Ramadan Days 8 & 9: Allah, Why Didn’t You Protect Me?

When somebody commits an act of violence

upon your person

enter yourself to find it gone

what has been taken

you may find it is your health

you may find it is your soul

but do not give up unto

some other person

what it is that gives you hope

*

Between 6:30-7pm, 6/24/15

I was walking with my girlfriend Penny in the very crowded Northwest corner of Union Square, near the farmer’s market. We were discussing two things: a recipe to fry catfish and the over a dozen men within three blocks that had been harassing her on the street. One had even grabbed her arm earlier.  “This is not a good day for men,” she said. I was fasting and hungry. A man came toward me, walking quickly. He made eye contact with me. He was enraged, filled with hate. “Faggot!” he yelled at me as he slammed into me using his body as a battering ram. I didn’t fall to the ground.  He kept walking.

He was maybe 5’8”, wearing a sleeveless tank, sweating profusely, and a Black male.

I yelled, “You Asshole.” I was in pain and shocked.

One white man in the crowd stopped and asked me if I was okay. I was grateful that he asked. “Do you know him?” he asked me. “Do you mean some guy is running around hitting people?” he asked me.

“Looks like it,” was all I could say.

But it wasn’t just any people.

It was me, queer and Asian,

genderqueer and woman.

*

“I should’ve protected you,” Penny said.

“I’m doing everything wrong,” I said.

Later that night, as she put her arms around me and rubbed Mentholatum on my shoulder, she said, “You’re doing everything right. You’re perfect. Don’t worry.”

*

If a crime has been committed against your person, you must decide what to do based on the specific facts of your situation and your own experiences, identities, and instincts. Never report to the police because you feel pressured to do so by others. Do it because this is what you want. Officers are not counselors, and they should not be advocates. They are cops. A traumatic experience will be evaluated and handled by police based on factors that are not related to your emotional well-being.  You may or may not feel safer after any encounter with the police.

*

Bustin, my brother, called me after the attack.

I’ve never been called a faggot before, I said, foggily.

Watch out, he said. It’s not like being a gay Asian in the Bay Area. They totally treat gay Asian men different in NYC. I know tons of guys who’ve been beaten up.

Are you going to tell mom? he asks.

I’m worried that this will stress her out, he says, and be bad for her health.

I think you should tell her when you’re ready, he says.

It’s so good to have a gay brother. It makes everything better.

I hope he can say the same about me.

*

I was a former Public Defender in LA. I don’t believe in our system. It’s broken and racist beyond money or corruption. It’s in the eyes of the jury, who look at anybody sitting in the defendant chair as already guilty. It’s filled with police who will lie to convict a human being. People with mental illnesses are locked up, and we throw away the key. People are convicted with evidence that leaves a reasonable doubt, and then some.

I’m still a Public Defender. I don’t mean the job. I mean the beliefs, the calling. Being in the position of victim is terrible for any advocate. Standing up for somebody else is always easier.

There are days during which I wondered if I ever helped anybody?

Today is one of those days.

*

A friend referred me to a group called Anti-Violence Project in NYC that provides counseling and advocacy for LGBTQ folks who have encountered violence.  That night, after it happened, I called to report the incident.  Statistics and geography are key aspects of hate crime reporting.

Should I report this to the police? I asked.  You should do what you need to do to feel better.  Our concern is about your well-being, one counselor said.  It’s your decision.  If you go to the police, there’s no guarantee that they will take a report or consider what happened a crime.

Any bruising I had was internal.  While I was in pain, I had no visible injuries.  I asked the AVP if this would matter.  It shouldn’t, this person said, but you need to be clear about the hate speech.

*

I thought as the man walked away from me:

I’ve been fasting for Allah. So maybe when he hit me, Allah touched him too.

I thought as the man walked away from me:

I wish I could chase him down and beat the shit out of him.

I thought as the man walked away from me:

Did he call me a faggot because he thought I was a gay man or because I looked like a lesbian to him? Or because he thinks I’m a trans person?

I thought as the man walked away from me:

Should I grow out my hair?

I thought as the man walked away from me:

Why do so many men hit women?  Why can’t we stop them?

I thought as the man walked away from me:

Is he walking away to hurt somebody else?

I thought as the man walked away from me:

How did this happen?

