Conversation

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I am not sure whether I have been having a conversation with life or with death of late. Perhaps it’s the same conversation and it doesn’t matter as the two are so intricately intertwined. We can’t know one without eventually experiencing the other.

I took a walk through a local cemetery a few days ago. This might sound maudlin, but it wasn’t that type of experience for me at all. This particular cemetery is a beautifully laid out park in which many have been laid to rest. There are paved as well as gravel lined paths and wide roads on which to walk. There is also a pond and several live fountains. I also found a veterans memorial sculpture that had been erected and etched within the past decade.  In this green space one can find local history laid out through the names on headstones, section names and the annual tulip show, winter holiday light show and other displays. There are runners, dog walkers, nannies with strollers and in the completely green lawns; one person was stretched out in the sun. On the steps of one of the mausoleums, one person was using his laptop while sitting in partial sunlight.

My mom’s transition was the most recent; my dad died a little over 15 years ago. I felt as if something had been wrenched from my guts when he died. It was an unexpected reaction as we’d struggled and disagreed with each other about many things for years. And yet, there were periods of no struggle at all. As a friend once pointed out, we were two generations apart. My father was 42 when I was born and I was his first child. He had been born in 1911 in Alabama. That statement and the truth it reveals holds much weight. When I was able to hear my friend and look at the disagreements from an inter-generational perspective, it made sense that our ways of seeing the world and especially the roles of women in the world were so different and filled with tension. That didn’t make me stop disagreeing with him, but it did provide me with eventual understanding and a softening toward myself and toward my father. Neither one of us could see things very differently because the world that had shaped our development had changed in some ways while I now think it had stood still in other ways, ways that had to do with race and gender. I wonder what my father would say now about the world, or at least this country that we both have called home. Damn.

What happens to one when one has crossed a threshold with the knowledge that there is no turning back even if the desire arises? I am not the same person I was one year ago or two, or more. And at the same time my values have not changed greatly.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone I want to spend time with. And as a writer who has been in it for the long haul, that is a good thing. I know who I am and I like her lots. I don’t want to turn back.

Today is Easter, April Fool’s Day and the first day of National Poetry Month. What a convergence. Should I write a trick poem? Or invoke the Easter Bunny? Or write about the the Phoenix who burned to death and later rose from her ashes? I’m thinking of trying the poem a day for 30 days challenge this month, just for myself, since poetry unearths deep roots for me. I feel the need to reconnect with deep roots these days. And the quiet within the poetry well welcomes me to those roots.

These are some of the tidbits I’ve been gathering on paper and in my head of late. I’m not planning on tying everything together in an essay form. I’m just going to plant seeds and share some of them. This gives me the freedom to write essays or poems or genre-bending thingies as they arise. Good luck to me (smile).

And thank you very much to author Leslieann Hobayan for the inspiration to break free. Her “Deep Thoughts” have helped me to not hold back with my snippets for this week and to get back into the mix. I’m glad to be back.

 

A Death

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As I was waking up, I was thinking that he was dead. He had died before Christmas, and he had died alone in Queens, in a home. I wondered why there had been no funeral, why I had no memory of one. I thought of his friends and wondered why I couldn’t remember any of their familiar faces and see them dressed up in their dark suits for him.

 

I wondered where our family things that he had placed in storage, were. I wondered whether his landlord had had to clear out his apartment. I knew I hadn’t done it; I’d never seen his apartment.

 

I lay there for a few minutes, turned on my side toward the windows and looked at the growing light through the blinds. I blinked several times. I thought about the winter holidays and I didn’t remember anything about his presence during them.

 

And after a few minutes, I realized that he was not dead. He was still alive and whatever dream I’d had was so powerful that my reality had shifted to a time after his death that had not even happened.

 

I’ve been reflecting on this dream off and on today and I’ve come to the conclusion that the dream was not about my brother, but about a system that persists in making him disappear, and from making me disappear as well. This system perpetuates dismissal, disrespect, silencing, demonization, and marginalization. It makes repeated attempts to make people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and the disabled small and insignificant. It has at its roots the desire to make people disappear through repeated attempts to limit their lives and to silence them.

 

I have lived in this system for six decades, and I have come to learn and understand that its survival has depended on my beliefs that I am not worthy and I will never have an opportunity to rest until I am dead. Its survival depends upon the belief that I will always have to push against the downward pressure of this system that was not designed with my living freely and breathing fully in mind. Three fifths of a white man did not include the descendants of enslaved men and women.

 

It is difficult to live within a system that exists because it regularly satisfies its urges to oppress. Those who are oppressed have to work consistently hard to free their minds, bodies and souls. As Bob Marley wrote “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None but our self can free our minds/ Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?/Cause all I ever had/ Redemption songs ” (Redemption Song). Singing is breathing; it is inspiration, and expiration. One of the Freedom Singers said that even if people working during the civil rights movement couldn’t talk together, they could breathe together through singing together. We need to keep singing together and we need to keep writing together.

