2009 Changemaker: Marlene Jezierski

‘Beyond the Mirror’

Marlene Jezierski gives away books. On Sept. 26 she gave away nearly 500 copies at a book launch celebration for “Beyond the Mirror,” her poems that tell the stories and consequences of emotional domestic abuse. More typically, though, her book is distributed copy by copy, here and there, maybe appearing on a coffee shop table or handed from one friend to another.

At the book launch that was held at Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine, nearly 260 people came to hear her moving poems and to leave with one or two copies to pass along.

While there were a lot of friendly faces in her audience, many came who had been personally touched in some way by domestic violence. “Certainly a lot of friends came, but you know, I don’t have that many friends,” Jezierski said.

The room fell silent when Jezierski read her poems. “I am so aware that I’m not a Shakespeare or Keats or a Blake or even Mary Oliver or anybody, but I think it’s the message,” she said.

The message in her poetry comes from stories she had heard in her 30 years as an emergency-room nurse in Anoka County and her 10 years as an activist and educator against domestic violence. The poetry in “Beyond the Mirror” focuses on the murky and often misunderstood dimensions of emotional abuse.

The stories in Jezierski’s poems illuminate scenes of verbal abuse, often invisible, but recognizable to a reader. “I have said from the beginning that this was not about me, but it was about the issue, … about the victims/survivors.”

The book launch was an emotional experience. “Most moving of all, people flooded to the podium, to tell me their stories,” she said. “I have experienced this when teaching classes about domestic violence, but this was exponentially more powerful. People kept coming, telling their stories and expressing their gratitude. I was deeply moved by the stories and the pain, but also by the faith that there is hope.”

Jezierski said, “So many times when you go to hear a speaker, everybody gets fired up and then they go home.” But this event was intended to have a ripple effect as organizations also provided information, resources and opportunities for volunteering. Among the organizations were a battered women’s shelter, child abuse agencies, counseling centers, community outreach groups and Partners in Faith for Peace, of which Jezierski is member.

Her commitment to peace permeates her poems. “Peace begins in the home,” Jezierski said in a Minnesota Women’s Press article in September 2009. “If people understand how behaviors are harmful in the home and change that, then they do that in other places in their life as well.”

Her hope is that through public speaking and poetry readings and giving the book away one copy at a time her poems will contribute to understanding and ending emotional abuse.

“This is bigger than all of us,” Jezierski said. “I want to believe that the pebbles tossed are creating bigger and bigger circles.”

So she stayed and baked
chocolate chip cookies, prayed,
and slipped quarters to her children.

How are they, the social worker asked-
really-how are the children doing?
Are you sure they’re all right?

Oh my yes, the mother’s words
flowed in a rush-she had no doubt-
the children knew nothing
of the beatings or her tears.

. . .

Later, the social worker
showed the mother a truth:
in a daughter’s drawing,
the father and the boys
had thick black hair. They had eyes,
noses and mouths.
The heads of the mother and the girls
were bald. They had no noses,
no eyes, no mouths.

Excerpt from “Silent Witness” by Marlene Jezierski

To read “Beyond the Mirror” online click here.