To my Family and Friends – Boycott Black Friday

Dear Family and Friends,

I know many of us shop on Black Friday for good deals. This year, after the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson and many other deaths, many of us have been shocked, angry, and sad. It is hard to imagine if any of us (or our kids) were shot by police how our parents would feel if they were told that there would be no trial. But that happened here. So why am I asking you not to spend money on Black Friday?

People in this country are so scared of Black people and so racist toward Black people, that they will stand by and allow cops to shoot unarmed Black men and kids on the street without holding them accountable. They also lock up more Black people than any other group. Truthfully, we as Asians aren’t targeted as much, so it’s easier for us to turn away and say that’s somebody else’s problem. But we have power too, and when you have power, you can’t look around and pretend that you can’t do anything to help. So we have to choose whether we use the power we have as a people for good, or for evil.

It is only a matter of time before all this racism hurts us more than it already does. People protest (and sometimes they riot) because they have tried to live under the law, but the law doesn’t protect them. They know the legal system doesn’t work. So what else can they do? That’s what’s happening with some people right now. They are angry because they feel helpless. They can’t go to court and ask for justice.

I went and protested in New York City, but there are many other ways for us to fight for justice. I hope you will consider not spending money on Black Friday to support the Black people of this country. I hope you will consider asking your friends not to spend money. There’s a call to boycott Black Friday in support of Black people’s lives because so much of the property-protection system in the United States is based on cops who discriminate against Black people. We benefit from this system, so we have to speak out, as much as the next person. It’s also to add to the power of Black people who have a lot of buying power.

I know this request might mean missing out on a sale for something that you’ve wanted and haven’t been able to afford, but what it also means is that in our own small way we will be supporting the many Black people in this country who deserve to live in peace and safety. Black folks are our people too. Just like we are theirs. Their leadership in, and creation of, the civil rights movement increased our rights as Asians. For that, we can be grateful. No laptop, computer, phone, television, or device, is worth the sorrow of the fathers, mothers, daughters, and brothers out there. We love family, so we know this is important.

As Asian immigrants and children of immigrants, we benefit from a system built on the backs of Black people enslaved by white people. We still benefit from a system that imprisons, beats down, and kills so many Black lives. I wish this were an exaggeration, but you all know I was a lawyer for years. I witnessed first-hand that the system is unfair to Black people. I want to love this country, but only if I can be a part of making it greater and welcoming to all people. Let’s join together.

It’s for these reasons that I urge you not to buy anything on Black Friday.

Please consider sharing my note with our other relatives and friends. Or, of course, write your own.

Love,
Serena

Review of Long Hidden on Necessary Fiction

Please go to Necessary Fiction to read GREAT REVIEWS!
 
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Published and Printed at Necessary Fiction

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older


Long Hidden, 2014

The stories in Long Hidden summon the fabulist landscape of remote lands and rare creatures of myth, give or take a zombie and a couple of werewolves. For all its rollicking and twisting plots, most of the stories are embedded in critique: confronting and overturning the notion that magical agency belongs only to those who are male, straight, gender conforming, able-bodied, and white.

The theme of transformation is prevalent throughout the anthology. The use of magic as an agent for personal change or awareness isn’t homogenized. Instead, magic is applied as a spring of enlightenment not a fix-it tool for plot holes. The resulting stories are fresh rather than flat.

Characters in the collection are marked outsiders, and as such, the bulk of the stories play upon the dichotomies between the exterior world/embodiment and the interior self. Nghi Vo’s “Neither Witch Nor Fairy” turns a transgender woman from an outward love for her brother toward an inward recognition of her own identity. A panoply of magical love stories is crowned by Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring,” an engrossing romance set in China that sweeps the reader well beyond its conventions of beauty, lesbianism, foot binding, and sex work. Kima Jones’s haunting and imaginative “Nine” enmeshes and confines queers, ghosts, and past debts that have come due in one eerie motel space.

Several stories bear witness to the ravages of genocide, war, and civil violence upon those who have the least power in society. Michael Janairo’s “Angela and the Scar” is an enchanting intervention of a white colonial and ecological takeover by a young girl and her kapfre friend set in the Philippines. Sarah Pinsker’s “There Will Be One Vacant Chair” follows two Jewish brothers in Ohio during the Civil War, one crippled and in a chair and the other on the battlefield, the brothers surreally merging into one body.

The sweeping flight of Arro-yo in Nnedi Okorafor’s “It’s War” is momentous and memorable. Arro-yo is an outcast, whose grief for a friend inspires her reluctant participation and subsequent exposure as an Amuosu during the 1929 “Woman’s War” in Nigeria. Okorafor’s story is a tribute to the Igbo leaders, full of rich visuals:

From above, she saw burning buildings, bodies lying in the street, women fighting with colonialists, screams, sticks, cooking spoons, cudgels, palm switches, terror, and blood…

Arro-yo swooped down like an attacking owl, her blue dress billowing around her as she landed.

