shake the dust

There is a wonderful performance poet named Anis Mojgani whom I was first introduced to in college one night as I mindlessly lost myself in the world of YouTube and stumbled upon his inspiring poetry. The poem I first clicked on by Anis was a poem called Shake the Dust, and it starts with the line, “This one right here…this is for the fat girls.” Now up until this point, any time I had read or heard the term “fat girls” on the internet, it was usually followed by cruel comments and sexist judgments on the female body. I could tell that this poem, however, was different. This poem was for the fat girls, so naturally, I followed my curiosity and kept listening.

This is for the fat girls

This is for the little brothers
For the former prom queens
And for the milk crate ball players
This is for the school yard wimps
And the childhood bullies that tormented them

Shake the dust.

This is for the tired and the dreamers
And for those families that will never be like the Cleavers
With perfectly made dinners, and sons like Wally and the Beaver
This is for the bigots
This is for the sexists
This is for the killers
This one is for the big house jail sentenced cats becoming redeemers

And for the springtime, that somehow always shows up after every single winter.

This poem was a poem for those they don’t write poems about – a poem for those who are forgotten; a poem for those who have lied and cheated and failed and hurt others profoundly; a poem for the broken hearted and the ones who break hearts; a poem for the ill-mannered, the assholes, the bullies; a poem for the haters and the hated; ultimately a poem for all of us with one simple piece of wisdom: shake the dust.

A few weeks ago, I was traveling through California on my self-proclaimed “soul vacation,” and one night I found myself with a new friend biking around Venice Beach during sunset. This was my first time in L.A. and as I rode along the foreign streets, I couldn’t help but marvel at everything I passed. I marveled at the smiles on strangers’ faces; I marveled at the cool breeze that moved past my face and through my hair; I marveled at the valet men parking cars; I marveled at the adorable little bell on my handlebars; I maraveled at my white converse sneakers as I watched my feet turn the pedals round and round and round. As I rode through the town and onto the sidewalks lining the beach, I marveled at all the life that surrounded me – all the little things I had been overlooking for so long.

There is something about riding a bike that will always remind me of being a kid in the summertime – no responsibilities, no worries that seem to take over, no guilt associated with pleasure. Only the raw and untouched feeling of joy present. Riding a bike has always felt extremely freeing to me, as if nothing at all could possibly weigh me down. It felt as if I was flying – not necessarily away from anything or anyone, but rather towards a version of myself that knew only peace.

As I rode around, I felt this tingly child-like joy make its way from my toes up to my fingers, and then to my heart and eventually to my face. All the worries and fears and baggage I had been holding on to – the tragic death of my mother, my father’s Parkinson’s disease, uncertainties with my finances, business, and relationship, anger towards family members and friends who have hurt me, my own health issues resulting from stress, my constant questioning – everything that had previously held so much power, power that I arguably granted, wasn’t strong enough in this moment to hold back the smile that was now slowly forming on my face. I felt a very subtle but evident presence of peace.

Was I learning how to shake the dust, I wondered? 

I was letting go of everything and anything that I knew in my heart would prevent me from living in this joy. I was slowly releasing the firm grip I had on the wounded identity life had handed me – the identity of the grieving motherless child. And I thought for a moment: perhaps it wasn’t resilience that was going to save me after all. Throughout my life I had learned to pick myself up time after time. I gave my mother’s eulogy; I started my own company; I helped my father with his disease; I managed to even get myself out of bed when the grief was heavy and seemingly unbearable. The fact that I’m still here, that any of us are still here after experiencing loss, that we’re still breathing, still showing up to our lives every day makes us all pretty damn resilient. But what if I needed something more than just standing back up on my own two feet and persevering? What if what was holding me back from experiencing joy in its purest form was the mere act of holding on to the dust in my life and refusing to shake it out?

But there I was in Venice Beach riding my bike along the Pacific Ocean, fully engaged in the moment before me. I was finally learning how to let go; I was finally learning how to be free; I was finally learning, once again, how it felt to let myself fly.

Always Learning (and finding more space to fly),



Listen to Anis’s poem here: Shake The Dust

Elizabeth Piper