there is no comfort

Today’s prompt is an oldie-but-a-goody: the ghazal. The form was originally developed in Arabic and Persian poetry, but has become increasingly used in English, after being popularized by poets including Agha Shahid Ali. A ghazal is formed of couplets, each of which is its own complete statement. Both lines of the first couplet end with the same phrase or end-word, and that end-word is also repeated at the end of each couplet.

There is no comfort inside a broken heart
no place to safely step in a shattered heart

There is no comfort where there is no power
stripped down to the bright red wounded heart

There were children walking that street, that field
now there’s only the bitter dust of mother’s heart

Every single day, all over this singular earth
we weaponize our minds against the heart

All the uniforms say ‘I will kill if I am told to’
Fingers taut, targeting anyone with freedom of the heart

Tell me, will you ever lose your acquired taste
for the raw flesh of a young and supple heart

And how long will we scream and beat our chests in anguish
Before we divest from all structures not rooted in the heart?

9

Because today is the ninth day of NaPoWriMo, I’d like to challenge you to write a nine-line poem.

sometimes i lose my hope
when the miracles have gone
my kind invented walls and wars
boxes cages bricks and bars
separation built of sticks
spilling blood that should not mix
signs to say who cannot come
bending fire into guns

some nights my hope is done

pep talk for apocalyptic days

history is looping and retrograde today.

we can reflect on ourselves, and we can be disappointed and scared of what we are up to as a species.

and we can run from frontline to frontline with our attention and money, with our bodies as warriors and/or healing resources.

we can measure the power of our work in the backlash we produce. we can view each wild grab for power as a direct response to our lifelong assertion that we are and will be free.

and we may need to look away, because its so much, too much, to take in.

make it to the next breath, the next step, the next day. however you do that, affirm your survival.

when i read the news, when i look around i feel i am in a long line of fools carrying the soul of the world in pieces, in overstuffed mismatched luggage, along a tight rope, over borg replicator sauron darth voldemort’s mouth.

but it is the soul of the world.

and we hold it.

so i look down, i place my attention on my next move. i am focusing on who i love and want to build futures with, extending kindness and connection.

i am letting go of anything that can be released.

my big vision relies on small acts of liberation in every intimate, direct space i am in. in this vast/massive scale time, let’s focus on our own next steps and make them the most radical loving honest steps we can take.

mantra: attention/work/money where my mouth is, mouth where my heart is, heart where the people are – shape the future.

love y’all.

how to grieve for strangers

feel the grief. let the grief change you.

that’s enough. when there is great and unimaginable suffering happening – to strangers, individuals or masses – its ok, its necessary, to grieve.

when the suffering is manmade, we cannot be satisfied with knee jerk politically appropriate reactions.

we feel the need to state blame aloud before we give ourselves permission to feel the loss. who did this? who did this?

being human, being american, it almost always comes back to us in some way. this deepens the grief. at least, it should.

our crises proliferate, fatal games are played with our tax dollars, in our names, and the grief accumulates. the temptation to withdraw, to find a reason not to feel, is logical. but turning your eyes away won’t alleviate the truth of culpability, it will come find all of us out.

so tomorrow, may the scars of this devastation remind us that our goal can never be reform. we must consistently foment (r)evolution, we must “grow our souls”, and collectively outgrow the trappings of supremacy/enemy.

but right now, you don’t need an excuse for the tears, for however you grieve. you don’t have to debate historical paradigms you just googled or develop a crystal clear analysis to justify your grief – the destruction of whole families, of a city full of lives, a civilization, is grief for all of us.

one mode of grief that let’s me know i am changing is taking action. here are two actions i am taking:

1. Donate to Arab Resource & Organizing Center (monthly donations – the crises are long-term and so is the work): https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/AROC

2. make phone calls:

*** PLEASE SHARE WIDELY ***

URGENT CALL TO ACTION: CALL IN FOR #ALEPPO
(from spenta kandawalla, slightly edited call to action from a version compiled by Mohamed Chakmakchi which was adapted from: https://underthejasmine.wordpress.com/…/call-to-action-cal…/)

as we speak, civilians are being executed by the #assad regime in east aleppo & all over #syria. there are reports of hospital staff being executed, families being set on fire, mass executions and activists are saying their final goodbyes on social media. do we really want to live in a world where this is allowed to happen?

we need an immediate ceasefire now, protection of civilians, the lifting of the siege, airdrops of aid, freeing prisoners, an end to the war and for all parties, especially assad & his regime, to be held accountable for the crimes they have perpetrated.

inaction is complicity. we have to act now if we are to save the 100 000 civilians trapped inside besieged east aleppo. please call or email your MP, the UN, as well as russian & chinese embassies or consultates (since russia & china recently vetoed a ceasefire agreement put forward in the UN & iran has forces on the ground ). let’s flood their phone lines.

i urge you to call your senate members, call the russian, chinese & iranian consulates & the UN, and do whatever you can to end this.

