In lieu of a primal scream

Photo: Jerry Kiesewetter

In lieu of a primal scream
to the government
the two-party system
one big clusterfuck
of power grabs
and corporate lobbies
with some idealistic
individuals in the mix
who are still close
to why they wanted
to go into politics
in the first place
not because their daddy
before them
held the seat
but because they watched
their community
drown in debt
while block after block
got snatched up
by developers
while their schools
crumbled and kids
went hungry
and the water was filthy
and the eviction notices
came faster than paychecks
not because they had
the degree and the pedigree
but because
someone told them
a teacher a grandmother
a neighbor a big brother
that they were already
somebody
and don’t forget it
some people with a fire
in their belly
for something like fairness
or justice
something like visibility
or protection
something like advocacy
and insistence
something like a voice
in the hollow halls
of us and them
humans and monsters
children vilified
as future criminals
and living scarecrows limp
at the borders
where the days scorch
and the nights freeze
and entire families
were kept in freezers
without food or water
Who are the animals now,
tell me
Who are the ghosts
who are the monsters
In lieu of this scream
that will fill my own head
with more noise
I step outside
stand in the driveway
while the puppy pees
feel the first drops
of rain
on bare skin
my glasses wet now
cheeks wet
hands outstretched
the air colder
than yesterday
a mourning dove
with a twig lights up
to the seam of the roof
its babies waiting
somewhere nearby
for her return

* * *

DO NOT LET THIS VILE ADMINISTRATION ACT AND SPEAK ON OUR BEHALF.

TAKE ACTION.

Call you representatives and implore them to put pressure on the administration. Find your reps’ numbers.

ACLU immigration fund or the National Immigration Law Center.

Read “What you should know about the thousands of missing, abused and exploited immigrant children in the USA, and what you can do about it.”

The Poet’s Role in a Crumbling Democracy

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
Tess Gallagher

The key was to go through with it, without needing to consider any deeper meaning. To act, trusting that if I wanted to extrapolate later, that option would be available to me. I’m referring here to reading a poem in public, not at an open mic or organized event of some kind, but spontaneously, without an announcement.

“Go through with it” is a phrase I discussed that day in October with Luping, the grad student from China I met one year ago and sit with on a weekly basis for English-language conversation. Over slices of pizza, I told her I was considering reading a poem at a coffeeshop, but that I was nervous and hadn’t decided yet. She egged me on, saying, “It is crazy but will be very interesting!”

When we finished eating, we walked over to Amherst Coffee. Jazz piped in from the speakers and I knew I wouldn’t be able to read loudly enough over the music, so I decided to run my idea by the barista. He promptly said, “There’s no one here with the authority to sign off on that,” and returned to pulling espresso shots.

At this point, we’d bumped into a friend, who happened to be in that month’s Dive Into Poetry group — the nexus of this crazy idea in the first place, as the week’s assignment was to play with “guerrilla poetry,” i.e. spreading poetry in unconventional ways in the public sphere. Lisa was with her son, who happens to speak fluent Chinese; he and Luping struck up some conversation while I looked on agape. I took this as a sign to persevere, and we the four of us decided to give it one more try, this time at Starbucks.

I recognized one of the baristas right away, a young woman with whom I’ve discussed tattoos and have a friendly rapport. “Oh, cool!” was her immediate reaction, and we waited nervously while she went to ask her supervisor. I felt mildly disappointed in myself for asking permission at all, convinced that the great guerrilla poets would do no such thing (not to mention polling Facebook friends about the odds of getting arrested, though admittedly I wanted to make sure I’d be home for dinner). She emerged from the back office with a thumbs up and a big smile: “Green light!”

And so I began, without so much as an “Excuse me, everyone” or “Hi, my name’s Jena…”

No, I just read the first line of the poem, then the next. A hush fell over the space as I kept reading, and I made a point of looking in both directions, noticing how some people were watching, others looking down at their papers or phones, but aware that there was no way not to be sharing this experience.