Locating itself within the realm of historical fiction, Long Hidden claims a lineage of speculative fiction that re-imagines identity and questions existing power structures. Full disclosure, as a writer from Voices of Our Nation, I’m a fan and proponent of diverse, power-shifting speculative fiction. I know some of the authors and one editor and kicked in ten clams when it was only a concept, before it garnered an astounding 1,181 funders. The editors’ challenge to support an anthology that “reflects all people and makes room for everyone to be a hero” resonated with like-minded readers.

Unlike many speculative fictions in today’s market, the unreal in Long Hidden is used to shine a light on difference and oppression rather than to elide these histories. The writing in the collection was uneven at times, with some writers falling prey to familiar tropes of bad boys and good girls or to loose storytelling. By far, the better stories in the collection explored intersectional identities. Among these is a literary masterpiece, “Collected Likenesses” by Jamey Hatley whose hypnotic second-person prose is sure to pop out an eyeball or two. Here’s a snippet:

You, too, love sharp things. Long, slender hatpins tipped with opal or quince feathers. Buttery leather shoes with pointed toes. Fish that can only be consumed by an eager tongue searching for pin bones. Needles that can free an ingrown hair, mend flesh, or stab. Prick, blister, choke. A threat sidled up next to such delicious beauty.

Particularly compelling were stories writ on the canvas of family responsibility and tradition, the vital passage of dangerous and sometimes shameful knowledge through generations. Victor LaValle’s “Lone Women,” arguably one of the most digestible stories of the lot—as it’s among the works that recalls the popular marriage of spec lit and Westerns—recasts sister as monster and imparts new meaning to the phrase “my sister’s keeper.”

In Tananarive Due’s “Free Jim’s Mine,” the fate of Lottie, a pregnant woman escaping slavery, is entrusted to her mysterious Uncle Jim, a free man. The story twines a metaphor for loss suffered on the Underground Railroad tighter and tighter around a watery, subterranean cavern until it submerges the reader in horror. Due delivers thrills and delves into themes of interracial relationships in the antebellum South, navigating Uncle Jim’s suspicion of Lottie’s Cherokee boyfriend and the sinister nature of her uncle’s freedom.

Lisa Bolekaja’s “Medu” hits the notes of Black empowerment. Throughout, the editors have given more than a nod to the anthology’s beginnings in a Twitter conversation that referenced representations of the African diaspora in historical speculative fiction. Lil Bit, Bolekaja’s hero, seeks not only to free her snakelets of hair, but to reach Nicodemus where her mother says:

“Everything owned by Negroes. Hundreds of colored people living on they own land for the first time. And they free. That’s what it’s like.”

Lil Bit’s yearning for belonging is as much a race parable as it is an empowerment response to scrutiny of Black women’s hair.

“The Dance of the White Demons” by Sabrina Vourvoulias is the anchor leg of the collection and unfolds in Guatemala during the Spanish Conquest. The fierceness of Vourvoulias’s writing is matched by her distinct lack of sentimentality:

As I step over their bleeding, dying bodies, I put it together in my head. The foreigners know nothing of the white demons, so they do not fear me for my semblance. They fear me because I look like one of their young, turned against them and repudiating the savagery of this invasion.

A fitting end to the journey, “Dance of the White Demons” bows its head to the Conquistadores’ colonization/genocide of indigenous peoples, then lifts up and stares right back, raising a song that refuses to abdicate the power of a peoples’ culture and memory to empire.

At its best, Long Hidden couples good old-fashioned storytelling with the political power of speculative fiction. The roots of the project, as acknowledged by the editors, are crowd-funded. The existence of this aesthetically pleasing volume—a visual treat from the go with 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Professional Artist Julie Dillon’s cover art—is a testament to the hunger of readers who want fantastical fare that doesn’t whitewash the past. It’s a collection that yanks its audience from the status quo and transports them squarely into the magic of histories they didn’t even know existed.

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The writers included in Long Hidden are: Sofia Samatar, Thoraiya Dyer, Tananarive Due, S. Lynn, Sunny Moraine, Rion Amilcar Scott, Meg Jayanth, Claire Humphrey, L.S. Johnson, Robert William Iveniuk, Jamey Hatley, Michael Janairo, Benjamin Parzybok, Kima Jones, Christina Lynch, Troy L. Wiggins, Nghi Vo, David Fuller, Ken Liu, Kemba Banton, Sarah Pinsker, Nnedi Okorafor, Shanaé Brown, Nicolette Barischoff, Lisa Bolekaja, Victor LaValle, and Sabrina Vourvoulias.

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Serena W. Lin cuts her teeth on monsters and queers. She obtained her MFA as a Truman Capote Fellow in fiction from Rutgers-Newark and is a member of the VONA and Grind writing communities. Her fiction is published in the cream city review and Hyphen online. Read her at drunkenwhispers.wordpress.com.

Ramadan Day 29 – Is This The End, My Beautiful Friend?