*

In 2014, the night after the NBA championship, I was surrounded by a group of 6-8 white teenagers who trapped me against a door and jumped up and down around me, tapping on my head and slapping my back. There were no homophobic slurs; I didn’t have any injuries; and it hurt a lot less than this time; but they scared me, and they touched me. I called the police thinking to protect the public. The two officers who answered the call were rude and spoke to my brother even though he wasn’t there when it happened. They didn’t want to take a report. What do you want us to do? Those guys were just out having fun and celebrating. It’s not a crime.

*

When I returned home, after I broke the day’s fast, I prayed. I was upset with Allah. Why didn’t you protect me? I asked.

I’ve fasted for so many years, and nothing like this has ever happened during the fast.

What did I do wrong, I asked, that something like this could happen while I was fasting?

*

When a crime has been committed upon your person, you will not be the only person who is scared. The people who care about you will be scared. They may be scared for you. They may be scared for themselves, or for others, or in general.

They will want to do what they can to help you. They will wish it didn’t happen. They will want to prevent it from happening in the future. They will want to protect you, but they cannot. It already happened, to you. Remember that.

*

I hope they catch this fucker, and I pray that he doesn’t hurt anybody else.

I hope that he doesn’t hurt anybody else.

What am I doing about it?

Not all problems are yours to carry, the Don said when we spoke, his message from VONA.

*

As we went underground, I couldn’t hear myself anymore. Should we go to the police? I asked Penny. I don’t trust them, she said.

I imagined what the heat of the moment could look like. I knew the man was heading out of the square. What description do I really have? I asked myself.

I didn’t want them to stop innocent Black men on the street because a Black man harmed me.

The NYPD is not an objective agency. I hold the NYPD’s violence and racism responsible for creating a situation where, even by reporting a crime, I couldn’t be certain that innocent people would not be hurt.

I also hold the NYPD responsible for creating a climate where a person like me cannot be automatically assured that they will be treated in a humane, kind, or dignified way when reporting a crime.

These systemic flaws discourage reporting.  They must be fixed.

*

“This guy is going to go out there and hurt other people, gay people, our community. You need to do what you can to stop him,” said so many.

Whose fault is it if he hurts somebody else?  Somebody else, or another woman?  Or, a man he thinks is gay?

*

The Doctor once said to me, “Serena if you don’t know what to do, or if you’re upset, the best reaction is no reaction.”

Everything hurt as I boarded that train, all my decisions hurtling away from me.

*

After the grand jury returned no indictment for the police who murdered Michael Brown, I marched through the exact spot in Union Square where I was attacked. After the grand jury returned no indictment for the police who murdered Eric Garner, I marched through the exact spot in Union Square where I was attacked.

Both times, I was protesting with thousands of others that Black Lives Mattered.

Where were so many of us when smaller crowds gathered to protest police violence against Black women? Where was I?

With all the police racism and brutality spanning our history, why has it taken so long and taken so many deaths for Americans not to see the terror of our criminal injustice system? Why are so many people still silent and still passive?

*

A few snippets of internal and external dialogue with the NYPD:

Why didn’t you report this to us sooner? [Keep it up, this really helps victims of crime want to talk to you! Oh wait, the 3 other officers asked me that too.]

Do you think he did this to you because of your sexual orientation? Because if you’re not gay, then it’s not a hate crime.  Just like if someone does something because they think you’re black or white, but you’re not actually black or white, then it’s not a hate crime.  [WTF?!?!  Shut your mouth, sister (referring to myself).  No really, just shut it.]

Oh, you didn’t call because you didn’t think that we could help? I’m done. [Officer turns and walks away.]

[30 minutes later – same Officer]. I’m sorry I was rude to you. Hey – I have two brothers but only one sister-in-law.

[For the record, this officer was also genuine about wanting to help me after the apology.]

“Officer, I wanted to report this earlier, but I didn’t want you guys to be stopping innocent Black men in Union Square.”

“Oh, no!  We don’t do that anymore.  Now we use video.”

*

AFTER MATH:

1.5 hours counseling and logistics and reporting to AVP.

>3 hours at the police station.

1 paramedic visit (apparently required by law)

2 paramedics

3 written reports

5 verbal reports

4 officers

1 intake assistant

=

The assault on me at Union Square is being designated a hate crime. It was not a foregone conclusion that this would be designated a hate crime.  I’m grateful that I was prepared, emotionally and mentally, for a trying experience. I’m grateful for the fast that kept me patient. I’m grateful that some of the officers were helpful and kind, and that my complaint was taken seriously.

