Shelley Washington

Let's Make Some Noise Together


Program Notes

Sometimes I write poetry to go with my music! Here are some of the ones that accompany this program.


The Workers' Dreadnought


From each angle

Impenetrable- as if the


of fabric clothing their frames,

a cotton iron, steel-

which formed the mightiest wall of both

Blossoming and full figures

was able to push forward

fueled by the steam of their desire and

the embers of their hate;

The Workers,

plowing forward in one movement

the waves in their wake

throttling the persistent trials of time,

knew the war they waged-

with white wears woven

signaling a faux peace, yet shrouding truth-

For their resolve was patient-

A lifetime battle for a millennium war.

“Hell hath no fury” like the women scorned.

Big Talk

In this room

In this space

One of Us


Restaurants, Dorm Rooms, Public Transportation, Parks, Parking Lots, Indoors,

The Bathroom of a Then-Trusted Friend


1 in 3, 3 of 5, 1 in 6, 90%, 17.7 Million


But be pretty

But be quiet

But be Dutiful

But be small/

Those thick thighs

See that smile?

Let’s have that mouth

Don’t you walk away


Where my ownership of Self

meets your requirements of culture

and where

Your Holy Trinity®

can’t seem to keep its stiff fingers

off of or out of Mine-

a secret rage festers;

We see your eyes undressing Us

oozing victory over the prize of our flesh

alive from a battle in which you did not fight fairly-



And beyond the void that Our eyes display

A draped expanse of a world exists

A crowded forest of Your sinuous trees

that had only suggested equality-

A silent place,

where We easily lift our sovereign legs

to crush Your feeble Branches

like goddesses of chaos

whose thirst for your blindness won’t be quenched

until every splinter is mulched

and ferns sprout anew.




I must have been in 1st grade or Kindergarten

when some kid said the “N” word in front of me

and I didn’t know what it meant but I wanted to find out

It kept rolling around in my head

What is it? A name? Is it a good name?

I said it out loud at home, and remember my Dad looked sad.


I must have been in 4th grade

when we had to take the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test

and to tell the state how smart we were

We also had to tell them what race we were

“Select One Answer” but I needed two bubbles to be honest

I asked my teacher “why can’t I fill in ‘black’ and ‘white’”

And she said “just fill in black”

and she looked sad.


In high school, I was on the swim team

My brother was on the swim team

We were both really good. We were both Varsity champions and captains.

Someone said, “I didn’t even know black people could swim”

another said, “well, you’re only good athletes because you’re black.”

I was sad.


I went to college, and was the only mixed student in the music department.

-Another time being One of The Only and this never has seemed to change even now-

I played saxophone in all of the top ensembles- I was first chair bari sax in every group we had. I earned that.

A guy I knew made black jokes all the time.

“you’re so white though”

“haha it’s just because you’re black though isn’t it?”

I slapped him across the face at a party once. Hard. I wasn’t even drinking

I was just so mad.

So mad.


I live in New York City now.

You can be whoever you want

You can be nobody

The anonymity of solitude

The fame of individuality

I love it.

Every day I’m myself.

Just a drop of creamy coffee

in the pantone of people here

I am comfortable. I am happier.


But, I read the news

I read what the things people I went to high school with are posting

And how “all lives matter” though so why are you complaining

And “well, he shoulda just listened to the cop and that wouldn’t have happened”

And needing to build a wall

And needing to take back our country

And needing to keep our guns

And needing to build up our police force

And needing to                these thugs


I cry a lot when I read the news

So much hurting

Because of the bubble they’re asked to fill out on an exam form

Because someone forgot to use a turn signal

Because they “fit the description”

I can’t breathe.

I am sad.


I am black, I am white. I am both. I get to be both. I can choose. I could choose.

But who cares?

What does my mask entitle me to?

I’ve been followed around a store before

I got a DWB (driving while black) in summer once when I was really tan

A coworker said the “N” word a bunch around me but “oh, well I thought she was Mexican”

I was accused of “using the race card”

My opinions have been scrutinized

It matters to me what I feel

But it doesn’t matter- does the 1 drop rule still apply?

not dark enough to shout it from the rooftops but not white enough to be alright either so

just another day being One of The Only



America is a big place.

A lot of people live in it.

Some people understand everyone’s pain

And some people want “the good old days” back.

We should be able to choose individually

Who we wanna be/what we want to do/how we get to live

But as of late we haven’t been able to, and it gets summarized in the headlines:

Rich White Dude Raped a Woman and Went to Jail for like 20 Seconds

Poor Black Kid was Killed for No Real Reason.

     Was killed.


So what do we have to say for ourselves, hm?

What do you have to say for yourself?

What do we even say?

“liking” and hash-tagging have helped some so far

I don’t even know if God is listening – white jesus maybe but

We keep saying all these things over and over

But what’s the use? What’s the truth?

Dead horse is done beat to death more and here we are kicking away at it

so what do we do? What can we say?

So what do you have to say for yourself?

What do I have to say for myself?

What do we even say?

Say it

Say it

Say it




MIDDLEGROUND: the space grounded, the between, the center. The Heartland. The prairie, the grasslands, Konza, Flint Hills, Manhattan, Emporia, Salina. Where we gathered.

Home of the heart, heart of the home.

The years spent in cars, daydreaming, scooping handfuls of wheat, racing out into amber fields, cycling together, water wheel ice cream, fireworks and apples. The stories shared, books read sprawled in the yard, family prayers over anything, late evening walks, quiet nights. Open arms, open hearts, humble and extraordinary.

Together, with our wonder, our joy, we created an incredible painting with abounding colors. The kinds of colors that linger in the minds eye long after they are out of sight and cradle you long after goodbyes are spoken and car doors closed. The kinds that find you counting the days until the next birthday, the next holiday, the next bike ride, the next Camp, the next anything just so you can see them again. When you close your eyes you feel their warmth. They stay.

The middle ground: my refuge born from the land living in my heart. Where my home is, living and breathing outside of my body, thousands of miles apart. This hallowed ground.

For my family.