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John Lundberg

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"Gay" Poem Shakes Up The Utah State Legislature

Posted: 02/14/10 07:00 AM ET

Utah's House of Representatives usually begins the day with a morning prayer, but this past Wednesday, state representative Christine Johnson decided instead to read an inspirational poem.

That's all well and proper, except that the poem, entitled "Say Yes," was written by a gay and self-described activist poet named Andrea Gibson. Add on the fact that Johnson herself is gay (and, well, that you're in Utah) and you've got a full-on kerfuffle.

Local news jumped the story, expressing surprise that the "gayness" of the poem wasn't immediately clear to the state's conservative legislators, reporting that "the Utah House of Representatives was gay and didn't even know it," and "few if any of the other legislators realized their chamber had gone gay."

Well, the poem's supposed gayness probably went unnoticed because the poem's message isn't gay at all, nor does it contain any gay symbolism. "Say Yes" strikes notes of hope, peace and altruism--themes that aren't antithetical to the Mormon faith. The most radical aspect of Johnson's reading was probably that she subjected the legislature to the rhythms of spoken word poetry.

Johnson said that while she respects the opinions of her conservative colleagues, she wanted to offer them "something different." She only censored the poem a bit, cutting the line "for the radical anarchist asking the Republican to dance." Johnson, hardly a radical anarchist, was only asking that they listen. And--if only because they did not know what they were listening to--they did.

You can watch some of Johnson's reading on local news coverage here, and click here to watch Gibson passionately perform a version of the poem.

I've posted the full text of the poem below. Let me know what you think in the comments.


Say Yes

when two violins are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is struck

the other violin will sound the note

if this is your definition of hope

this is for you

the ones who know how powerful we are

who know we can sound the music in the people around us

simply by playing our own strings

for the ones who sing life into broken wings

open their chests and offer their breath

as wind on a still day when nothing seems to be moving

spare those intent on proving god is dead

for you when your fingers are red

from clutching your heart

so it will beat faster

for the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else

for the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies

and lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky

this is for you

this is also for the people who wake early to watch flowers bloom

who notice the moon at noon on a day when the world

has slapped them in the face with its lack of light

for the mothers who feed their children first

and thirst for nothing when they're full

this is for women

and for the men who taught me only women bleed with the moon

but there are men who cry when women bleed

men who bleed from women's wounds

and this is for that moon

on the nights she seems hung by a noose

for the people who cut her loose

and for the people still waiting for the rope to burn
about to learn they have scissors in their hands

this is for the man who showed me

the hardest thing about having nothing

is having nothing to give

who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away

so this is for the day we'll quit or jobs and work for something real

we'll feel for sunshine in the shadows
look for sunrays in the shade

this is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built

and for the ones who didn't know the filth until tonight

but right now are beginning songs that sound something like
people turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home

this is for all the shit we own

and for the day we'll learn how much we have

when we learn to give that shit away

this is for doubt becoming faith

for falling from grace and climbing back up

for trading our silver platters for something that matters
like the gold that shines from our hands when we hold each other

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree

where the fruit would grow to laugh

for the ones who know the math of war

has always been subtraction

so they live like an action of addition

for you when you give like every star is wishing on you

and for the people still wishing on stars

this is for you too

this is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn't have to

for the time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful

this is for the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful

for the radical anarchist asking a republican to dance

cause what's the chance of everyone moving from right to left

if the only moves they see are NBC and CBS
this is for the no becoming yes

for scars becoming breath

for saying i love you to people who will never say it to us

for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine

for the dime you gave away when you didn't have a penny

for the many beautiful things we do

for every song we've ever sung

for refusing to believe in miracles

because miracles are the impossible coming true
and everything is possible

this is for the possibility that guides us

and for the possibilities still waiting to sing

and spread their wings inside us

cause tonight saturn is on his knees

proposing with all of his ten thousand rings

that whatever song we've been singing we sing even more
the world needs us right now more than it ever has before

pull all your strings

play every chord

if you're writing letters to the prisoners

start tearing down the bars

if you're handing our flashlights in the dark

start handing our stars

never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart

play loud

play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken

and you're their last chance for sun

play like there's no time for hoping brighter days will come

play like the apocalypse is only 4...3...2

but you have a drum in your chest that could save us

you have a song like a breath that could raise us
like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries to be blue
play like you know we won't survive if you don't
but we will if you do
play like saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that we give every single breath
this is for saying-yes

this is for saying-yes