=

“This just shows that gays have become white,” Ra’d says as we march for trans justice.

=

A waiting game. Will they catch him? Will I or Penny even be able to identify him?

=

Some Questions I have about healing: How? Why? When? Where? What?

=

Friends, Family, Best Girlfriend in the World

*

When one fasts, everything fades into hunger and thirst. Only the strongest knowledge persists. Only the decisions you must make, are made. You conserve your energy by less action.

In the end, I don’t know if I did the wrong things or the right things. I don’t know if I helped myself or hurt myself. I don’t know if anything I did will make any difference. I don’t know what happens next.

*

I keep fasting.

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Ramadan Day 7 – Faith Time, remix feat. Sekou Sundiata’s “the 51st (dream) State” and “A Kiss in Deep Time”

“He even wrote a character named Mason-Dixon in his stories. Now Mason Dixon’s job was to stop you at the line and search your car for weapons. And when Sekou studied the 48 states in school he followed the national debate about whether or not Alaska should become the 49th state, and he felt proud when Hawaii became the 50th state because it meant that we as a nation were getting bigger and better.

Then the question was what would be the next state? Some people said the Phillipines and some said Puerto Rico. Now Gilbert, one of Sekou’s schoolmates, said that his father had said “Que me matin primero.” Over my dead body.   And the teacher said all of us had to go into it with our eyes open because the decision would create a permanent state.

But nobody in those days dreamed

that the next state

would be war.

Not until now.”

– Sekou Sundiata from “the 51st (dream) state”

*

The passage above is from Sekou Sundiata’s 51st (dream) state. I first heard this with two friends, Essence and Zahra, at the Schomberg Center as part of the “Sekou Sundiata Revisited” celebration. Two years later – plus hours last night and again today – I desperately searched for the text of Sundiata’s mixed media radio play/ poem/revolution.

I patchwork transcribed these lines above because in the moment that I heard them, Sekou Sundiata changed my life forever. He transported me through time and space with words.

Late last night, during the search, a phrase describing Sekou’s work startled me: “lyric time.”

*

In honor of ________________________ and

Depayne Middleton Doctor

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Jr.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

Pastor Myra Thompson

*

Narrator: I forgave the racists the ones who did nothing the helpless father and denying mother who could not save me forgave the white women who took from me my color the white men who took from me my humanity forgave the intimacy of the dark that ever after betrayed me and hated itself forgave my empire and the brutality of its soul forgave the fact that heartbreak did not save me.

Sekou:
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time.
The kiss we been believing in
is no longer just a kiss.

Lover:

The mountain is crystal and wish

I climb without binoculars

The mountain is peril like

lovers who dare to kiss when

there are more important things

when the pressure is to close ranks

Sekou:

As time goes by, the kiss is this: You
and who you
not only loved but opened your nose
throat raw flash across the teeth into
who and if
they skin popped took or gave blood.

Lover:

Her lover becomes a convert, faithless

that she possessed herself before conversion

the other lover becomes a soldier

she leaflets the hallways of Flatbush

jealous that they cannot pretend

their love endures this conflict of time

of race of war by virtue is virtual

Sekou:

This cannot be the kiss to take us
into the next century.
Let the old kiss strip, search
slip and shed skin
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I’m going to write you a kiss in deep time.

Lover:

True greatness is spread inside/outside

so thin like paper of her skin is written

a love story unlike any I’ve ever known

what two people will do to each other

is so terrible I think they do it to forgive

or at least to one day forgive themselves

it’s like an act like fresh shower and Change

Sekou:

What is to be understood about the unknown
is already known
it is on our side and traveling
in this direction, like the ancient starts
we hear but cannot see.
Let the Art of the Future Kiss be
a perfect mess
jumping off the pages of the late 1900’s
a bridge, a circle
a map back to the first mack.
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time

Narrator:

One of the hardest lessons I ever learned was to save my energy. That is the true gift of Ramadan. I save it. I savor it. When I encounter any sort of difficulty like rejection or, more commonly, carelessness, I am reminded to be present to myself. Instead of continuing to ask for more and more from the person who hurts or angers me, I turn to another source. Practically, this means re-focusing on people and actions that are kind and responsive. If I were to persist in the face of stiff opposition, it really is like trying to pull quarters from an empty bank. Instead, I walk through the doors that are open. I have learned that this is not denial. I do not give up. I go around. Also, I do not stop, or forget. I simply go about doing what I need to do, which may be to attend a protest, to donate money to a worthy cause, to go to work, to exercise, to attend a Quran study, to read, and often, to write. These activities are helping me. These are things that nourish me, and even (or especially) things that nourish or salve the difficult feelings, like anger or pain, are worthy. I’m accepting that the difficult exists. But, what is terrible/hard is not mine to control. Instead, it is a beseechment. It is a call to Faith. This Faith relies on the possibility of change.

For me, lyric time is how Sundiata emphasizes the reader’s temporal sensation in his work, and also in the movements of each poetic container/stanza. So, at one point, I’m thinking what would it be like to drive from North to South?  That immediately fills my head with overheated engines, fruit stands, chips, and gummy cola bottles, plus lots of hot hours without the a/c. In another instance, I’m transported by Sundiata to our current state, the state of war.  The two states both require me to be keenly aware of the time it would take to travel between the states.  (Read Sundiata’s work at top of blog to feel full effect of lyric time travel.)

Faith Time is lyric time’s neighbor.

Faith Time hast two movements.

1.)  It’s transformative, wiggly, jiggly, all over the place.  Chaotic, if you will, and paradoxical at its core, fast and slow.  Its a sense of time moving spastically, jerkily, all over the place, then rapidly forward, and sometimes shooting backwards.  It’s experiential.

2.)  It relies upon the agreement and existence of an oppressed peoples to ascend from the impoverished state or condition, together.  Faith Time has, if you will, a clock, and we are that clock.  Faith Time is collective.  By its definition, faith time: collective as change: Allah.

Instance of Faith Time in the Modern Age:  One instance of Faith Time unfolded recently within the context of Black lives, and especially the state-sanctioned murder of Black people on the pretext of criminal activity.  In response to these state-and-society sanctioned murders was the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and now during Ramadan.  Many fast in honor of Black lives.  Many carry the weight of the massacre in Charleston to the mat on the ground.  With the advent of the outpouring of support for #BlackLivesMatter in key centers, the people began to experience the past differently.  Of course, LAPD, for instance, was busy gunning down Black and Brown lives for decades, unjustifiably.  But, re-framed in the context of #BlackLivesMatter, there is more outrage, there is more memory, and it seems as if the weight of the past which was previously singularly experienced is now rushing forward to meet the present.  The river flows both ways because it is joined in the middle.

By fasting during Ramadan we are flash-forwarding, if you will, to the consequences of Faith Time’s group quality. We are imagining the future you want, which takes courage, even and especially if, you know you’re not there. Yes, FT is a yearning to be free. But it’s more than a single, self-serving wish because it’s fundamentally interactive with other people, like Sundiata’s work.

Faith Time is the infinite yet finite shift of conscious that allows you while you’re daydreaming to move from one space to another.  You become one ant carrying a crumb, or a colony of ants carrying one larger biscuit.  Faith Time moves a people, so that they see their power over their own constructs.  You’d think we wouldn’t be blind, but we are.  That is our reality.  In short, you can travel vast distances in Faith Time, and it will feel like a minute.  It will also feel like yesterday and all the days before were the same.  Nothing is happening, but then it is.

Wouldn’t that feel critical? Wouldn’t that feel like breaking down and crying?

So yes, Faith Time is accompanied by a feeling of smallness of unimportance, very much like a series of lines, poetic gestures, deliberative – as if you are going nowhere. You get up to pray Fajr so early, or not. What difference does it make? In the reality, we the people are engaged in acts of letter-writing, of organizing, of conversation, polemic, education, protest, prayer, and gathering (not to mention the subjects of resistance, of fighting back against: beat, kill, lynch). These are small things, but they are direct.  People who’ve entered Faith time aren’t treading water.  They are face-to-face with the realization that the current structure of white racism will never magically heal itself; it will never give up its power like charity.  Faith Time wakes people up because they realize that power is something they give ourselves.  Faith is something that Allah, or God, gives.  Not power over (the construct), as Hannah Arendt understood, but Power To (do something).  It’s a different power, the power to make Faith itself.  In the present, you enter a state of Faith Time if you live as if your beliefs themselves are actions.