For Gloria, Family, and Friends

Ramadan 2014

My first prayer is the one for Gloria. Gloria is a person of faith. I still don’t know the details of her God. I do know that she treats faith with such respect and care. I know her kindness, compassion, and generosity toward others and herself. Her courage jumps into whatever I write, and her love is infinite.

 

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My Friends,

I pulled these chairs up for you so we may speak together.

Hush, Yonder is a castle.

What you have done for me is but the first step

in a repayment plan for all the love you

were once given.  How else could you recognize the gift?

***

Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

~Hafiz~

Translation by Daniel Ladinsky

***

As Ramadan draws to a close, I sit outside alone in Sewanee.  A soft wind, so companionable, and my breath, always the breath–no speech but the scratch of my pen. It thunders later tonight.

The lightning is a flicker here and there in the long grass. Look up to the sky.

The rain is loud and steady.

I fasted in Brooklyn, then in California, back in Brooklyn, now in Tennessee. I did this with you.

Tomorrow, I venture to Murfreesboro, or Nashville. A Joss Whedon-styled Angel, the man with a shorn head, who was with Bats – the two who gave me a little fright on the first night, drunk and partying, who had locked themselves out, insisted that I use his rental car to drive into town.

If you don’t use my car to attend Eid prayer, I’ll be upset, Angel said.  This is like your mini-Hajj.  I could use your prayers, he adds.

In the kitchen for two nights, as I eat, he comes to discuss our faiths, aligned, yet I can tell he is struggling with something. Our talking draws the spirits closer. I want the questions in his chest to burst free of their cage.

 

***

 

What does it mean to be at the end of a time?

Frenchie leaves a reading with tears in her eyes, touched by a talk I’d been unable to attend about procrastination and aging. To know that our time is limited and be at the end of our careers, she mentions. It felt brave.  It felt personal.

Somewhere on Pluto

a wind dies

an engine stalls in Detroit,

the flower of summer sets

into the apex of the Sun.

Did I tell you this story already? Frenchie says. I keep thinking that you were there, even when you are not. She shakes her head.

In a place where I expected to make connections and only hoped to find friends, this statement touches me.

I am with you, I say, even when I am not with you.

Allah whispered this into my ear during this fast.

 

***

 

At the beginning of an event, I’m already leaning toward the ending.

If I really want the time to end, the ending is bright and full of fluffy clouds.

However, if I want the time to last forever, I cannot picture the end.

I will be a different person than the one today, and the future is unknowable.  I would like to stay here.

Stop this: Full-of-worry, even sadness, missing the future where I will no longer be me,

missing the present.

 

***

 

Saimo tells me of her difficulties during Ramadan. I nod throughout as each word feels like shared steps.

Good, I think selfishly — I wasn’t the only one challenged by the lack of the Ramadan pattern.  I’ve come to love my routines. It was an endlessly social Ramadan, but I could not settle into company, wanting to be alone more often than not but unable to make that space. My writing didn’t flow, even though I wrote. I appeared peaceful, but inside my thoughts were strained.  It was a Ramadan of contradictions.

Usually, in the last week and a half of Ramadan the blessings of the fast are bestowed: an infinite peace, a calm, a quiet. Prayer is easier.  Focus is possible.  The hunger dies and is replaced by the food of the Spirit. The good stuff, Saimo called it. This Ramadan, we said to each other, not so much good stuff.

Every morning I woke up expecting that I would not be so hungry or thirsty, but my body betrayed me. Instead of slipping into a meditative state, my head would rock and roll. Was I asleep? Did I snore? Did anybody see me?  More times than I could count.

 

***

 

Where is my spiritual journey?

That second meal was usually the hardest. I was already full. Trying to sleep. Waking up to pray. Trying to sleep. I lost count.

I expected that my faith would keep my doubts at bay. I was full of so much anxiety, as if I could not keep myself from anticipating that I would be anxious. Allah has listened to too many complaints to me. Each gratitude is paired with a fear, such a couple.

We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.

 

***

 

Tonight there was a graveyard walk. I was busy stuffing brownies in my bag and caught up to the group, cheeks bulging. The great poet Claudia Emerson who I discussed earlier was trailing at the back of the crowd with another poet, discussing her chemo and the exhaustion of her thyroid dysfunction. I caught only parts of the conversation. Later, I realized it was about the reading of poetry at the graveyard.

A group of New Yorkers raised a fuss, Claudia’s companion side, when we read Alan Tate’s Ode to the Confederate Dead so that sort of ended that.

I can see why that’s not a popular title, I interject.

Well, it’s not about celebrating the confederacy, he says. I do think they just stopped at the title.

Oh, I say, well people don’t make so much room for complexity these days.

So, Claudia agrees and nods, when I asked ____ what I should read, that’s when he asked me to read Wolves. He was so emphatic. She laughed.

 

***

 

This is exactly what Claudia Emerson looked like the year before, at the grave of Allen Tate, reading his poem “The Wolves”:

 

There are wolves in the next room waiting

With heads bent low, thrust out, breathing

At nothing in the dark; between them and me

A white door patched with light from the hall

Where it seems never (so still is the house)

A man has walked from the front door to the stair.

