The Burial Grounds, Chants,
And Talking Circles Of Genocide



"Writing" and "making," as different aspects of the same visionary moment, are literally and figuratively determined. But these processes of making are not at all a polite activity, nor must we assume that the rule of kindness oversees their production. Writing the collective self into history belongs to the offices of affliction. . .and even though we might use a different lexis for the agonistic now, we understand the same thing in reference. . . .no human community is admitted to fellowship, or the essential right to "self-determination," without undergoing the ways and means of confrontational violence.
--Hortense Spillers, 1988
That is, should the world fail to provide an object, the imagination is there, almost on an emergency stand-by basis, as a last resort for the generation of objects. Missing, they will be made up; and though they may sometimes be inferior to naturally occurring objects, they will always be superior to naturally occurring objectlessness.
--Elaine Scarry, 1985

What is left, in the end, for the study of violence, representation, and power, is an acknowledgment of the means by which debased forms of power are not only revealed in the literature, but are encoded in a lexicon of subversion and survival. This final chapter offers a brief examination of those works that move beyond the call for what Judith Herman terms "recognition and restitution," to the literature that inscribes modes of healing the divide.

This healing may be achieved through an awareness of what Audre Lorde has called "the uses of anger."(1) Speaking especially to the communities of women of color, Lorde addresses herself:


to my sisters of Color who like me still tremble their rage as useless and disruptive (the two most popular accusations) -- I want to speak about anger, my anger, and what I have learned from my travels through its dominions.
Everything can be used / except what is wasteful / (you will need / to remember this when you are accused of destruction.) (2)
Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. (127)


Honing such anger into an arsenal of preservation rather than destruction has been the central task of much recent literature in this canon.

For poet Wendy Rose, in "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song," the cost of this preservation adopts a double meaning, and anger is the channel through which a stolen history is revived. Responding to an epigraph quoting a museum invoice that claims "Nineteen American Indian Skeletons. . .valued at $3,000,"(3) the speaker cautions:


From this distant point we watch our bones
auctioned with our careful beadwork,
our quilled medicine bundles, even the bridles
of our shot horses. You: who have
priced us, you who have removed us: at what cost?
. . .
. . .Watch them touch each other,
measure reality, march out the museum door!
Watch as they lift their faces
and smell about for us; watch our bones rise
to meet them and mount the horses once again!
The cost, then, will be paid
for our sweetgrass-smelling having-been
in clam shell beads and steatite,
dentalia and woodpecker scalp, turquoise
and copper, blood and oil, coal
and uranium, children, a universe
of stolen things. (332-33)


The embedded injustices of U.S.-Asian wars and the fall-out of the Japanese internment camps in this nation are addressed with equal anger by Janice Mirikitani, in "We, The Dangerous."(4) Here, the speaker warns:


I swore
it would not devour me
I swore
it would not humble me
I swore
it would not break me.
. . .
And they would dress us in napalm,
Skin shredded to clothe the earth,
Bodies filling pock marked fields.
Dead fish bloating our harbors.
We, the dangerous,
Dwelling in the ocean.
Akin to the jungle.
Close to the earth.

Viet Nam
Tule Lake
And yet we are not devoured.
And yet we are not humbled.
And yet we are not broken. (334-35)


For Ntozake Shange and Maya Angelou, the pain of remembrance is encased in the persistence of tradition. Here, each poet calls upon the life-force of African-American song, in treatments of the blues and of gospel music.

Shange contemporizes traditional blues songs like "C.C. Rider," in her "Blood Rhythms-Blood Currents-Black and Blue Stylin'"(5):


like the trails of freedom
the Good Lord himself lit up
we gonna take this
new city neon light
volumes for millions to hear
to love themselves
enough to turn back the pulse of a whippin' history
make it carry the modern black melody from L.A.
to downtown Newark City
freedom buses
freedom riders
freedom is the way we walk that walk
talk that talk
gotta take that charred black body out the ground
switch on the current to a new sound
to a new way of walkin' a new way of talkin'
defyin' the sound of gravity
for a people singin'
about the sashay of blood rhythms set free. (371)

In the canon of Maya Angelou, there is a similar communal connection, in her own poetic rendition of the spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved," which carries the refrain through her poem "Our Grandmothers"(6):


Into the crashing sound,
into wickedness, she cried,
No one, no, nor no one million
ones dare deny me God. I go forth
alone, and stand as ten thousand.
The Divine upon my right
impels me to pull forever
at the latch on Freedom's gate.
. . .
She stands
before the abortion clinic,
confounded by the lack of choices.
In the Welfare line,
reduced to the pity of handouts.
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded
by the mysteries.
In the operating room,
husbanding life.
In the choir loft,
holding God in her throat.
On lonely street corners,
hawking her body.
In the classroom, loving the
children to understanding.
Centered on the world's stage,
she sings to her loves and beloveds,
to her foes and detractors:
However I am perceived and deceived,
however my ignorance and conceits,
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,
for I shall not be moved. (39-40)

An urgency for the reconstruction of legacy informs, too, Nicole Blackman's "Daughter,"(7) which begins, "One day I'll give birth to a tiny baby girl/ and when she's born she'll scream and I'll make sure/ she never stops" (395). The poem ends with the refrain: "Never forget what they did to you/ and never let them know you remember" (398).