California:
Boxer, Barbara –
(202) 224-3553 Email: www.boxer.senate.gov/?p=shareyourviews
Feinstein, Dianne –
(202) 224-3841 Email: www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/e-mail-me

Email Obama here:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

consulates:
russian consulate: (415) 928-6878
chinese consulate: 415) 852-5900
iranian consulate: 1-877-917-7705

SAMPLE LANGUAGE:

“Dear Mr. President,
The atrocities that are unfolding in Eastern Aleppo, Syria are tremendously troubling and mark a new negligence on behalf of the international community and the United States. Reports from individuals inside besieged areas that entire groups of people are being massacred, blocked humanitarian corridors, and endless and indiscriminate bombing of entire neighborhoods are flooding my news feed.
The Assad regime has more than crossed your “red line” since the chemical massacres, and it has been met with ambivalence and complete silence on our part. Your administration did not face this, in hopes of finding a diplomatic solution. But, Mr. President, we cannot ignore this today. We are well beyond your previous aspirations for a peaceful end to the Syrian conflict and I understand that, but that does not mean we should continue this administration’s policy that has allowed the regime to go unchecked with their systematic killing.
I urge you, will all my heart, that you immediately denounce the actions of the regime and the Russian government and take the necessary steps to ensure the safe removal of the remaining Syrian citizens. Put an end to the massacres, to the indiscriminate bombings, to the regime’s continued “kneel or starve” campaign. Please, I beg you, that you do not ignore the atrocities we have allowed to continue and escalate. Our humanity depends on it.
Sincerely,”

black band

i am going to begin wearing a black armband on my left arm, closest to my heart, to indicate that i am a warrior in mourning.
that #blacklivesmatter to me.
that i recognize i am of a targeted nation inside a violence-addicted nation.

i am so moved by and so grateful for the work of #blacklivesmatter, the blackout collective, BYP100, black organizing for leadership and dignity (BOLD) and so many others working to generate actions for our liberation. (give money to each of those groups if you are at a loss of what to do. redistribute a portion of your salary to their work. for serious.)

and…we can’t hope that these currently under resourced formations will just do all the work for everyone. we all need to act. we need a tipping point of brave people willing to move out of complicit silence into action. (yes, i am saying that the resistance in your head or even in righteous conversation between you and a few friends is not enough – honey i wish it were. no one wants to feel all of this and do all of this. but we are in a moment of genocide and anthropocene and we must take ourselves seriously.)

we need all kinds of action – direct action, organizing, healing, strategizing, redistribution. grieving is an action. feeling is an action.

and solidarity. not “ally” solidarity, but solidarity and action by non-black people who recognize we are in one struggle for humanity.

one action is actually being public and open about our resistance, to say we see what is happening and we say no more, not today, never again, stop. we see beyond what is happening and we know love must win.

so. i want to wear what i need – a black circle, a wholeness.

as i cut up a pair of black leggings to make my armband i felt all the things i am longing for. this isn’t what everyone who wears the armband may mean, but i wanted to share.

mervyn marcano posted #blaxit the other night and i thought – ‘yes!!’ and then, ‘but seriously how do we divest from this system of genocide?’

i want to stop paying the percentage of taxes that goes to police, ICE and military forces – to defund this perversion of justice and invest in community models, mediation and healing spaces.
i want to pull all the babies out of schools that teach them they are more than or less than anyone else – either with sloppy histories or preferential treatment and funding of education.
i want a landless workers movement to secure farmland. i want my hands in some dirt – i want octavia butler’s acorn and earthseed.
i want all my money to go to people who love me, love us.
i want the precious earth to be a shared precedent that unifies our decision making.

i want all white people to catch up to the white people i hold close to me, who show me what is possible – those who never make me wonder about our equality, who never say all lives matter, who never ask me to carry the weight of their learning and unlearning.
i want to banish any white people who don’t get it, and who aren’t working on unlearning racism, from my life and the lives of everyone i love (you don’t have the range).

