We’re crowded into a tiny room in the downstairs of a bar on Mass. Ave. called The Cantab Lounge. The floor is cement and the chairs pulled to the center of the room are those simple café chairs you see in old diners. A bartender stands at a small bar in the back, but no one is drinking so he has a pitcher of the water on the counter and his eyes, and ears, on the poets. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning and we’re about to start the Point of Origin open mic.
Poets take the stage –no platform, simply an open space in the front and center of the room-and share a bit about where they’re from and who they are. A Japanese-American man, a co-host of this event, spits a piece that sends tears down my face and chills up my spine. It’s a poem about his grandfathers. He opens telling us that in 1945 his Japanese grandfather had his house burned to the ground in Tokyo and his American grandfather was overseas burning down Japanese houses in Tokyo. His piece jumps through different points in time using the year to anchor us in this winding history, but beyond simply naming the years his imagery captures the time and place so precisely. By the end my face is wet and I feel like I’ve been watching baseball with his “grampy.”
Pieces about race, skin color, heritage, the hood, hard times, layoffs, and mistaken identities bounce off the walls of the room land in my chest. It’s powerful to hear someone’s story, it’s even more powerful delivered with skill and art. A good slam piece is like an invisible tattoo – you are left marked and changed, but only you know it.
I would have liked to have heard more from a woman who began an incredible piece, but then forgot the rest of it and started over with a different one. Her first piece was about being a brown-skinned woman. She did it in the form of questions asked to her with bigotry woven in. “What kind of brown,” she asked, following it with stereotypes and painful slurs wrongly associated with those of brown skin, “like terrorist brown?” Her piece was moving as she used fear and hatred to spin these questions asked to her about her own skin.
Another poet, a beautiful English Muslim woman, read a piece by her favorite author. I wish I had made a note of the name. This piece talked about the beauty of women and outlined the oppression in American culture of American women through products and being treated like a commodity to be bought, maintained, or sold. I’m not doing it any justice, but it was great to see the view of oppression turned away from the American way of thinking about women and the hijab and instead look at the early sexualization of young girls and women and the push to remain youthful and beautiful in America.
Finally, I took the stage and did my piece, Blue Eyes. I think it was an interesting piece to do after hearing so many people share about their parents and grandparents. It might have made more sense to do These Are My People, but Blue Eyes says a lot about where I come from. I tell people it’s about my daughter, but really it’s about me and being between my past and where I’m from and my future and the daughter I’m raising. I’m happy to say it was well received and now I can say I’ve slammed in Cambridge.