Small things can seem without meaning, and hopeless, but the opposite is true:  we create the structure for time to shift. Because when our consciousness finally does change, when we have as a people of color reclaimed, in the name of righteousness and imagination, our own power — it will feel as if something momentous has happened. This great feeling and belief is made by our little steps.

Don’t worry – we really are going somewhere.  In the Time of Faith, we believe in the process and not simply the destination. In the Time of Faith, we feel very badly that we have accomplished so little or mean so little, but we stay awake, we persevere, we find that

we see in all directions

labor, strive, yearn, and nobody in those days dared to dream

a state of peace

*

A KISS IN DEEP TIME

By Sekou Sundiata

I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time.
The kiss we been believing in
is no longer just a kiss.
As time goes by, the kiss is this: You
and who you
not only loved but opened your nose
throat raw flash across the teeth into
who and if
they skin popped took or gave blood.
This cannot be the kiss to take us
into the next century.
Let the old kiss strip, search
slip and shed skin
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I’m going to write you a kiss in deep time.

What is to be understood about the unknown
is already known
it is on our side and traveling
in this direction, like the ancient starts
we hear but cannot see.
Let the Art of the Future Kiss be
a perfect mess
jumping off the pages of the late 1900’s
a bridge, a circle
a map back to the first mack.
I was kissing the best kisser I ever kissed the same kiss
over and over again
and I woke up…thinking
I don’t want to tell you tongue and spit from mine.
I write to you a kiss in deep time

*

A performance of Sekou Sundiata’s “51st Dream State”

Ramadan Day 6 – Which Way to Qibla?

“The fly knocks against the window/again & again & / your

name in my mind/knocking” – from Metta Sáma’s “After the Bridge Connecting Diego & Frida’s Houses”

“The opposite of depression is empathy.” – overheard via radio on the 101 near Downtown LA

Allah, I faltered when I prayed today. My head fell on the carpet. I don’t even know the proper way to pray. Do my mistakes even matter? I’m tired of always being a beginner.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” I say. “You must be in a phase of experimentation,” claims Marcy, the new employee. “Do you know the hotspots?” I guessed and led her to the supply room. We prayed together in that dark closet.

I had to pee 6 times in about one hour after Sehri because that’s what happens when you drink 3 glasses of water in twenty minutes before 3:46am.  Ramadan stress.

At the tech hub, this 60-year-old white lady says (quite kindly): “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom.” I forget who I am, and ask (quite genuinely) “huh?” I can never get over those times when I start talking and then the person blushes and says “Sorry.”  I say nothing.

I prepare to write during my usual time, after Fajr, and I manage one sentence:

This Ramadan I am faltering.

“If this don’t flow cool

maybe i am not the river

if it don’t call moons

maybe I am not the dance

if it don’t spin gold

maybe I am not the griot

but who will rise the dragons”

-from Ruth Forman’s “We Spin Unalone”

Tanzila Ahmed, founder of the “Poetry-A-Day for Ramadan group” asks: “Anyone else having a hard time writing poems?” Several of us are still replying. We discuss back aches, head aches, heart aches. We discuss our exhaustion. The answer is yes.

I flew from the middle of the country back with a quickness – so I could be close to this group of Queer Muslims in NYC. I think of them as my fasting family. We’re a Book Club Plus. During Ramadan, we pray together without hijab (unless you want one, however you identify, that’s okay too), gender-queer, without reservations. Every night there is Qu’ran study. We pick a Surah to study together.

“O people! Here is a parable, so listen to it. Those whom you call upon apart from Allah cannot create even a fly, though they may all join hands for it. And if the fly should snatch away something from them, they cannot recover it from it. Feeble indeed is the seeker (- the worshippers) and (feeble) the sought after (- the worshipped one).” – Surat 22 Al-Hajj, 78th Ayat, from The Holy Qu’ran

“It means the arrogance of the scientists.”

“It means the pride of mankind is nothing compared to Allah”

What page is it? What is an Ayat? I ask again and again and again.

“At 40, the human brain fails to absorb and learn new languages.” – overheard on the radio on 134 near Pasadena

What if I never learn Arabic?  What if I never understand the fly?