 

An intuitive and gifted massage therapist, with whom I have worked for several years, recently told me that I haven’t been getting enough oxygen. She encouraged me to pay attention to my breathing and make sure that I exhale completely.

 

I have witnessed my mother’s death, the result of a long illness, over the past year. I cared for my mom for nearly a decade and her decline and death have been enough to take my breath away. Being a caregiver and care manager altered my breathing, I’m sure.

 

I’m also sure that the high profile deaths and videos of so many Black people, such as Rolando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and the many other children, women and men killed in connection with law enforcement haven’t helped me to breathe fully, either. Systematic killing and incarceration of Black bodies is an American practice that is not new. What is new is the technology that allows us to view what is disturbing, needs to be brought to light, and historic.

I have witnessed the 2016 U. S. presidential election and its aftermath, which continues to and beyond this moment. The events of the past 48 hours have been breathtaking, to say the least. Oppression is relentless, sometimes subtle, at other times blatant and always pervasive. Many individuals persist with their work toward freedom despite this. Many writers persist in their work toward freedom despite this. Every idea birthed and every word written is an act of resistance, an act of freedom, an act of bravery, and an act of uncovering something valuable for emancipation from an oppressive system.

 

Lately, I have been listening to the soundtrack from the play “Hamilton.” I hear layers of meaning in the lyrics that go a lot deeper for me than I originally thought. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time, why do you fight like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time,” sing sisters Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler and other characters throughout the play.

 

Apparently the founding father who had been born a bastard, who became a penniless orphan, an immigrant, and who was a driven man who feverishly and fervently worked toward the revolution that eventually birthed what is now called America. He was a white man who created the roots of the financial system we now live with and he married into wealth in order to secure his status as he had a low status as a poor immigrant bastard. He had a keen mind and writing skills that were sharp. And he was driven I am most interested in his tendency to write like he was running out of time. I feel as if I am running out of time, like we are all running out of time.

 

My brother is not dead and I am not dead, but the systems that have been constructed to diminish, marginalize and extinguish our humanity have been unearthed and are in full view and the entire world is watching. Every breath I take and every word I write pushes back against this hurtful, hateful, corrupt and bankrupt system and leads to its dissolution. I must get on with it.

 

But I can’t do this alone. I need my allies to work with me. We must all get on with the work of singing the chains off and singing freedom into being.

 

 

 

 

Forces of Change at the Oakland Museum of CA

I have been honored to work with 5 phenomenal individuals on their installations at the Oakland Museum. Now it’s time to celebrate our work!

Friday, April 10th – Forces of Change – 5 New Personal Stories

Please come to the Oakland Museum of California on the evening of Friday, April 10th, for the opening of five new displays of personal stories about living in California in the 1960s as told by: Cathy Cade, Leah Fisher, Sekio Fuapopo, Dave Peterson, and Mahesh Shah.
Friday, April 10th, 2015
6:30pm to 7:30pm
Remarks at 7pm
History Gallery, Oakland Museum of California, level 2
1000 Oak Street, Oakland CA 94607
Admission rates on Friday evening: Adults $7.50, Students/Seniors $5, Members and Children 18 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at the ticketing hub on level 2 and the parking garage has a flat rate of $5.00 for the night. The Museum is also BART accessible and is a block from the Lake Merritt Bart stop.
Please note that OMCA will be open until 9:00pm that night with Off the Grid food trucks, drinks, music, art activities, and other entertainment as part of our regular Friday Nights @ OMCA event. You can make a whole night of it!
Looking forward to seeing you there–

Not a new poem for not entirely new situations

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Lizard

Lizard said, “It pays to use camouflage and observe carefully.” His tongue glittered in the light as he spoke and eyed me from the other side of the boulder. He teaches me that stillness pays and moving quickly when necessary is crucial, but the best thing to do in the city or in the country, is to blend in with your surroundings.

Sometimes, men and women in dark uniforms eye me suspiciously. My height, skin color and unisex, loose-fitting clothing are often identical to the description of the person they’re looking for, except that I have breasts. It is dark outside, so they say it is hard for them to tell that I’m not the perpetrator they’re looking for.

 My tongue shoots out in flames, quickly licking the air before the blue uniform in the patrol car sees it. I fold into the brick building on the corner of Alcatraz and Telegraph. My skin turns crumbly reddish brown and I freeze.

My poem “Lizard” appears in the anthology, New Poets of the American West, Many Voices Press, 2010. I thought it appropriate to post it on my blog at this time.

Far too many have not and are not able to blend into their surroundings or do whatever it is that would ensure their  safety and survival as they are hunted, ignored, devalued and stereotyped. This is my offering to them and to all.