Freedom from Fear


by Michelle Whittaker

[The music composition referenced in “Freedom from Fear” is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op 67  III. Largo. Michelle Whittaker would like to encourage you to listen to the composition while reading the poem. A version of this is available to play below.]

The second movement of Shostakovich’s
Piano Trio is good for staring at a picture
of a father figure on a headboard—
an oasis, a family portrait, home every night.
It’s good for remembering your kin
crawling in scores under floorboards,
under ships wrecked, in and out of bureau drawers.
This teaches me something about bravery.
This teaches me about the violence of haste.
Thou art marking a bull’s eye egotistical like Eve’s
issues, and Adam’s, where some might snake away.
I cannot barely write words efficiently
above the ground with clean water and light
and mechanical pens. Still, the trio runs
good for how we glower and worry
about fascists and Nazis.
This trains me about this island’s idleness,
about watching out for boats breaching shorelines,
it reminds of what’s set livid,
disowning me from my brown heritage.
I often ask myself for a truth about the eyes, mine
not that different from yours. Have we adjusted
the ownership of the word dark?
This teaches me dark isn’t a color or even human.
It’s good for the glorified boldface lie,
for the claw-grip, but without hurry
as it strokes the upper tips of our ears,
ever more, ever slight, an ever stinging
like you and I are animals in training,
like you and I are animals in separate cages.
This is good for beyond the bedridden brambles.
This teaches beyond me, how the coffin
relates to the night’s music.


About the Author:

Michelle Whittaker is a musician and poet. Her poems have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Narrative​Vinyl PoetryLong Island Quarterly, and other publications. She had been awarded a Cave Canem Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize Special Mention and a 2017 New York State Foundation of Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her book, Surge, was recently released by Great Weather for Media.