It has all been forever. Beasts claw the floor.

I have brooded on angels and archfiends

But no man has ever sat where the next room’s

Crowded with wolves, and for the honor of man

I affirm that never have I before. Now while

I have looked for the evening star at a cold window

And whistled when Arcturus spilt his light,

I’ve heard the wolves scuffle, and said: So this

Is man; so-what better conclusion is there-

The day will not follow night, and the heart

Of man has a little dignity, but less patience

Than a wolf’s, and a duller sense that cannot

Smell its own mortality. (This and other

Meditations will be suited to other times

After dog silence howls his epitaph.)

(excerpted)

 

***

 

This is what Claudia Emerson looked like reading Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead”

We shall say only the leaves whispering

In the improbable mist of nightfall

That flies on multiple wing:

Night is the beginning and the end

And in between the ends of distraction

Waits mute speculation, the patient curse

That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps

For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

(excerpted)

 

***

 

I didn’t end up catching the reading at the graveyard.  I was with myself in the basement of a library printing out directions to Murfreesboro, then walking through the graveyard by myself in the dark (to scare myself), then popping out upon Frenchie as she and other writers listened to a recital of one of Allen Tate’s poems near his grave, her flashlight on.

Buahahahahahhah, I said in my magician’s voice.

You’re not funny, she said.

 

***

 

What does it mean to be at the end of something?

How will you feel tomorrow about this Ramadan? Saimo asked.

I don’t know, I said, but last night I popped a filling out while I was flossing. Do you think I need to see a dentist? I asked Saimo.

Well, I’ve popped out a filling before, Saimo said. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

But I don’t think I’ve ever done it by flossing.

 

***

 

We are the lake. Allah is beneath the surface.

I became more concerned this Ramadan with doing things properly, unusual for me.   I cannot think upon all the reasons for this particular evolution. I didn’t say my usual jovial Ramadan Mukabar! I wanted to pray correctly, my gender-queer self wanted to bend toward hijab like a magical rainbow. I needed two tutorials, one from Pelé on washing, the other from Saimo on how to wrap my hijab. It’s as if I disappeared into the swallows of Tennessee and emerged with two bobby pins and one safety pin.  At the end of the rainbow is a perfectly arranged Muslim.

 

***

 

Is the spiritual journey simply the sum of its parts?

Is it one forehead, two hands, two knees, and two toes?

As if our philosophies are rendered useless by the fast.

Our bodies become both loud and invisible.

We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.

Has this fast been everything you could hope for? Allah asked.

Yes, Yes

 

***

 

Ramadan is my container. Without the limits and constraints of Ramadan, I would not have come upon this end because there would be no such thing as an ending.

There is a grace in submitting to a time, in pouring your life into a container.  This foreign object that encapsulates you makes it possible for you to identify a shape.  Who hasn’t imagined infinity as an arc, heading towards our personal goals.

My selfish worries about graduation, about looking for a job, about my aloneness, about my family, about my friend’s health, about my love life, and last but not least, my unconquerable soul, gave way to my prayers.

I could not deny this end, nor put it off.

It is simple, yet it is not easy.

I knew of course that the time would end.

But saying it, even it being it itself as I wrote, did not allow me to imagine it, to predict it.

I do however, cherish this end.

 

***

 

Claudia Emerson insisted in the bookstore that she gift me a book of her poetry. She knew that I had plans for the copy I’d won my second day in Sewanee. She sent her husband to buy the book for me.

 

For Once

By Claudia Emerson (from her collection Secure the Shadows)

 

I had many times walked past it: crowded

Stand of mixed woods where a field used to be,

 

self-ordained survivors of a place

Having gone unnoticed long enough

 

for them to volunteer: maples, scrub pines,

some cedars – a blood beech leaved even

 

in winter, little remarkable either

for ruin or beauty. And then something, in there,

 

caused me to pause, sounds a wakeful house

can make – the restlessness of a slumberous

 

body shifting in bed, the strike of a match,

foot doubtful on a stair, kindling catching,

 

water from a spigot, fatwood hiss.

Or all of it the acoustics of emptiness—

 

needles of ice ticking on abandoned glass,

a porch swing’s chained keening. But it was habit

 

to find the familiar in that shifting architecture,

its trueness not finally in the measure

 

and level of some human past, or possible,

but in that present quickening—wind-cast

 

shadows of sound and soundlessness, unseen,

unknowable, and, for once, enough.

 

 

***

 

Postscriptish

 

Thank you for reading my blog. I’m not sure whether I’ll post for Eid as tomorrow I drive to Murfreesboro and then come back to listen to my Sewanee teacher Randall Kenan read, a handsome man with eyes that fire.

 

If you’ve been reading my blog (and I knew about it), please know that I’ve kept you in my prayers. I did it very specific, just like in the Secret, so the blessings of my fast should adhere to you. I’m so serious.

 

My Gloria writes me that she likes to look at my face and my eyes. Her operation is set for the 29th. I have so many things to say to her, so here’s my beginning:

 

I am with you even when I am not with you.