“Give to us the pleasure

Of misdemeanors.

Let each of us do

What we’ve always

Dreamed of,

But were too polite

To act out.

Authorize us to touch what was always held

Just beyond our reach.

Give us a taste

Of the stolen world.”

-from Cornelius Eady’s “Atomic Prayer”

Each Ramadan is different in its quality. 2015 is more physically painful than any the past eight years. I can’t reach the meditative state I usually do because I’m so tired. Eating is less pleasurable. I don’t taste things because I don’t have the time to taste.

I don’t write things because I have nothing wise to say. This is how I felt when I did my MFA – that I was nothing, nobody, nada. Writing felt so hard because one day I’d write something that somebody would tell me was a mess.  Or worse, they’d say it was beautiful.  Didn’t matter because the next day, I was always a disappointment.  I planned for failure.  T always tells me to cut that out, that success is something I need to plan for.  Or else, how am I supposed to do something with it when it’s here?  But this year, all I carry around in my heart when I try to write in this Ramadan journal is that same fear.  Of not being able to communicate with you.

I’ve never dreaded writing so much as I do this year.

Or last year.

Ra’d allows me to talk loudly on the subway car to a florid white woman who simultaneously ear-hustles us and scolds us with her eyebrows.  “I’m depressed.” Ra’d says.  “I’m over forty.  If you’re over forty, and you’re depressed, then it’s worse.  Because why is it still happening?”

“Of course, it’s worse.  We’re super-weak and vulnerable now – so not super-heroes anymore. It’s not like depression goes away. Or you get to be young again. Now you to protect yourself even more, way more, because we’re not as resilient as we were in our 20’s and our 30’s. We’re more fragile. This time when it hurts, we don’t have a decade ahead to say, ‘I’m still young.’ So you’ve got the same problems, but you’re not the same person. That’s why we rely on better tools rather than the strength of being young, like good boundaries and quality friends.”

Writing didn’t used to be so hard. It was never easy, but despite the fact that I have written more and more, I’m further and further away from being good.

I didn’t come all this way to talk about flies.

I didn’t come all this way to feel so weak.

I hate myself, sometimes. I have taken pride in my work. I’ve received accolades and praise. Why don’t I get to keep these feelings? I don’t wake up feeling good. I wake up feeling angry. Why must I come to the page new? Every time?

Writing is Faith

that I Matter

“every day

i hear your voice

beyond the hills.”

  • Sonia Sanchez from “memory haiku”

I’m sorry that I don’t have anything great to say, but

I’m so close to writing something for you today.

I know it.

Ramadan Day 5 – Single

Don’t talk to me about being single. You’re in a relationship.

Do you think I’ll ever meet someone?

I’m sorry, I can’t go to the wedding. I’m depressed.

I hate weddings.

Now that you have a relationship, do you no longer feel the pressure of going out all the time?

I really like my life now. I see him every once–in-a-while. We have sex, no strings attached. I’m just accepting how happy I am, not conforming.

He’s amazing.  We have to keep it a secret.

She’s poly and is dating some dudes. No, she doesn’t want to be in a relationship. We have a special connection.

I have a thing for straight girls.

There are no such thing as straight girls.

Until you have a relationship with somebody healthy, it means you haven’t really changed.

I don’t date. I don’t like what it does to my self-esteem. I have high self-esteem.

Come to the party with me. I can’t go alone.

No, I don’t do couple-dating.

Could we spend some one-on-one time? Your boyfriend comes to everything. I haven’t seen you in forever.

So now you have a relationship, you can’t spend time with me?

I’m not like you. I’m not in love. That doesn’t mean I want to be alone.

Everybody is married. Everybody is straight. All the cute ones are in relationships.

I can’t quit.

He lives too far.

You’re lucky you’re queer, and you like women.  It’s easier.

We can talk through your issues, but I really can’t introduce you to someone.

I’m fat.

I just don’t feel attracted to them, ok?

He’s too short. She’s too tall. She’s got a funny voice. She really likes to party.

Asian women are the hottest. I only date Black men. She’s so hot, she’s Hispanic.

I don’t only date white guys.

They’re part native.

I don’t date women who are bigger than me. She’s half my age.

He’s a lot older than me. Maybe a bit more than that.

She used to have a drug problem.

You’re better off single.

I met her on OkCupid.

I met him on Tinder.

