The Red Door

Portland Oregon is blessed with a unique educational resource–The Red Door Project, inspired by the life and writings of August Wilson. Its mission is to change racial ecology through the arts, starting here, in Portland’s complex racial climate. The Red Door project is a nest of creative genius. Cop Out is a success manual for American communities advancing national Police Reform. (see

Here is a poem you will not like, about my Hands Up, Don’t Shoot experience–in the shoes of the other person. Read it or not, and please educate yourself from the best source in town, The August Wilson Red Door Project.


Last efforts after rage-filled surrender to helplessness;
slipping, one arm, then the other, slowly into the black vest
hanging from the single stage prop–a strait-backed dinning chair.

The weight of the vest opens, closes in waves, inhibiting
speed, exhibiting pockets of bombs wrapping his upper body.
Zipping, bit by bit, he sees us, talks to us, understands our terror.

He is in charge. We, his captivated audience are with him now,
surrendering to our helplessness. The moment heightens blood pressure,
temperature, quickens heartbeats. He patrols among us with ultimate control.

He talks to us as if this is the end. We know it could be the
end. We’ve seen it over and over in our decades, wars, our lives,
cities, streets. This time, we know bombs when we see them–threat, death.

There is no way out here. Enough bombs in that vest for
blowing the whole room, the whole building, this small town. I
want to go home. I want mama, daddy, help, don’t let this happen.

It didn’t happen.

Later, another actor, shouts, HANDS UP, HIGHER! throwing
his angered, baritone voice far out to the back of the old school gym.
We are ordered to shout, DON’T SHOOT, arms held high–in pain if we’re old.

Eye to eye with each one of us, he repeats and repeats his
orders. Hands up, keep ’em up. Do as I say. Louder and louder;
longer and longer knowing we are scared to death by the gun we face.

The bomb, the gun, a rape, death are here, among us. Innocence
dashed. No excuse forgives us. All our human senses exposed when
teachers teach with bombs, guns, threats; education wins, we understand.

Norma Edythe Heyser 7/13/20


Color is a word. Who made it up? What was his name? What was he thinking?
What did he mean? What was color before it had a name? Is there a word for
color that means more than the word, color? Black? White? Not us, you or me.

You’re not black. I’m not white. We never have been black and white. That’s
a name made up by someone, sometime, thinking something. We are what
we see in our environment–hue, value, texture, mass, form, range, light, dark.

We feel and sense each other like other earthly animals. Ignoring that, we think
each other up. We make images in our minds about each other. Only true when
we relate, talk, tell each other our truth and, ah, there’s the rub, we use the word.

Words make us stumble around boundaries and limitations. They keep us
from really knowing our truths. Hug is word too, meaning what? Touch, feel,
warmth, texture, breath, movement? Is it also color? Does color hug me?

Words are getting old, worn out, slowing down, losing meaning. Look at Love,
It only means what you or I have experienced. You, Black, think it’s God. I,
White, think its Life. And then, there’s Hate–it, too is what we have experienced.

Terror, Mr Floyd ruthlessly killed before our eyes; Beauty, Portland Police,
kneeling before an outraged crowd. Was that Compassion? Would that be it?
Black is not Black, White is not White. It is more for which there are no words.

(Surely you have something to say about this, please send it to Readers Write
link above)

Norma Edythe Heyser 7/11/20


(Published again)

Looking for Something Special?
Did you know there are thousands of firearms, let alone
all types of outdoor gear available for special order?
Stop by the sporting goods counter at your local Bi Mart!

He, sandy-haired, clean-cut white man–mmm, early 40s.
Precedes her at Bi Mart’s check stand.
She, white-hair, white woman looking for the
right battery to lock and unlock her car door.

His cart holds four, empty, kaki, canvas rifle cases,
four dark, heavy, steel boxes, and oodles of ammunition.

She, in characteristic, visual acuity, notices two more carts of
firearm gear steered by clean-cut men to other checkout stands.

What is this? she thinks, then taps the young man’s shoulder.
He swings around alertly, making stern, pale blue, wide-eyed, contact,
eased by her geriatric demeanor.

“Are you going to kill somebody? She asks, wishing they could talk.
“Oh no.” he says, after a thoughtful moment, “This is for my father.”

She remains confused, as they move on, thinks about standing with the
Christmas bell ringer, watching for gun gear, asking the question,

“Are you going to kill somebody?”

The Christmas bell-ringer will say, “Careful, gal, you’ll get yourself killed,
and maybe me too.

”Curious, she still wants to know the answers to that question.

Norma Heyser 12/19/19

1 thought on “

  1. Your poems move me. Yes, words separate us and, unfortunately, a name meant to help us see all as fellow creatures to be loved…Jesus Christ…is one of the big separators. It is art that makes us see reality more clearly, that makes us look from a different direction. Thank you for your art, Norma. You have succeeded in saying, “Look at these human experiences again.”


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