 

photo 2-2

 

Eid Mubarak!

This is us beginning.

 

 

 

Got a favorite of my Ramadan Journal Entries?  Let me know!  2013 and 2014 are all online.  You may wish to access by following links I’ve provided, or scroll haphazardly.  Please feel free to leave me comments.  I love them.

Some of my favorite Ramadan Journal posts listed below in eight different places w/ links!  ;)

1.) 2013, Introduction, my first Ramadan Journal Entry

2.) 2013, Eid

3.) 2014, Fast Brain

4.) 2014, Sgt. Lonely’s Queer Club Band

5.) 2014, My Mother in the Summertime

6.) 2013, Ramadan Day 9

7. 2013, Ramadan Day 11

8.) 2014, Journey South

Ramadan Day 28 – Post-Memory Human

photo 2

(I’m pictured center-right.)

 

It’s a murder of crows and a memory of elephants. – from trivia night.

 

Over two hundred writers sit in a room. They flip the pages this way and that. I fall asleep thinking of the ocean.

 

Who was I to think that fasting would become easier and easier in the last few days?

 

It has not. Instead, I am tired and weak and inside my head are pokey thoughts. Somehow, the peace is louder than my little demons. It’s not that the demons no longer exist.

 

To fast is to take a risk. To take a risk is the spiritual journey. How afraid I am of falling.

 

Mary Jo Salter began her talk today about post-humanism. This is a subject close to my heart. We may soon begin, she said, to feel nostalgic about our nostalgia. Honey, I’m already there. The imperfection of human memory is the well-spring of human creativity, she argued. Getting things wrong is human.

 

She asked us at the end of the talk combining artificial intelligence and Shakespeare – “And if you prick us do we not bleed?” Afterward, I approached her and confided that the story I submitted for this workshop (I AM RITA) suggests a morality that robots cannot replace or truly enhance human nature. I asked her did you mean that the robots do not bleed when they are cut? What a wonderful question, she said. Interesting, but I think you could take it both ways. I meant that we bleed, which makes us more human than the robots. (paraphrase of Salter’s lecture).

 

I am so pockmarked by kindness that my skin is no longer smooth, or cruel.

 

The cicadas are a robust choir. One woman said that in the rainforest of Costa Rica, there are so many that you can feel their pee in the jungle. They remind Frenchie of Twelve Years a Slave. I hate them! she says. We are walking, not so deep in the woods when she takes out a flashlight and shines it on a man walking in front of us. Excuse me, sir, Excuse me, she says, deepening her voice. Cut it out, I say nervously. Well, this is how cops do it, she explains. We giggle, and the man it turns out is a friend.

 

I find that I cannot remember things, so instead I try to meditate. Every time I meditate I fall asleep. It’s the sound of the ocean again. How I wish to dive into the water. I dreamt. In my cupped palms was an infinite teardrop that became the ocean.

 

Although I smile a lot, it always hurts to realize that I’ve met that 1% immune to my smile. I smile through that too.

photo 3

 

We sit around a table telling ghost stories. I marvel at the realization that I’m not the only one who’s lost a parent who isn’t ready to die. People are angry, Frenchie points out. They don’t want to go.

 

I get to the Inn for Iftar but they’ve run out of food. I can make you a burger the server says. Please, can I have two? Two? he looks shocked. The other is for second dinner, I say. Of course, and ask me for anything else you need.  Here on this Episcopal campus of Sewanee, I have been treated with such kindness for my fast.  I am very grateful to carry home the second burger.

 

I continue to be obsessed with all the poets, not the kind that knows exactly who they are, but the kind that’s borrowed a hat someone left behind on a chair. They’re convinced they should return it. Poetry flits somewhere in the woods with the cicadas. I’m convinced I should borrow Frenchie’s flashlight.

 

Why is it so hard to write when tomorrow is the last day of the fast?

 

I intend to drive to Nashville, Tennessee for Eid prayer in someone else’s rental car. But that is a story I intend to save. Perhaps I am saving all my good stories. I’d like to believe that is truth.  But is it?

 

I contributed next to nothing to my trivia team. We had to go into town to the bar because Rebel’s Roost burned down. That’s the name of the regular bar for the conference every year. Yep. I didn’t wish to drink there.

 

I made one contribution tonight to my team. We did not win. Of course, I’d say we won in spirit. I guessed a title the trivia game’s designer said, “is very, very hard. I don’t think anybody will guess it.”  I think we should put the word [here] in brackets before will and after anybody.

 

Name this opening passage. Thank you Sol Q. Garda for telling me once that this was the most beautiful opening line in the English language.  After which, I re-read this passage.

 

We cannot remember much until we live moment in which we tell ourselves: remember this.

 

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

 

Scroll down further for the author/title.