I have to support myself. I’m older. Nobody’s going to help me retire or when I get sick.

We had a little too much to drink and went to my place. I’d really like to call. Do you think it’s too soon?

I don’t want to drive myself crazy. I’ve made peace with it. I may not be happy, but at least I’m not desperate.

I’m moving soon so what’s the point?

I want kids. I can’t afford to have one or take care of one myself.

I’m getting pregnant anyway.

Shut up.

You should be more open.

Do you believe in the one?

I’m sad.

Not tonight.

I’m lonely.

***

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Accumulation No. 1 – Yayoi Kusama

***

Don’t surrender your loneliness

So quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human

Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight

Has made my eyes so soft,

My voice

So tender,

My need of God

Absolutely Clear.

– Hafiz, trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

Ramadan Day 4

You leaving my bed

like dawn

flees the touch of her finger

like geese

flocking up from the lake

like sorrow

giving the moon the slip

Ramadan Day 3 – Overheard in Nebraska

Overheard in Nebraska

corn wouldn’t exist without people it’d be extinct

Imagine

what won’t come out is that spicy beef jerky that’s not natural either

and then he just stood real close to the party tray and whooosh well goshdarnit

Imagine

we all brought him baked goods burnt brownies burnt cookies burnt cake

i just walk around town and listen to people i like that the best which way is the courthouse

Imagine

these conversations here are the best but Nebraskans are all married and have children

this woman comes round the corner hits my car she’s got no insurance i tell this lawyer he says she’s Black and on welfare so how you expect to get money from her so I didn’t sue her

Imagine

i’m not a racist i married an Indian been 40 years she’s the hardest working person you ever seen she’s out there right now tearing up the yard

he’s a real piece of work thinks he’s a ladies’ man

Imagine

his dad owned the bar over there his name was Fast Jack

you just saw a fighter jet that’s Strategic Air Command over here got planes for fourteen levels they brought George Bush over there when 9/11 happened

Imagine

because we’re in the middle of the country shorten it up you call it SAC

her kid doesn’t even know how to hold a paintbrush

Imagine

you could say it’s no culture but that time i met Toni Morrison and she said she was a librarian her first job ever

isn’t Joe Volk’s taxidermy amazing i have to show you this 3 legged chick

Imagine

he really wanted to reach 100 he was real sad he didn’t make it

i love your work

Imagine

just like Amy Tan

that terrorist in Charleston killed 9 Black people so we’d be much obliged if y’all would take down that Confederate Flag have you seen the pictures of him wrapped up in it so please take it down

Imagine

Imagine

Imagine

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Ramadan Day 2 – Notes for A Queer Submission, feat. Rumi 

One night, alone in my room, I write a story, but I’m too tired to finish it. Instead, I share my notes online. It is all about a girl who has no names for the love she feels for God. She is certain of one thing: that it was God who brought her to faith and queers who kept her there.  She makes a mixtape.

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For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.

After my father died, I was lost. We were joined, he and I, by our imperfections: temper, impatience, and pride, to name a few. To lose a person whose image still lives in your own imbues your mistakes with fragility. You wonder if even the acceptance that was denied you is worth the pain of wanting it.

I rage against my helplessness. When the fits first came upon me, I was thirteen years old, and didn’t have the strength to mess up the world. I read the Bible and memorized Kings in my father’s study. I don’t remember their names. I loved God more than McDonald’s, more than Little Women, more than my cat, Christina.

From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.

We were activists together, Cal and I, and his family was from Texas, by way of Pakistan. Cal was my first close Muslim friend, and once when we were in a tiny office at the law school, working to bring back affirmative action in CA, Cal told me he was fasting. Why are you doing that? I asked.

“I had a dream that I was killed for being crazy, like Martin Luther King,” Cal said.

Cal was irresponsible, selfish, corrupt, and, therefore infinitely free. Cal wanted the power to change the world. I wanted to hide from the power that I had. He was happy. I was depressed.

One day, Cal came down the stairs with all his missing front teeth. He wouldn’t go to the dentist. “I’ve never known,” he said, “what it was like to have people stare at me.” He’d borrowed my bicycle; the front tire had loosened in front of a bus, and he called me from the hospital saying that he needed a ride. He carried with him a bag of candy. My parent’s shop went out of business, he said, spilling it all in the foyer, so now I’m giving the candy away for free. He grinned from ear to ear, and I loved him for that bloody smile.