I wasn’t doing this for 15 minutes of anything, more as a personal challenge to recognize that what we think is scary is often eminently do-able, that we won’t die by pushing ourselves out of comfort and complacency, and yes, perhaps on a broader level to explore questions of safety more broadly, and complicity. What began as something purely creative and fun, a way to shake myself up a bit and perhaps insert some poetry into public spaces, became a window into consciousness on a more urgent level.

To read a poem in a Starbucks in a college town, even a politically leaning one, did not require much consideration. But lines like these, from my poem, All Hands on Deck

we can’t sit down
while the laws are quietly made
and trains roll steadily in

in a different context, could result in arrest and imprisonment.

We could look back 100 years to dissident poets such as Osip Mandelstam in Stalin’s Russia, but sadly, there’s no need to time travel when it comes to poetry being criminalized when it’s perceived as a political threat.

Take Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who is currently under house arrest by the Israeli government, accused of inciting violence and “igniting terrorism” after posting her poem “Resist, my people, resist” on YouTube. Or Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser, who was initially denied a Visa to the U.S. to accept an a Committee to Protect Journalists award.

I’m thinking here of KKK members marching with tiki torches and calls for “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. I’m thinking of political protest, performance art, and hate speech.

Who decides what’s what? What is a poet’s role in a crumbling democracy? What does it mean to wake up, to rise up, to shake each other out of stupor, to incite not violence but communication, and to stand up to elected officials who are actively eroding human rights at every turn?

My little experiment yesterday carried little to no risk. In fact, some people even clapped when I finished reading my poem, and one man approached me afterwards to say thank you. “People like you are really making a difference,” he said.

But here’s the thing: If I am to move my writing more into a political sphere — a periphery I’ve circled and danced inside of for as long as I’ve been writing — I have an obligation to do so in a way that calls attention not to myself but to those who really have something at stake.

People like Lucio Perez, a 35-year-old Guatemalan man who has been in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and is facing deportation, while he and his family take sanctuary in a church right here in Amherst, Massachusetts, and DeAndre Harris, who was badly beaten by white supremacists in Charlottesville this past August, and is now facing felony charges of “malicious wounding” of his attackers.

As poets and writers, it’s our responsible to call attention in any way possible to these assaults on human rights.

I do not have the legal knowledge to parse out the complexity of the first amendment, but I do know that those of us with less at risk need to step up and make noise — in whatever platforms are available to us — about the egregious erosion of what we claim to hold as universal rights to personal safety and freedom of expression.

Don’t Burn Out or Numb Out: On Pacing Myself for Long-Haul Resistance

I’m having a moment of feeling so sad. Just so sad.

I’m watching live video from Standing Rock. Reading about the revocation of transgender rights, such as they were extended by the Obama administration. An “approach” to gun violence in Chicago so racist it made my head spin. And so much more. I have been trying to be intentional about staying focused on community and connection, truth-telling and self-care, all as the basis for long-term resisting. But I worry about my own blind spots and will keep coming back, knowing that I don’t know what I don’t know but determined to keep peeling back the layers so as not to be a walking part of the systems that got us here in the first place.

I know that’s what we’re up against — the long-term part. Sometimes I seriously doubt that we’ll ever “recover” from this moment in American and world history. We were already so broken, so much unfaced, unacknowledged, unhealed, that this feels like a chasm in the earth that will just grow wider and wider, with more and more people falling into it. The ones who will fall in fastest — we all know who these groups are. Immigrants. Muslims. People of color. Poor women. LGBT folks. Jews. Groups of people that are each so diverse it’s a preposterous failure of language to even list them this way.

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table feeling sad and angry at the greed and white power sitting in the highest office of this country, while those who try to protect the water that serves 18 million Americans are being forced off of their own land. While those whose blood, sweat, and tears built everything we’re sitting on get sold down the river. While hardworking business owners and mamas and fathers and students and musicians and children and the people who change the goddamn sheets at the nice hotels where these politicians lay their unconscionable heads at night fear for their safety, their homes, their livelihoods, their families, and their lives.