 

 

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Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ramadan Day 26 – Allah in Tennessee

photo 1

(Fine Dining with Allah, Sewanee 2014)

That night, before I walk with Billy, before I encounter Bats for the second time, before I listen to the Irish music playing at the pub and go to several readings, I eat by myself while the staff clears the table. Everyone else is already at the reading, which always start around Iftar. Every bite in the company of Allah fills me with such joy that I’m glad to be alone. I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel desperate. I feel as if Love herself has sat next to me and prepared a plate.

*

“Fasting is to be just with yourself and others.” – Tariq Ramadan

*

Have you ever tried writing about your real life? Billy asks.

Billy is unusual looking, colorless eyelashes, and a drawl so deep that I don’t blink as I wait for his story to finish. I’m so grateful to have him entrust his stories to me. He’s from Kentucky. There’s something vulnerable about him. He cares about the words he’s letting out.

I don’t tell him that I’m writing this journal. Or that I’m fasting. But, Yes, I do it all the time, I say. Usually, though, I change the facts, I joke.

There’s this story I want to write, Billy says. I can’t write it because people think it’s so unbelievable. He tells me about his friends – people in that group they’re just together, you know. We’ve been together our whole lives. There’s even one of them steals, and everybody knows it. Nobody says anything either.

Real life can be the darndest thing, I mention to Billy. We write it, and nobody believes it because in stories we’re expected to find meaning. When these things happen in real life, we didn’t create the meaning. We don’t expect it to make sense, so it feels okay to have remarkable coincidences. In a story, the author has to make all the choices.

Yeah, exactly! Billy says. We smile at each other.

I am grateful that Billy slows his gait as we amble along, full of breath and thoughts.

I read what you wrote me today about my story, he says. I really appreciated your comments.

Thank you, Billy, I say. What I’m really thanking him for is the stories he’s sharing about his life. He’s making me think about his South, about how every corner I’ve turned I’ve been met with graciousness, and in a few moments, with appalling rudeness. About how even his close group is friends is filled with dichotomy. How when you get to know someone you can’t feel however you felt before. The extremes are replaced by complexity.

The South fills my heart with its beat. Everything feels closer to the surface here, as if the heart is without skin. It feels as if I’m taking some giant risk by being here and continuing my fast, although in truth, all the staff and the couple people I’ve entrusted with the fact that I’m observing Ramadan, have been nothing short of a gift.

It’s after 8PM, and everybody else has gone to the reading. I’m at the Sewanee Inn eating. The night is full of buzzing and a desperate energy. People at a conference get to a point where they need to make connections. The loneliness is palpable because we come to these places to do exactly that, and also because most writers are lonely.

 

*

I go up to this guy, Bats. My first night here, Bat and another guy locked themselves out and pounded on the glass door at 3AM, startling me, yelling for me to let them in. I didn’t know if they were with the writing conference. I decided to let them in for fear that if I didn’t there would be a bigger scene later. They didn’t introduce themselves after I let them in. They weren’t nice about it. Their biceps were bigger than my head, the result of relentless workouts. The one with his head shaved stared at me, and they stumbled around the lobby area where I was working alone before disappearing down a hallway. I felt frightened by their presences, so foreign to me, but I went back to writing.

My brain sounded a light. I was suspicious, remembering that I’m in Klan territory, and the shaved skull. I’m not sure this is going to turn out okay. The next day, my conference buddy Frenchie hears about the incident. That’s not okay. You need to tell the dorm monitor, she says. Also, it woke me up, all the pounding – it was loud.

“You know,” I say to Bats after sitting in the lobby with him and several others for an hour, “you came in here wasted the other night after you locked yourself out. I’m the one that let you in. I gotta’ say you startled me. Do you remember this?”

“Did I?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Oh wait. Yeah, I’m so sorry. You can see I’m not that kind of guy. I’ve got to stop drinking like that. I’m usually really nice when I’m drunk. I can only have a couple drinks. Got to check myself. Oh, and yeah, my buddy, his head is shaved, is that why you were startled? Yeah, sorry sorry.” Bats keeps rolling his eyes downward as if he’s trying to look at himself. He can’t see through my eyes, but he is realizing something. We both feel it, and the tension pushes up against us. Bats is scared that I’m judging him.

“What workshop are you in?” I ask him.

Bats is excited to talk about writing, goes over to where he was seated and returns with a book called Corpus Christi about Texas. “Have you read this? It’s one of my favorites.”

Over the next few hours, Bats continued to apologize, and he is sheepishly grinning each time I see him. I feel bad for Bats, but I don’t feel bad that I protected myself. I don’t apologize to Bats because he upset me.

Instead, I accept his apology. I hope Bats and I both feel better about that night. I move on. This is a thing I’m doing that isn’t always easy. It’s still awkward, but maybe now it will be better.

*

Saima couldn’t have known when she sent me one of Tariq Ramadan’s daily videos how much it would mean to me today. I will share it with you because it’s beautiful.

https<em>://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14iVOqKKkiM&list=PL2h7qf9KWnuJk__g5NOPZ_bz1DrKWXpph&index=5</em>

 

*

I hit a wall. Perhaps it’s because Ramadan tips me toward introversion, but I’m exhausted. A lovely young Chinese American poet, one of a scarce handful of people of color at the conference, told me that I looked exhausted. Another poet told me: do you. It’s very white, and sometimes on the two coasts, I’ve forgotten the rest of America.