Unable to see, I heard my name being called.

I fell in love with Galileo on the way up from Fresno in another woman, Lula’s, car. Lula said I was lucky. “She may have cheated on you, but how else would you learn who you are? Love the teacher who teaches you out of love, because most people teach you about yourself out of indifference, or hate.”

“But,” I cried, “she says that she can’t be an activist and half-white, that her Mexican community wouldn’t tolerate her being gay, too.”

“If they’re so willing to reject her,” Lula asked, “Are they really her community?”

Then I walked outside.

That year, I wandered the streets wondering how I could best kill myself. I sunk to the floor and with the knife on my skin, I’d think, if only I had a shotgun. I’d drive around and get into a fight, and then go over a bridge. I was elaborate, if immature.

Ten years later: “Thank you,” the Doctor said, “for trusting me, and for sharing with me. We all have these thoughts. Don’t do it.”

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

I healed day by day.  My father’s memory became the glue in my cracks. Shams loved me less and less. It was as if my broken self, the one that needed to be fixed, was the true object of her affection. Shams is a poet. Shams is a Muslim.

Shams brought me to Allah. But she didn’t stay.

“You have such power,” Shams said once, our backs on the San Gabriel mountain dirt, the scent of the forest filtering the air. The stars above us made constellations only she named. “But you don’t know how to use it.”

Shams wrote me love letters about my demons.

I consumed them all.

Don’t go back to sleep.

She cried when I first tell her that I love her. “You don’t want to love me,” she said.

That first Ramadan, when I return from Guatemala, she confirmed that we already were partners. She was ready to take the next step.

I close my eyes, see her darkening my red sheets. I fall in love again and again.

“It is,” she wrote me on a card with a picture of a little diver on the front, “like being underwater, but all the gifts of morning are mine. The quietness, and the solitude.” I played tennis, wrapped up a jury trial, and took to fasting like one fish in the ocean.

It only happens that way the first time.

You must ask for what you really want.

I met Saimo during a play. We were both actors. During several scene changes, we hid in a dark corner underneath the bleachers where the audience hovered like insects. We had to hold very still, along with the actor who played my boyfriend. It was hot, and I didn’t want my sweat to ruin my makeup. Every performance, we’d have the same conversation.

Excerpted dialogue:

“Pssst, do you see Shams in the audience?”

“I don’t know what Shams looks like, but I don’t think so. There’s a South Asian woman a couple rows over.”

“No, that’s not her. Anybody else?”

We laugh about the ants crawling on the bleacher bars.   One night, I tell her that I fast for Ramadan.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Those last years in LA, we sit at the table enjoying Sehri: myself, Saimo, and sometimes, another friend. Daily, I read her Rumi’s The Glance and Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku. I think, as I look at this cherished friend that Allah has blessed me. I’ve never met another person whose soul radiated love so clearly, so loudly. Her family has me over for Eid. They gift me my first prayer rug.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

 In NYC, the Don is leaving. He tells me about a group of queer Muslims. He tells me there’s a difficult discussion about an outsider joining. I don’t need to go, I say. He holds me with his eyes. After he leaves NYC, I join the community. They answer my how-to questions about prayer. They study the Qu’ran with me.   They hold me through the fast. Pele tries to explain Wudu as I fast in Tennessee. I’m embarrassed as my hijab slips off before the mosque in Murfreesboro. I get it back on, half-assed, with hair clips, the way Saimo showed me.

where the two worlds touch.

“I don’t say I’m a Muslim,” I try to explain to folks in Nebraska who wish me a Happy Ramadan. “I believe in Allah, but I haven’t converted. Maybe I’m like a Unitarian version of Islam.” I can’t focus on the conversation because I’m starving.  There’s at least two hours left before Iftar.  Penny is waiting for me at our apartment when I get back to NYC. All the residents here are single. I have a relationship. This has never happened to me before.

The door is round and open.

People shamed me with God my whole life. But it was people, in the name of religions led by sexist men. So I will not be shamed again by laying claim to Islam, led by yet another set of men, who wish to shame me. I do not think Allah wants that.

Allah and I

We love each other

All claims fade

Not Infidel

A True Believer

Don’t go back to sleep.

***

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

-by Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks

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