i want significant work stoppage across the country every time our lives are stolen because someone imagined we were dangerous to them. our money matters, our labor matters.

i want people to know when they see me that i am to be treated like a griever and like a warrior and like a healer and nothing less. i want us to come out in our grief and radical commitment to liberation.

this is bigger than police killing of black people – this band is my public declaration of war on white supremacy in all it’s manifestations, including racialized capitalism, colonialism, difference-phobia, gun fetishes, violence as a way of resolving conflict – all of it.

it is also my public vulnerability – i grieve every time i see humanity turned against itself, i feel it. and i believe it is part of my life’s work to feel it and turn others towards feeling it, to un-numb us so that we realize we are on fire. i am not going to keep adjusting and maintaining the social status quo. i am angry and numb and overwhelmed and terrified. i am mourning and trying to step into the shoes of all my newborn ancestors. i need it to be known. i need the world to interact with me with more awareness.

in studying public signs of mourning this one seems most appropriate and accessible. it has also been a sign of protest and political affiliation at times. i think we need it to be both for grief and for resistance. i also know i would feel safer in a world where those who stood against the genocide of my people were visible to me.

i recognize i may be wearing this armband for the rest of my life. i keep thinking of the length of slavery, how not being the property of a white person seemed equal parts necessary and impossible for generations and generations. not being the target of police, ending white supremacy and racialized capitalism feels impossible to me now…but it feels absolutely necessary.

all the love i walk with only lets me move in one direction, towards our liberation.

join me.

#blacklivesmatter #blackband #blaxit

blackband

(and yes, join in all my non-black and international beloveds, especially those being targeted too – this week i have cried for so many people and places all over and i feel our togetherness in our resistance even if we start from different locations. i wear this band with love for palestine, syria, bangladesh, turkey, brazil, iraq – and that’s just this week. together we are the future.)

Compassion/We are all being

Yesterday there were coordinated terrorist attacks all over Paris. I was shaken by it – Paris is one of the places that has shaped me, I’ve been many times and have friends and family in the area.

And then I was doubly shaken by the response of my radical circle of friends – ‘to respond to terrorism in Paris but not in other places is narrow/ignorant/racist’. Or that even as we see the crisis unfold we should remember this is France’s political due.

My initial reaction was frustration and disappointment – I hate the insertion of critique in a moment of genuine emotion and grief. The assumptions and reductions that get made there. This might be my weakness as a revolutionary…but I really wonder if we ever want to be beyond compassion. Is compassion too much to offer?

And yet.

The day before, there were attacks on Beirut. On a regular basis there are attacks on Syria, on Palestine, on Baghdad, in so many specific and ancient homes. There are places where people live in constant, systemic violence. Yes there is racism in who we can see in pain. (The US is one of these places but the bulk of our violence comes from our citizens against each other, our unnamed high stakes civil war….but that’s another post.)

In certain parts of the world, there is such continual violence that we barely take note of it as a global community. Such violence that we hold it as something fantastical, because we cannot imagine living in those conditions. And lacking such imagination means that when people react to the constant violence by unleashing it, letting it whip out and touch someone or some place beyond the invisible boundary of safety and nonsafety, we earnestly ask ‘who would do such a thing?’

Privilege includes being able to live in a violent world without hearing the gunshots. There are places where we can pretend that violence doesn’t exist. For many of us Paris has been/is such a place.

Tourism is a way of getting to know the surface of a place, and Paris gives such a gorgeous and delicious top layer. I think of Paris as crepes, hammams, art, love, Baldwin and Simone, balconies and kissing. But I also know better – top layers can only cover a rotten core for so long. To be radical is to be willing to acknowledge the rotten core of present day conditions and seek to heal, transform and grow something absolutely new at the very root of society.

I think compassion has to be part of what we’re growing, what we’re training into ourselves at the root. For me, compassion usually means being able to see myself in others, my weakness or fear, my humanity.

Often those creating the conditions of violence are able to stay far away from the daily experience of it. By this I don’t mean actual terrorists or mercenaries. I have always thought of them as victims of those with resources and decision making power in this world, those still concentrated in the ‘West’, Europe and the US, those who continue to live in such a level of indulgence that the entire planet is being thrust into climate crisis to meet our need for fuel, materials, new new new things.

Many victims of our current economy are refugees right now, seeking home and safety amongst hostile nations who don’t want the burden.