I say “their” knowing full well that any idea that my world is more secure is an illusion, one I refuse to get lulled into believing, though must also confront everyday as directly as possible if I’m going to be of any use to the collective. So tonight, my friends, I’m just feeling all the feelings. I have no actions to put forth or suggestions to make or knowledge about how to deal with this. I know there are a zillion resources and I’m plugging into ones I feel like I can commit to, rather than flitting around, both in real life and virtually — in the forms of giving small amounts of money (believing everything counts), time (believing everything counts), and learning (my own, because lord knows I have so fucking much to learn and unlearn).

The question of “is it enough” isn’t one I spend time worrying about; we each have to pace ourselves in order to neither burn out nor numb out. It’s no accident that Mani and I are boot-camping a new schedule starting this week; I’m already seeing just a few days in just how much I need this structure in order to take better physical care of myself, and that my work — both in the sense of livelihood and providing for my family as the sole earner right now, and in the sense of contributing to the Resistance in meaningful ways — all hinge on this.

Sleep, water, food, friends, moving the body, time to write. All of this needs to be tended to every single day — something I have typically sucked at for a long time. I’m not saying that as self-abuse; it’s just true, and even though it’s often hard, saying what’s true and acting accordingly really is the path to freedom. My freedom. Your freedom. My sisters. My brothers. I hurt for us. And I’m not giving up. I will never, ever give up.

No matter what else, find people you can share with. Find spaces where you feel safe to come and just be — where you know you can show up as you are and be met and supported. We have to keep being here for each other. This so-called government wants us to implode. To be scattered in so many directions we lose steam. Please keep reaching out, writing, and showing up in whatever ways makes sense for your life.  And maybe even in some ways that disrupt your life, too.

How and what are you doing when it comes to finding your footing here? All I know for sure is that there is a lot of stumbling, and that we are truly stronger together.

* * *

If We Divide, We Don’t Conquer by Carmen Rios :: Read
White Guilt is Actually White Narcissism by Emma Lindsay :: Read
I Am Not Your Negro :: GO SEE THIS FILM

Cloudy with a Chance of Global Uprising

For Aviva

Foul mood overtakes the afternoon
despite the laying on of hands
and all good intentions
Fire belly eclipses tender heart
forcing eruption of vitriol through veins
a revolt with no room for shame
a dam useless against this mighty flow
like blood flowing like pussy riot
like do not fuck with us women
like you can’t disappear us that easily
or at all like No means No like my body
my choice like Black Lives Matter like
I’ll show you my papers when you show
us your tax returns like no I don’t want to
hold hands across the aisle not today
not tonight not tomorrow where were you
reaching for mine for the last eight years
Exactly
Compassion and kindness do not mean
not angry no they mean angrier they mean
business they mean this is not a test
they mean we will not be silenced
they mean your lies will not protect you
from the people they mean we cannot
be bought or gaslit they mean light
so bright your darkness will swallow you
whole they mean we will rise up rise up
I was quiet all day
Didn’t watch the news was determined
not to give it my two minutes not to throw
in my two cents not to throw in the towel
on hope my anger rises because hope
and anger are brothers because my love
and my anger are fraternal twins
because I am a mother whose grandmothers’
cells live inside of me whose children’s
cells live inside of me whose grandchildren’s
cells live inside of me because weeping
and this anger are not opposite
and I will oppose I will defy I will cry
I will become something violent
though I thought this is not my way
I thought I am a peace seeker but how
can I seek peace when on Day One
you strip me from your pages
write us off write us out speak in shallow
teleprompted sentences to vapid applause
My daughter cried all day
because Business as Usual slapped her
in the face because climate change
is 50 degrees in January because her body
bleeds and you say she belongs to any man
who would I can’t finish that thought
Eclipse of positivity because good vibes
will not save us now no now it’s time
to listen to the people who’ve been saying
this for so long so long too long rise up
listen to us we will not become your sheep
nor will we satisfy you by tearing each other
apart no we have to come together
we have to channel this anger
that could power a nation
keep the lights on all night and through
the warming winters
energy coursing through the body
live wire current sweeping away with it
any last vestiges of playing along
an unwinnable game
gloves off let’s be all in all of us
all in and in it together

Ranting About the RNC

photo-1465667226977-fadb849f7fa3.jpg

[Actual books about actual American history, the kind Donald J. Trump does not read.]

