Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

June, 2010:

From the Archives: Old Poem, “You Get Proud By Practicing”

In honor of LGBT Pride Month — and to honor and encourage all kinds of people embracing the risks of visibility and pride — I decided to re-post a very old poem of mine. It remains a favorite of mine, and of lots of other people. It’s been reprinted in a number of places, most recently in an anthology called Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights. It speaks of the right to feel proud, and offers some exercises for achieving pride.

YOU GET PROUD BY PRACTICING

Copyright 1991 by Laura Hershey

If you are not proud
for who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
if every time you stop
to think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
with golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can
get proud.

You do not need
a better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
to be proud.
You do not need
a lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
to be able to walk, or see, or hear,
or use big, complicated words,
or do any of the things that you just can’t do
to be proud. A caseworker
cannot make you proud,
or a doctor.
You only need
more practice.
You get proud
by practicing.

There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
or playing guitar,
and do well or not so well,
and be glad you tried
either way.
You can show
something you’ve made
to someone you respect
and be happy with it no matter
what they say.
You can say
what you think, though you know
other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
you are crazy.
You can add your voice
all night to the voices
of a hundred and fifty others
in a circle
around a jailhouse
where your brothers and sisters are being held
for blocking buses with no lift,
or you can be one of the ones
inside the jailhouse,
knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
to a friend
without fear.
You can find someone
who will listen to you
without judging you or doubting you or being
afraid of you
and let you hear yourself perhaps
for the first time.
These are all ways
of getting proud.
None of them
are easy, but all of them
are possible. You can do all of these things,
or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
by practicing.

Power makes you proud, and power
comes in many fine forms
supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
and liking what you hear
because it is the sound of your own
true voice.
It is sunlight
when you practice seeing
strength and beauty in everyone
including yourself.
It is dance
when you practice knowing
that what you do
and the way you do it
is the right way for you
and can’t be called wrong.
All these hold
more power than weapons or money
or lies.
All these practices bring power, and power
makes you proud.
You get proud
by practicing.

Remember, you weren’t the one
who made you ashamed,
but you are the one
who can make you proud.
Just practice,
practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud
by practicing.

By the way, if you would like to order a poetry chapbooks, audiotapes, or poster featuring this poem, “You Get Proud By Practicing,” you can email Laura at laura@laurahershey.com or send a check for $10 per item to:
Laura Hershey
P.O. Box 11215
Englewood, Colorado 80151

“Remembering Siesta Key”: A Poem of the Gulf

Remembering Siesta Key

Copyright 2010 by Laura Hershey

Ten days each spring, we woke
to the smell of salt water, seaweed,

eggs my Dad fried in butter,
and fresh orange pulped by Nana.

Before ten a.m. we wore the scent
of sun tan lotion, and tumbled out the door

where the Gulf welcomed us with waves
tendering gifts: conch shells, sand dollars,

tiny clams which opened into pink hearts
or angels’ wings spread for flight.

On folding chairs and big beach towels
we ate peanuts, cheese sandwiches, more oranges.

We did homework — price of missing
three days’ school — halfheartedly,

equations and penciled solutions blurring
amid glare on white pages.

All day, from low to high tide, and back, we slid between
land and sea, let the surf pound and pull at us,

let the sun dizzy us, built castles
of shovel-packed sand walls and drizzled spires

with moats Dad dug deep enough
for my dangling legs.

Can I now, forty years later, grieve
that same seawater? How many times since then

has it evaporated, and fallen? How many hundreds
of generations of mollusks and minnows

have lived and died naturally between that beach
and the sandbar we rafted to at low tide?

In no sense are they mine to mourn —
but neither can I claim innocence.

The flights I board, my craving for cool air,
all my habits of comfort and consumption

learned on family vacations, loved
for a lifetime, joined to billions of others’ hungers,

led to drilling in that Gulf, a hole in its heart,
to take what lay within.

Now, I watch remote live feeds
of unstoppable hemorrhage, technology

helpless to reverse its own mistakes,
dark plumes choking Gulf currents,

and I grieve for fishing families, for endangered pelicans
and bluefin, for eleven dead workingmen.

But my soul aches for what I have not seen
for many years, and what might be lost:

long days on the beach, solving simple problems,
dreading only the end of spring break, until next year.