safe harbor

Leonid Afremov

Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine. – Macklemore

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it. – Stevie Wonder

Would you harbor me?

Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew
a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a run away woman, or child,
a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee,
a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth
a fugitive or a slave?
Would you harbor a Haitian Korean or Czech,
a lesbian or a gay?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
song and lyrics by Ysaye Barnwell
Sung by Sweet Honey and the Rock on their album “Sacred Ground”

This week, we came together again to write songs. The song we studied is called, “Would you harbor me?” written by Ysaye Barnwell to be sung by gospel group Sweet Honey and the Rock. When I put the lyrics on the board, someone asked, “What is a harbor?” The group worked together to define harbor. We all gave our explanations and looked it up in a dictionary but ultimately, we said it was place that, in our culture, harbor has come to mean something more significant than its earliest definitions. A harbor is safe place to land in a storm. It is important remember that not all harbors are prepared to take us safely. We learn, over time, the signals that indicate that a harbor is safe and welcome.

There a sentiment shared by those in the group – that it is easy to answer the quetion, “Would I harbor you?” One writer said that as long as she had a couch and a cupboard, they are open to those in need. The harder question for our circle was, “Would you harbor me?” While most of us trust we would take in those in need, we do not believe we will be harbored with equal care and readiness by others. It is a practice in our circle to become fluent in the signals that indicate safety for others; that by listening and keeping each other’s stories safe, we show one another in the group that our group is safe harbor.

When are then forced to ask ourselves, how fluent are we in telling others that they are safe amongst us? In the pieces below, you will hear about the tools and strategies our writers use to navigate the vast ocean of human experience and how they either find safe harbor or are still searching for it.


Writing is memory and memory is music.
Every piece has its own cadence,
a melody that draws half-forgotten, liquid light
out of the recesses where you have hoarded it,
a protection against the inevitable drought
that kills the muse. Music, fast and sharp,
a battle, a chase. Music, soaring and ethereal,
magic on the wind. Music to break
through the storeroom doors, to flood the page
with every sensation, cornsilk hair, a confetti-whirl
of silver poplars in the breeze, thrumming, slapping canvas
hard against the mast, stinging, high, breathy ozone,
crackling with just-missed lightning…
a dance, the words are all a dance, set to the living,
breathing music of your thundering heart, flying fingers;
a dance, at times partnered all unwilling, drawn willy-nilly
into a reel too fast for the fleetest fingers to follow.
Music draws memory, emotion, character, setting, and plot.
Music pulls and eyelash here, a curve of cheek there,
a tumble of improbably red hair from yet another,
a Frankenstein set on creating on the page a monster new,
whole, and utterly beautiful, Deucalion this time, perhaps,
not poor, muddy man. Music, creator, the thread to sew together
the rippling shards of color, to attach sun-drenched,
moment to moment, a quilt of something new. Music is a fire
burning away the ache of ugliness and sticky sorrow from a memory,
leaving only that final seed which can be used… the festive glitter, shining
bright, of a shattered glass in a pool of blood… the perfect, creamy gleam
of bone through skin… that one glistening perfect note at the heart
of a scream. Music trims away the fat, the unnecessary, the endlessly trite
detail of purposeless pain, leaving behind only the stunning glory
of the moments of perfection in their midst.



I look to you. I hope you can see that I need you now.
So many times you have left without a trace and without warning.
Too abrupt, too many mistaken identities.
You left me no choice but to pick up the wreckage,
piece by piece, I hold these scars to the light for all to see.
It’s my badge of honor and love. You can’t deny
the wounds that were once there. I try to put it all back together,
they just don’t fit anymore. Shriveled and weathered – the shape
no longer exists. Have you made up your mind?
I’ve made up mine. Your absence was tangible.
No, it was consuming. I wait for the morning, hoping it’s for the last time.
Plast let me be the last time. All I wanted was your arms as shelter,
your lips as refuge, your touch as comfort. Harbor me.
Never let me go. Can’t you see the need I have for you?
I don’t want you to go, not without me. The very smallest spark
can create a flame. That’s all it would take. Wild fire or rain,
none of it matters, I’d walk through it all. As long as I knew you were
on the other side, that would get me through. It’s always been you
that gets me through.



Fight or flight – those are the natural human instincts. I flee. Or hide.

I’m not very strong physically but I can sprint. My nickname when I was little
was T-bird, short for Thunderbird, because I was speedy.

I get in spats with the people I love then I run away so I can avoid conflict.
How am I ever going to get anywhere in life?
I avoid relationships long-term because it’s easier to say goodbye
to someone you barely know then your best friend. I’m tired of starting over.
I want to be with people who know me already so I don’t have to keep explaining myself.
I’m tired of running.
Next time I run, it’s going to be toward my fears, not away.
I’ll fight to keep the right people in my life. I’ll fight
‘til my last breath and I’ll never quit.

I’m a fighter now, nowhere to run.
Force a flighter to fight and they’ll fight like hell.
Strength is within.

No one will ever back me into a corner again
because this time I’ll never quit.
Nothing can stop me–I’m on the way up!


2 thoughts on “safe harbor

. . . and you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s