort of topic.

This year there were two survivors who gave a short speech; another woman who gave a longer talk and spoke about how she came from being a victim to a survivor to a "thriver"; a poetry reading by me (!) and two young ladies who performed a song they had written. There were also speeches given by the CASV staff and Margaret Keech, the Labor state member for Albert.

For me, there are no words for the experience of hearing another survivor share their story. It is both heartbreaking and inspirational, and the courage of all of the women today astounded me and gave me hope; for myself and for every woman who experiences SV. That said, it is hard to hear. There were tears. I did dissociate some. It did bring back memories of my own. But it was worth it.

And, d'you know what else was worth it? Standing up there, facing my fear, and reading my own two poems to that room of people. It wasn't the public speaking part that bothered me - if I didn't have to write it, I could fairly easily deliver a speech. That taps into my love of performing, reminds me of dramatic readings done in English in early high school (and I always performed well). But to stand there and read something that I wrote? Who wants to hear that? And, the biggest thing for me:

Reading my own poems about SV meant announcing, albeit indirectly, that I had experienced it.

I was terrified. I doubted my ability to do it. I was so afraid that people would think I was pushing my writing on them when it's not really all that wonderful. I was horrified at the idea that everyone in that room would know my "dirty laundry", and I was frightened that word would get back to my abusers. (Actually, to be honest, I'm still afraid of that!) I was afraid that this room of people wouldn't believe me, and I was afraid that they would.

But I faced those fears. I prepared myself as best I could and when Rachel got to me, I walked to the front and stood at that microphone. I opened my paper and I read the words that I had written. I read the way I had written, from the deepest part of my heart, and I read well. (That's not me big-noting myself, that's what I was told afterwards! The words "confident", "composed", "powerful" and "commanding" were also used.)

True, as soon as it was over I practically flew out the door to get some air, but that's okay. I gulped at the air like it was... well, air, but for a drowning person.

Later, when we lit the candles, I said quietly to myself,
this candle is for my friends, and this is for all of the survivors everywhere, but most of all, this is for you, Myki, and for that little girl who wasn't ready to be your mother.

(For those of you who haven't seen them, these are the two poems I read):

At Least It's Not A Revolution

On your first birthday you reached
forward, you used to tell us,
leaned forward and held on
though the candle burnt your fingers.

Your father comforted you
but he wasn't interested in his sons.

By the time you were 3
his hands were turning the nights to secret places
and painting you into a desert.

It was in that year your Daddy walked away
and you knew (in the way that children always know),
the glue that was you wasn't enough.

He wasn't interested in his sons,
and that, too, was down to you.

Where are you now?

When you were 18,
on your niece's first birthday,
she reached forward,
leaned forward and held on
though the candle burnt her fingers.


Your body on the bed, his silhouetted,
above. Your only avenue for escape
is this - pull back.

Slide away, let the scents recede,
disappear. Forget the terror -
leave it behind when you go. You are
no longer the girl on the bed.

Unattached, you are genderless -
no longer a girl, a woman, you are

You are not what you were, you are
something but nothing; you
are that speck upon the wall.

Strange to see the detail in
the husk beneath the silhouette;
blank, unfeeling.

Strange to feel nothing, but those
are not your wounds, anymore. Those
are not your limbs, are not your breasts,
are not your bruised lips.

When it is over you will return to that body,
you will scrub away the skin left behind. You
will turn yourself inside out trying
to turn yourself whole.

Let yourself return. Let yourself feel
what it means to have a body
again and maybe,
just maybe, you will slowly reclaim
what it means to be a woman.

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. "and I read well. (That's not me big-noting myself,"

    my silly silly friend. it's not bragging or being arrogant to acknowledge when you do things well, whether or not anyone else has confirmed it.

    i'm glad you did this reading.

  2. I'm glad too!

    I know that for others it isn't, but I haven't quite got to there for myself yet. I still put more power on other peoples' opinions of my achievements than my own. So if I think I did well, but others said I didn't, I would assume they were right. (Although generally I don't tend to think I've done well at all, anyway!) I'm working on it, but I'm not there yet (and that's okay).