 

Here, I am learning how small I feel in the face of it, but also how wherever I go, there are always Friends. Nobody knows anything about this country, I realize. Everybody’s worried – even the people who I always think have so much power – they’re wondering if I judge them. They’re wondering if I like them. It’s an odd thought, filled with turbulence.

 

I excused myself from activities in the early evening, and instead I skyped with my Qur’an study group.

Rasta is there, happy to see me, which warms my heart. Farraj is facilitating. We read the Sura of Maryam. Pelé calls her a badass for having a baby alone.  We talk about parents and control.

I nod, but the video chat  is shoddy so it’s an unreceived nod.   Then, Pelé stuns me with what she quotes, discussing this Surah.

“I’m still auditioning for my family’s love. You know, I still hold out this kind of thing where they’ll be nicer if I play along. …Guys, it’s tough. Most of us…you wrestle with your family your whole life. People who don’t, I think that’s like the most blessed resource in the world. Because the rest of us are caught in a dynamic that doesn’t always leave much room for you to be compassionate to yourself.” Junot Díaz

What does this mean to all of you? I ask the crew.

What does it mean to you? Rasta asks me.

I don’t know, I say.

What I don’t say is that I’m worried because I’m compassionate to myself.  I wonder if that’s only happened because I stopped auditioning for my mother’s love. Did I miss the change? I wonder.

I used to go to all the try-out’s, especially if my parents knew about it.

Now I feel afraid to tell Pelé, and Rasta, and Farraj that I’m the most blessed person in the world.

What if I lose that too?

*

I am blessed, I think, as I eat dinner alone.

I am blessed to be here in the South: where I feel totally alone and isolated, where there seems to be no context for my family, the family that would give anything to keep me from harm, the family that can’t stop me from harming myself, where I feel like a minority rather than a person of color, where the only bravery I have is not because of the courage of my friends, but because Allah operates in me when I have neither the energy nor the strength to operate for myself.

Here is where I miss home, because I am not there.

My compassion is infinite suddenly,

I am not stretched, but disappeared

within love.

Here I am with Allah:

 

photo 2

Ramadan Day 25 – Childhood Home

photo-3

 

“Where can a story end? If it arrives from nowhere.” – BH Fairchild

 

*

 

My father went to our backyard

when I was nine and said, both hands

round his waist, let’s build a

pond. Would you like that Serena?

 

*

 

How many miles are you from home?

Can you count distance by the quarters

left behind in a phone booth? Or pages?

Can you count clouds, silkworms, and

mulberry leaves, and in two weeks

mourn the passing of hundreds?

 

*

 

Somewhere back there I hold one thought

the only thing that ever belonged to me

was the way the sun glinted golden off

the yellow wallpaper, gilding my tears,

Splotchy was dead, that comfort of knees

being in bed, pillow, able to run my hands

along multi-grained speckles of wall.

 

*

 

We dug the trenches pretending we were

at war and acted as if the narrows were

bunkers, but when he turned the faucet

on, the water rushing from the green hose,

salad bowls our buckets and whistled

while we worked, acting as if dwarves, not

children, our slip-and-slide castle, he coated

the sides with glaze. It looked finished and like

a pale yellowed worm with cracks in it, but

to me, in my dotted swimsuit, it was childhood.

 

*

 

I confess that I’m unlike many writers I know.

I write nearly every story, every poem

in varied locales, sometimes draped over

a couch, sometimes butt-boned on a bench,

I wrote a poem once in full view of a bridge

in Prospect Park that saw me

and did not move.

 

*

 

Jill McCorkle gave a craft talk today –

 

“If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”

 

The sound of a mother’s voice, notwithstanding

the relationship you have with your mother, is

a sound imprinted for all your life; she hears

the interstate and the ocean, remembers a boy

who curled for a nap in the dark hearing the

background noise of the register in his parent’s

Chinese restaurant comfort him, tied to the beginning

Seamus Heaney’s local roads, her daughter watched

television in her womb, and taken aback, she believes.

 

“We don’t see the connecting filament until

the sparks appear and we wonder where it comes

from. Are you more like a skunk or a turtle?”

 

*

 

I’m making friends with a writer at Sewanee:

I’ll call her Frenchie from Washington, for short.

What Jill said about those childhood memories

really sinking in, this part of our brain that

instinctively comforts us – I spend so much time

worrying about how my kids will wake up,

what will they smell? what will they see?

Frenchie’s eyes round the bend toward the West.

 

*

 

Even after Splotchy, the koi (mine), eaten by

raccoons, as were my sister’s and brother’s

fish, I reminisced for him, how alive his tail

water flipped in droplets swished the surface,

the bob of his mouth, nibbled fingers, how

he hid underneath the water lily, waved a slow

back and forth, waiting for me to come or go.