I think of Warsan Shire’s poem Home:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

But refugees and terrorists are fruit and flower of the same tree. People of a place that has become unlivable. Different theories of change…perhaps the distinction is hope vs hopelessness. I believe that no one blows themselves up in a crowd of strangers if they believe there is a way to live with dignity. Now we have this impossible foe – intergenerational hopelessness.

We have to be able to imagine the unimaginable to understand the long suffering at the root of terrorism. And then we have to be unflinching in tracing the lines of causation, especially when they run back to our own government, our own tax dollars.

I’m not saying the US is responsible for all terrorism in the world – that is us centering ourselves yet again. There are fundamental belief systems that are legitimately regressive. But those systems flourish in the condition of armed inequality. And I am saying that the US arms inequality, manifesting chaos and disaster in order to control the material world. Our fingerprints are always on the the grenades, our hearts always broken by the carnage.

When terrorism happens, if you are a US taxpayer, the response isn’t ‘Who would do such a thing?’, but rather ‘What have we done?’, what conditions have we helped generate, what scarcity have we grown in this abundant world? How long can we hold this contradiction?

Yesterday I spiraled through these thoughts – sad for Paris, because I believe there is such a thing as complex innocence. Sad to see how many of my comrades reacted with little to no compassion, and then devastated to know that that lack of compassion is a response to watching the world ignore systemic violence. That what we are generating in the world right now, everywhere, over and over, is borders. Us vs them, those who deserve our compassion and those who do not, barbed wire topped walls between humans we can care about and those we can’t.

We are forgetting each other, forgetting our interconnectedness. We are in one pattern. We have to fight for our right to feel for each other, to remember that ‘enemy’ is a construct, and we can reject it, outgrow it.

I will end with this poem from my brother Sam Conway, which helped me sleep last night.

May I see clearly
That I am the dead in Paris
And I am also their killers
I am the family of the dead in Beirut
And I am the family of their killers
That I am the child of each refugee
And the mother of every despot
I am each ISIL recruit, each American soldier, every exploded hospital and every roadside bomb

May I see clearly
That I with all the living and the dead
with the Great Earth
Awaken together in this moment

May we see clearly together
That there is a Great Way Through violence and fear
Past bloodshed that brings more bloodshed
A way past hate

And seeing all these things clearly
May we with all beings
Simply do them.

something rotten

i came home from a summer of writing on the west coast feeling like a late blooming novelist, centered in what i am here to do. i opened a cabinet in my kitchen that i immediately had to close again. there was something terrifying and alive and putrid in the cabinet, something that had been growing in my absence. i didn’t want to ever look again, to know what was inside, to smell it….no. no no no.

but i live alone and there isn’t really a service to do this kind of thing for you. so an hour later i had on rubber gloves, a face mask, and half a tube of clorox bleach wipes to scrape the bag of rotten and transformed potatoes and maggots and flies out of the cabinet and out of my home.

i did it. i neither fainted nor threw up. and i can’t stop thinking about it.

it feels exactly like the emotional work i have been up to for some time. going past what the world sees, opening up all these doors down deep in my psyche, in my memory, in my choices, in my heart. finding the places that i want to slam shut and run away from, and instead reaching my hand, my attention, in.

it what i feel when i walk around my neighborhood now in Detroit. there are fences and strangers everywhere, people smiling as they get their cars valet parked, patrols every other block. there is so much rot under these new developments. i miss the place i moved to. but when i open the cabinet, i have to really think a lot about being a gentrifier, dipping in and out of this place as it’s face changes – how am i perpetuating this? how do i divest from the erasure and displacement of Detroit?

‘you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land’
warsan shire

rotten is how it feels looking at the picture of aylan, the syrian baby that washed up on turkey’s shore. i could imagine how he felt in his parents’ arms. i sat with the picture of him and wept, overwhelmed. in this case, opening the cabinet and reaching into the rotten place doesn’t just mean pointing at europe…it’s sitting with my role in this – how long have i been skimming over news from syria? why did it take this image to make me pay more attention? what can i do? i signed the petitions, but what else?

there is so much that is rotten in this world right now, so much we don’t turn and face. i mostly focus on the miraculous, beautiful, evolutionary…but it’s not for lack of seeing. it’s out of desperation, out of a need to grow something good in this violent and unfair world.

and then as always i wonder: what can we do to manage all of this simultaneous crisis and trauma?

i don’t know. to a humbling and quieting degree, i don’t know. i am learning to heal, learning to write the rotten honestly, learning to see myself in the dark.

but also, i have only just gotten the cabinet open, i am only just looking inside.