I started the day with strong coffee and the Republican party’s official stance on transgender people’s human rights:

“[The Federal Government’s] edict to the states concerning restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities is at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues. We salute the several states which have filed suit against it.”

KJ Rawson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross, made the implications of this very clear:

“So let me be blunt: if you support the Republican party, if you vote for Trump, you are voting against my right to use restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities. There is no equivocation, no uncertainty, no shades of gray.”

I then proceeded to read through the full platform of the 2016 Republican party. (Head’s up: Unless you are a Trump supporter, do not read on an empty stomach.)

**

Part of what’s so unbelievably disturbing is that even if HRC wins the election, Trump’s off-the-rails, fascist candidacy (I do not use the word “fascist” lightly) has unleashed and made permissible so much misogyny and racial hatred.

These have never not been there, but now they’ve all but become official party views. Ditto white supremacy and antisemitism, Islamophobia, downright disdain for women, for LGBTQ+ people, for intellect and art, and for the planet itself; rejecting all things fair and just is posited as the only to “keep us safe,” when the biggest threats of all are running the damn show.

This afternoon, I saw a video circulating from the RNC with a woman holding (or attempting to hold) a “No Racism, No Hate” sign inside the convention arena. She was physically harassed and assaulted and people tried to cover her peaceful sign up with the American flag.

The message is clear. In this arena, racism and hate ARE America. “Make America White Again” is the deadline facto slogan of the Trump’s republican party.

A CNN headline asks: “Where Are the Ideas?”

But the question is moot, because ideas have no place here. This party, this platform, this convention — not about ideas, but power. White, male, rich power. Period. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us all.

The 40% of Americans who are falling for this must be living in fear of otherness; “danger” and “dangerous” are the leading words in the opening pages of this horrific document. As lovely as it sounds to say there is no “us” and “them,” I truly don’t know if I believe it at this point.

**

For many years — decades — I’ve had recurring apocalyptic dreams. These days, they seem less and less fantastical.

Last night, I dreamed I had a conversation with a Trump supporter who was willing to listen to and really hear my point of view. There was some promise.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I was clinging to a flagpole high above a giant ship. I was relieved not to be on the ship itself. I felt physically strong and grateful to be outside all day. I wonder if I was clinging to some abandoned ideals, as the flag itself was missing.

Last week, I dreamed I touched a black woman’s hair, only to be wildly apologetic afterwards. White privilege/guilt much? Once she saw the degree of my embarrassment, her edge softened and she totally poked fun at me, touching my wild curls in return.

I asked Mani what she thinks these dreams mean. Her insightful response required little interpretation: “You are WAY over-saturated in news and (social) media.”

No wonder I post so many photos of flowers on Facebook and Instagram! An ongoing effort to calm my nervous system and stay not only close to but deeply inside of my actual life.

**

Last night, full moon. “Let’s make wishes,” I suggested to Mani. She made hers, and then she chose a card from the beautiful deck she recently gave me as a gift. It showed a woman under a full moon on a summer night. No kidding. So cool. We even marveled at how much it resembled her, before reading the description of its accompanying word in the little booklet that came with the cards. It fit her wish perfectly.

My turn next — a big wish, the kind that seems audacious and you wouldn’t share out loud with anyone but your most intimate, trusted person or people. I slipped a card from the deck. A woman with wings. A woman surrounded by birds. The word on the card: “Listening.”

Listening. Speaking out is not always the way. Ranting? I seriously question its purpose and usefulness, though in this case I decided to do it anyway.

It can so easily slide into spewing, like some awful dinner party where everyone’s talking over and interrupting everyone else; the vitriol is enough to make you physically ill; and it’s all you can do not to throw your napkin to your plate and walk out without so much as a thank you to the hostess.

(Obvious problem with this metaphor: Who the hell is the hostess?

**

OK. Rant over, with one concluding intention: I am going to make an effort to rant less and listen more for the remainder of this election season, until or unless I have something new or useful to share. But I will not be silent or silenced.