The commitment to community and family are returned to an awareness of the self, in Aurora Levins Morales' "Class Poem,"(8) in which the consciousness of oppression, the systems of knowing and unknowing, and the volubility of pride merge to move beyond anger, beyond even acceptance, to a stubborn refusal to relinquish the sovereignty of self-representation and power:


This is for Norma
who died of parasites in her stomach when she was four
I remember her mother wailed her name
screaming and sobbing
one whole afternoon in the road in front of our school
and for Angélica
who caught on fire while stealing kerosene for her family
and died in pain
because the hospital she was finally taken to
knew she was poor
and would not give her the oxygen she needed to live
but wrapped her in greased sheets
so that she suffocated.
This is a poem against the wrapped sheets,
against guilt.
This is a poem to say:
my choosing to suffer gives nothing
to Tita and Norma and Angélica
and that not to use the tongue, the self-confidence, the training
my privilege bought me
is to die again for people who are already dead
and who wanted to live.
And in case anyone here confuses the paraphernalia
with the thing itself
let me add that I lived with rats and termites
no carpet no stereo no TV
that the bath came in buckets and was heated on the stove
that I read by kerosene lamp and had Sears mail-order clothes
and that that has nothing to do
with the fact of my privilege.
Understand, I know exactly what I got: protection and choice
and I am through apologizing.
I am going to strip apology from my voice
my posture
my apartment
my clothing
my dreams
because the voice that says the only true puertorican
is a dead or dying puertorican
is the enemy's voice-
the voice that says
"How can you let yourself shine when Tita, when millions
are daily suffering in those greased sheets. . ."
I refuse to join them there.
I will not suffocate.
I will not hold back.
Yes, I had books and food and shelter and medicine
and I intend to survive. (97-98)

Modes of resistance to and intervention of the strictures of hegemony establish, in this canon, a parity among the extant discourses on voice, representation, and power. Here, as Hortense Spillers and Elaine Scarry suggest, above, the work of the imagination fosters the "visionary moment" and the necessary artifacts of survival. Sovereignty, in these works, is not a site of diminishing potential, but a moment of raw courage, of persistence, disclosure, bearing witness, and moving on.






Genre studies that include novels, performance art, mixed media, and autobiography as separate fields of enquiry are still greatly lacking in critical analyses of trauma in literature.

While the women of the Philippines have been briefly considered here, Pacific Islanders are vastly underrepresented in this study. A more detailed account of indigenous and Asian American women's lives would include formal sociohistoric and literary study of Hawaiian, Filipina, and smaller Pacific Island groups.

Similarly, immigrants to the U.S. from the larger African, Asian and Latino diaspora have not been sufficiently represented here; again, fuller inclusion will require historic investigation and culturally-specific literary hermeneutics.

Studies of male survivors of sexual trauma and battering are just beginning to be published; none are pan-historic. Bringing the formulation of power and representation to its clearest view will require further examination of males as victims/survivors-and females as perpetrators-to delimit normative standards for masculine and feminine roles, toward shaping new understandings of "gender."

I had planned sections on the polemics of violence within the gay and lesbian communities, and regret that I was not able to include them here. Although many of the authors included in this study are lesbian, the violence of which they speak is not particularized within the dynamics of lesbian-identified communities. A more inclusive study will engage these aspect of trauma and survival.


Canéla A. Jaramillo

Boulder, Colorado






1 Audre Lorde, "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism," keynote presentation at the National Women's Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, June 1981. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984. Quote on p. 127.

2 From "For Each of You," first published in From A Land Where Other People Live (Broadside Press, Detroit, 1973), and collected in Chosen Poems: Old and New (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1982), p. 42. [Author's note.]

3 Wendy Rose, "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song," from Lost Copper(1980). Reprinted in Rereading America, eds. Gary Colombo, et al. NY: St. Martin's Press, second edition, 1992. Citations from reprinted edition.

4 Janice Mirikitani, "We, The Dangerous," from Awake in the River (1978); reprinted in Rereading America, eds. Colombo, et al. NY: St. Martin's Press, second edition, 1992. Citations from reprinted edition.

5 Ntozake Shange, "Blood Rhythms -- Blood Currents -- Black and Blue Stylin'," from Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, eds. Algarín and Holman. NY: Henry Holt, 1994.

6 Maya Angelou, "Our Grandmothers," from I Shall Not Be Moved. Reprinted in The Woman That I Am, ed. D. Soyini Madison. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1994. Citations from reprinted edition.

7 Nicole Blackman, "Daughter," in Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, eds. Algarín and Holman. NY: Henry Holt, 1994.

8 Aurora Levins Morales, "Class Poem," from the autobiographical text co-authored with her mother, Rosario Morales, Getting Home Alive. Reprinted in Rereading America, ed. Gary Colombo, et al. NY: St. Martin's Press, second edition, 1992. Citations from reprinted edition.




 "Reading Hurt: Conclusions" © 1997 by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo

 View the Works Cited Page for "Reading Hurt"

 Original Graphic © 1997 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal



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