 

*

 

Overheard from Jill McCorkle:

 

Stanley Kunitz once said, “The remarkable thing that

I feel despite the aging of the body…of my body

is that the spirit remains young. It is the same spirit

I remember living with as a child.”

 

Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”

– “They is. They is. They is.”

 

Like a skunk that when it gets angry, sprays its words

Or like a turtle, do you hide your words?

 

If you keep asking my mother for her address,

she will give you her childhood home.

 

*

 

Our cat Christina would stealthy and poise

in a flash biting golden fur on her belly, one

ear cocked for the cry of mee-mee, which

meant food, one eye cocked toward the koi

pond lined in flagstone, my father’s hands

lined with the fine dust of shale, bricked

piece by piece, the way his heart fit like

the odd kitchen tile, snugged in that

final space, dinner, my mother’s voice.

 

***

 

 

 

Ramadan Day 24 – Journey South

photo

 

The bus to the Sewanee Writers Conference in Tennessee is freezing, and I fall asleep, numb. I stumble out of that sleep when rain drops down on the bus. All sides chattering, the rain is making conversation. In the air, millions of white men are clearing the chairs. Tell me it’s gonna be ok, I say.

 

Patter

Patter

 

At the lectern tonight, reading her poems, Claudia Emerson doesn’t look like I thought she would. Her hair is nearly gone. Her smile is brighter than her Pulitzer. I cannot see her eyes behind her glasses.

 

For the last four days, I have offered up duas because I could not write. Writing is my dua this early into the late, late night.

 

I couldn’t write because there is a heavy press against my heart. My friend Gloria writes me with news. She doesn’t tell me she has cancer. She tells me she will have surgery and then chemo. What she means to say, I think, is don’t worry about me. Don’t fear. Don’t fret. I will survive.

 

A lover once told me that it insulted her when I worried about her. You’re sending negative energy into the world. Don’t do that. Instead, think about the positive.

 

I think about the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria. Is it odd that I think about them every time during the last week when the Palestinian dead are announced? Is it odd that every third thought is about the U.S. deporting undocumented people, refugees? Is the center of pain moving so that it can link to the center of everything? Oh, Allah, how we spin in no direction.

 

Claudia Emerson is the first reader, and I am not familiar with her poems.  She reads one called Chain, Chain, Chain riffing off Aretha Franklin. The deep well that words can be, she says. Metastasis, she says. When I heard that the tumor had metastasized, I found myself looking at the word. It means to move, to shift. Nobody wants to feel that their brain has been shifted.

 

Less than two weeks ago another friend forwarded me a letter. Her mother’s treatment is beating back the cancer. When I first read the words, I didn’t believe it. Happiness is unrecognizable.

 

My father withered under his treatment, the sun baking the dandelion until it sought a cooler place. A decade, until all that was left was flame and bone. I burned with tears at his funeral, and the casket wood burned my hands. Was it raining that day too? I don’t remember.

 

I’ve always had a thing for words. I pluck them from the word tree. It grows wild and looms over me. We should have had that thing pruned years ago, my mother says, or cut down. Now it is too late, and it’s dangerous. What if it falls on the house?

 

Dear Allah, help me quit. You know what. Because I want to live a little bit longer than I used to think I did.

 

How are you doing today? I text Gloria. She’s watching the Godfather. Her body is uncomfortable, her stomach distended. Give me your 5 sentence opinion about Israel and Palestine, she texts. I write 5 sentences at a bus stop between a writing group and Iftar. One sentence includes genocide. It will not be enough to simply stop what is happening now, I think to myself.  We can never return to zero, no matter how hard we are trying.

 

Before someone tells you they have cancer, you act like they don’t.

 

Gloria once told me that it’s important to take a break from the serious things, from the processing, and to make talk about daily things.  Don’t spend your time focusing on the problems.  Just live your life.

 

I’m taking a walk now, Gloria writes.

 

Claudia Emerson says she has a new idea about teaching poetry from being treated at a teaching hospital. She enjoyed the attention of all those students asking the same thing, wearing their new coats. Why should the study of poetry be less rigorous than medicine? She pounds one fist on the lectern. She wanted to buy everyone in her workshop a stethoscope, but they were too expensive.

 

I am ready to laugh.

 

List five gratitudes:

 

Allah, for my life, my friends’ lives.

 

Allah, for every moment during which I felt safe to cry.

 

Allah, for Ramadan and the fast.

 

Allah, for my family.

 

Allah, for the way the words shift and change under the tree canopy, up here on the wooden bench, your butt falling between the slats, the way the window is filled entirely with green, the rain here is lush, different than in Brooklyn where it all falls from a giant air conditioner in the sky, no chorus of cicadas. I’m traveling in between. You offer me two spaces –

Gloria –- here is, once where I was sad.

The other room full of hope due South.

 

 

Without rain, the poet Mia X said, there can be no rainbows.

 

 

the way a snake slips past

its discarded mouth into another year

or knowing nothing of a year

into time itself.

-overheard from Claudia Emerson

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