When we feel under attack, we're not very likely to acknowledge vulnerability. For many of us, perhaps more true of men, there were typically no safe places to be sissies when we were young. Gary Gildner's football coach in "First Practice" made this message clear to the young men on his squad when he lined them up facing each other and said:
Sharon Thompson's "Pigeons" gives us a glimpse of this combative attitude toward the world:... if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don't want to see
any marks when you're dressed...
Behind this tough exterior is an untended child who learned early, as depicted by Luis J. Rodriguez in "Cloth of Muscle and Hair," that soft things can become creatures of clawed meat:...a sultry sunday
about 3pm in mid-august
was the best time to hunt pigeonsit was then they felt safe
to swoop from the roofs...
A good fight can strengthen a relationship, but not when we're overly protective of our hearts: What a great battle you and I have fought, wrote Anna Wickham in "The Marriage:"...The five-year-old girl wept, having held
these same rabbits only a day before,
gathering them close, fur to face, stroking them
and sensing their pulse beneath her fingers...
Were they not afraid of being vulnerable, the couple in Wickham's poem could have found a truce:...A one-armed combat,
For each held the left hand pressed close to the heart...How tenderly we guarded them;
I would keep mine and still have yours,
And you held fast to yours and coveted mine...
But when bound by a war mentality, we fear our hearts will rule us if not locked up. Marie Ponsot, in "One Is One," locked hers up tight:...We would have thrown down weapons
And been at each other like apes,
Scratching, biting, hugging...
It's a great strength to be able to do something others are determined not be done; this can also have great costs, as Marge Piercy wrote in "For Strong Women," how Her head hurts from always trying to butt her way through a steel wall:Heart, you bully, you punk, I'm wrecked, I'm shocked
stiff. You? you still try to rule the world -- though
I've got you: identified, starving, locked
in a cage you will not leave alive...
We can hope to be loved equally for our strength and our weakness if we are inspired by Seamus Heaney's "Doubletake" and recognize how our drive for justice is also a projection of our own suffering:...People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong...
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness...
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard...So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge...
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells...