Wishing I was a house, study # 2

Posted: May 12, 2016 in Media

They tore it down.

Didn’t take long, you said.
Not as long as it took to build it, anyhow.
You can see how it was broken  (if you look real close). Left
gutted. Eviscerated. Bricks and bones of rooms leaning
into strewn ghosts forwarding no address.
Dust never settles, you said
I’ve never seen anything so still.

You hold my hand and say:

Remember
Sam the old grey tabby sun-stretched out on a sleepy summer curb licking his paw
eyes half closed to the smell of cut grass.
Or you, singing loud to Elton John don’t let the sun go down on me lying on the brown shag rug because nobody in the world was watching.
Or you, warm water deep in wondering if your toes would ever touch the other end
of the claw foot bathtub?

Remember
The hole it left
Inside. How even light refused to enter, or how
you in your pyjamas would listen from the vent in your room, remember? And you
never speaking of the din
ever speaking of the trembling thunder from the 10:20 train
rattling curtainless windows and Five Star Rye
buried deep in February snow banks?

Remember
How the ground slammed against us
It shifted us hard, didn’t it?
Dismembered us, remember how
your hand left mine?
I never heard anything go so silently
like dust that never settles
as it all fell down.

IMG_8968

Rosary

Posted: April 6, 2016 in Media

Did god let her in?
Or was she left behind
like this half of her rosary?
Maybe still, she holds the other half
in the cup of her palm?
(slips so easy through the cracks)

It broke like her.
Left behind, here
with me
like her.
Unforgiven.

rosary

I was 8 years old when I was sexually assaulted.

I remember. I remember, vividly. It was mid-summer. Mid-afternoon. I was sitting in the shade against the lean-to at the back of our small house. My bare feet tucked up and away from the blazing sun that scorched the grass. I can still feel the cool cement against my legs. The air was alive with cicadas buzzing electric in the hot breezeless day. (When I was young, I always thought it was the telephone lines that made that sound). In this refuge from the sun, I looked out into my backyard. It was usually empty except for waves of sheets that clung to the clothesline. But today it was filled with my parents and their friends. This was rare: My parents … with friends. They were laughing together. This never happened. There was no yelling, no fights, no ambulance; no impromptu taxi drives taking us to somewhere else. It was different. I was content. My dad strung the speakers from a tree. Herb Albert’s Tijuana Brass and Johnny Cash blared from the single pine. Two shoeless men held either end of a bamboo pole. They swayed to the music like lazy flags in the wind as my mother did the limbo. Ladies looked on, holding drinks, smoking cigarettes. In between songs, my dad turned the chicken sate, fanned the coals.

That’s when I saw him. He moved slowly toward me. Looking at me. He was a friend of my mom and dad: an older man, wiry, grey haired. His clothes hung loose on his body, and as with all the men in the yard, his long sleeved shirt was unbuttoned because of the heat.

He was closing in.

“I hear you did a good job on your school project.”

I don’t remember my response. I know I felt suddenly uncomfortable. I clenched my body closer into myself.

He looked down at me as he spoke. “Why don’t you show it to me.”

The project was for my grade 3 class. We were studying pioneer families. I decided to build a log cabin. For weeks I searched for branches that were the perfect length, pieces of pine and spruce for the trees to surround it. I cut a swatch of fabric from a dress for the curtains. From clay, I painstakingly created the mother, father, and children. I made the roof separately, so I could lift it off and peer inside at this perfect family. I was proud. I got a good mark. I wanted to keep it. So, my dad put my log cabin and its perfect family in the basement.

“It’s in the basement,” I said. “Put away.”

“Well, take me to see it.”

I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay in my happy shade. I got to my feet. As I led him through the backdoor, I looked over my shoulder at my parents who were oblivious: talking, busy laughing …

We stepped into the “shack” (as we called it); inside, it was painted ox-blood red. An empty and solitary shelf (which my mother, for some reason, called the “psychedelic cupboard”) was painted the same colour from the dregs of the paint can. The trap door, which led to the basement, was at the back corner of the shack. It was closed. To open it from the floor was treacherous. The potential to fall into the gaping hole was alarmingly high. I hit the light switch. As I opened the trapdoor the cool, musty basement air exhaled. I could feel him behind me. Something was wrong. My skin felt it first.

Five steep steps led down into the narrow cement corridor. Anyone 5-feet or taller had to hunch, while walking, before entering the main section of the basement. The ceiling was low; stonewalls damp; and shafts of daylight through the small window, strangled by an outdoor bush, pushed their way through. Wood and tools were in an organized scatter.

I remember showing him the model ship my dad was building.

The furnace room held my log cabin with its perfect family. It was an Edgar Allen Poe-type antechamber. I stepped into the darkness and into another layer of cold. As I turned around, I saw that he was backlit; his body filled the doorway. I remember feeling that there was no way out. I explained that the light was in the middle of the room. A thin chain dangled just out of my reach. I stood on my tiptoes in order to reach the chain, to turn on the light.

He grabbed me from behind.

It was as if an electric shock had charged through my small body. My ears deafened with a white noise. My body screamed.

I remember him saying, “don’t tell anyone or you’ll be in trouble.” And then he left. I don’t know how long I was in that room. I remember worrying that he had closed the trap door. Locked me in.

The white noise rang through my body as I pushed my way through trap door. I returned to my place outside and sat against the lean-to, tucked my legs underneath. In the shade, I couldn’t feel my body. I couldn’t hear anything. I saw my parent’s faces, smiling as if nothing had changed. Except for me, the earth had shifted on its axis. Light was somehow different.

I sometimes imagine myself as an adult sitting down next to that 8-year old girl in the shade. Her sense of light altered. I tell her: “It will be okay. You will be okay.” “I promise.”

When I speak about violence against women, and share my experience, I’m sometimes met with: “but you were a child, it’s different.” The observation is followed by the questions: “Why didn’t you scream?” Why didn’t you tell?” Why didn’t you fight back?” How could you just sit there with him there? Act as if nothing happened? Questions like these are often from people who have not suffered a sexual assault.

And what if? What if I did tell? Even then I somehow knew, it would be my word against his. It’s fear. It’s shame. It’s silencing. Some things are similar.

The truth is, I didn’t want to ruin the day. That’s the truth. I didn’t want to ruin the day. You see, something happens in the chaotic force of violence and violation. Even at 8-years old, I tried to fix the unfixable. I tried to make it okay. I wanted it to be back to normal, as if it never happened. I thought I could do that, by pretending it away. But I couldn’t. That’s the truth too.

(I threw out the log cabin).

So, I walk with that girl and my histories of violence. But as I walk I am not silent. I am not ashamed. Silence and Shame are patriarchal devices within structures that authorize and enable abuse. They keep the perpetrator safe.

We must, however, walk together. Know that you are not alone. Know that the depth of your wounds are singular, intimate, complex, and etched deeply into who you are. We must challenge draconian systems of justice. We must disabuse ourselves of indoctrinated misogyny. Educate. Refuse shame. Refuse silence. Demand and create new forums of transformative justice designed specifically for survivors of sexual assault. Demand judicial processes that are affordable, accessible, equitable with advocates who are willing to take into account the white noise; the currents of trauma; historical, cultural, racial, and social contexts; the fear; the confusion; the levels of abuse; and understand that the survivor’s motives to normalize and protect are real, so too are actions and responses that are outside of the purview of socialized “norms.”

We must walk together and promise each other that in solidarity we will be okay, because you survived.

my mother was a refugee

Posted: November 20, 2015 in (Re)Memory, Media

Stains mark the place,
so I won’t lose my way
to the greenblack twists in her linoleum floor. She follows the crack

with her bare feet
as her kitchen sways to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass
and rice steamed stories
of boats crossing over, waves crossing over, over to the other side of over there where they call
other

Then, a snake
fangs bury sharp beneath her skin (grazing bone)
“I still see his eyes,” she said, “green like mine.”

Water boils.
She rests her wooden spoon.
Still from stirring.

I trace her shores across the line of her neck bent now dark hair falling windowpanes fog
with bruised lemongrass

trassie sambal apple scars: a compass she left behind

that maybe I could find her.kommer

selamat makan

 

Soepen

Posted: May 7, 2015 in Media

He sits in his wheelchair
Long-term care
Watching the history channel
World War II flying through the air
across the screen in black and white.
I touch his shoulder. He looks up and nods.
“I brought you some herring,” I say.
He wheels closer to the screen.
I open the jar and place it nearby.
With a fork he stabs
at the tightly packed fish with his good hand.
Half of his body is dead
The other angry.
I watch as men in planes drop bombs on people trying to escape and
I look at him. Back to the battle.
The capitulation.
Herring drops to the floor
One piece, then another (and another) of silver fish long dead
That got away

I found my mother’s kookboek on his bookshelf
Between Tora Tora Tora and a thesaurus

I bend to take care of the discarded bits
(one from his shoe)
As he continues to fish, oblivious
of a child crying on a boat, exploding

I open my mother’s kookboek
I can’t pronounce the words
but my tongue knows the taste

In black and white, soldiers carry a flag,
puncture the soil
Somewhere
and claim it

On page one hundred and seventy one
a dead fly.
Blue skin, iridescent
or do they have skin, like me?
Wings intact.
I keep it there
To mark my place

kookboek

red mitten on white snow

Posted: March 26, 2015 in Media

the oldest light delivered you to me
thieving ancient atoms stole you away
inside a pocket of background microwave radiation
restless dust sliding into a revolving spiral galaxy
relinquishing a spinning bundle
an equilibrium of you into my arms
dying i can think of only that

no blue stumbling buzz blue bottle buccaneer
just a red mitten
on white snow
you presume i have abandoned you
as your hand still in my grasp, loosens
i told you once:
the earth is turning at equal velocity to the moon
“stuck in sticky gravity”

i call out to remind you
but this space between you and i
this new distance of yours and mine
takes my breath
as i watch you leave through closed eyes
stolen way by silly death

earth moon

read her hands

Posted: October 17, 2014 in Media

Standing in a doorway — anywhere

Read her hands
interpret out loud the writing quiet of them
Palms full of spring
chopped onions garlic bleach
middle fingernail ragged
worrying after you
Number 46 polish (coral lust) chipped, fading the one night out
Finger spit wash chocolate from the corner
of your hungry mouth
Red knuckles dishwater damp rub her father’s broken feet with peppermint lotion

He will never know. You will never know the midnight tracing
the sleeping horizon of your young forehead
The hovering silence
A clipped wing waving from behind a screen door
at backs turning, walking away.
Washing wiping tearing pulling brushing bathing
Holding holding holding           Holding
The growing and the dying
Mending heeding healing stealing
Bits of grace by the cupful
Like water, you can drink clean the taste

September tomatoes warm with morning sun on the tips of them
Places sacred where they go
For the relief of them
3 am fingers stroke the length of him
Wield the spine flaming wet of rest less hands over him
Early morning coffee for him
Fingers threading needles and mistakes patch her day
carrying bags of office clocks up the tired narrow stairs
The cigarette burning between her fingers at a window sill,
contemplating, behind a locked bathroom door

Making bread with them
Kneading dough with the heels of them
The nourishment of them
Flour etched into the lines between the lines
The lines that some cannot fathom how much they can hold
Can never hold again
Let go receive forgive give back
The angry fists that pound against the kitchen air to breath
To wipe away with the backs of them, her eyes before you see
Follow the lines of her hands
Follow the lines of brightly cornered rooms
Well–tucked unmade beds, enter
And tell me her.

Standing in a doorway — anywhere

some tell me this is my pilgrimage
but you and I both know you were not shrine material
you were
too much of this earth, composed
to breakdown, rise
tree like
limbs bearing these candlenuts I carry
in my pocket

this is my religion

Image  —  Posted: July 10, 2014 in Media

At an event I recently attended I was told that my dissertation was not considered feminist enough. My response, as I held my drink standing within the din of clinking glasses, was: “you’re joking, right?” Interestingly, the remark was made by someone who did not read my work but based their conclusion on my topic. My research project is an analysis of Louis Riel’s 1885 trial and the representation of the Métis leader by the nineteenth-century media and its present day implications. Beyond my ostensibly glib reaction, the remark raised several questions for me, which I am compelled to bring forward to create a conversation.

Aside from the intriguing fact that someone would suggest that my work concerning a Métis leader and his representation in the media is not feminist enough, even more curious is how exactly this reasoning was deduced? This is particularly troubling when considering the long-standing issues endured by Métis peoples in Canada and the continued violence against all Aboriginal Nations specifically with the ever present crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls – a consequence my research connects to Riel’s execution and the negation of Aboriginal sovereignties. Perhaps a more astute question is how could this work not be feminist?

While I accept all criticism as valuable, even more so than praise, this remark left me stymied. Granted my methodology for this specific project does not outwardly use a “conventional” western feminist approach (explained in my Introduction). Instead, my discourse analysis of the historical event applies a critical race and postcolonial approach as I utilize the scholarship, storytelling, and writings of Métis and First Nations scholars, including Riel. I felt this method was necessary because a western analytic framework could once again colonize the sovereign objectives and paradigmatic and contextual shifts Riel was undertaking. As a feminist scholar, I felt this was the most feminist approach to take.

What then does it mean to be feminist enough? Who am I proving my feminism to? Must my feminism be proved at all? Who is in charge of judging this? Are there guidelines, a rule book, an obstacle course, a code of conduct, a hazing ritual, a membership mandate, proof in the pudding, or a complex set of algorithms which will magically spit out gold coins revealing: “Yes, this is feminist … enough?”

Am I, or is my feminism, not enough? Bound with the short sighted evaluation of my work (or more specifically, its title) is an intellectual and proprietary hierarchy, which privileges an assumed power to dictate what feminism is, and with it also arrives (ironically) a distinct gust of patriarchy, no?

Interesting.

To me, if I may be so bold (as a feminist), the remark in many ways says more about the institutionalization of feminisms (plural intended), rather than my work as not being feminist enough. My work was shut down instead of opened up to consider all the possibilities. I was silenced and with this silencing so too was, once again, the contextual histories of the critical work at hand: issues concerning Métis sovereignty.

For the record, my research illuminates new scholarship concerning Riel’s advocacy for the rights and recognition of Métis and First Nations women and girls; his public condemnation of the Canadian government’s gender-based violence during the period; and the connection between the criminalization of Métis sovereignty, which culminated in Riel’s execution, with present day issues concerning missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The criticism I received was indeed extremely valuable as I continue my everyday feminist methodology: to question and to listen in order to understand and create conversations. I also look forward to bring this anecdote forward into the classrooms where I teach students who come with their own complex histories, and varied stories, and who are grappling with what it means to be a feminist.

I will listen to them in order to understand and to remain open to all possibilities.

 

So far along our road trip you’ve read Germano, got your solo writing cape on, have a belief in what you’re doing, know for sure why your work needs to be published, and had another piece of pie. Okay, time to check the GPS (online resources) and think about where we are headed by considering all the publishers ever known. It’s Bucket List Time, folks. That’s right, you need to look at all the possibilities so you don’t miss the right possibility. Think big! Now ask yourself some questions. Pretend you are doing a Buzzfeed quiz.

 

1) Readership: who would be interested in reading this work?

2) Academic or popular or both: is the work framed for a more educational/institutional setting or for popular culture? Does it serve both sectors?

3) What is the main discipline? Women’s Studies, Political Science, French Studies, Aboriginal Studies, Shakespeare Studies, Communication, Canadian Art History, Social Sciences, Anthropology, Theatre, Psychology, Creative Writing, Religious Studies, Medicine, Art Education, Law, Fine Arts, American Literature, East Asian Literature, etc.

  • Note: this is tricky especially if you are an interdisciplinary scholar because more than likely you will be able to select 18 possible disciplines. In this case, narrow it down to 3.

4) What is the main theme within the discipline? Write it down in one sentence, for instance, “The main theme that my book follows in the discipline of Political Science is  …”

5) What are two secondary themes? One sentence!!!

6) Which country is the work grounded in? United States, South America, Canada, Indonesia, Finland, Africa, etc. Detail the specific region if possible.

  • Even if your work has a global trajectory, it is more than likely your research is based somewhere (or a few somewheres). Identify these spaces.

7) Name 5 published works that you could imagine your book appearing next to on a bookshelf. Identify the publishers.

  • Note: This is a great opportunity to take a few minutes to close your eyes and picture your book’s cover. Do it! It’s fun.

8) Name 3 publishers that you have already considered, probably around 2 a.m. while you were highly caffeinated and formatting your dissertation’s bibliography.

9) Select one of the above. The dream publisher. What is it about this publisher that makes you believe that it is the right house for your work?

10) In one sentence, write why your work is suited for the above publisher. * Note: I’m a big fan of “get it down in one sentence.”  The elevator pitch. Think Mad Men. Concision is a struggle with constraint. But a necessary one. I’ll talk about this more a bit later.

11) Talk to your advisors. Ask the only other people in the world who have read your work for their suggestions. They are also published, right? They may suggest publishers you have not considered.

Now that you have gone from big picture to a more narrowed field, take the time to examine all the possibilities while reflecting on your answers to the above questions. To follow are 2 online resources for your search. It is not the be all end all list, but it will get you started:

Association of Canadian University Presses

http://www.acup.ca/

International Academic Press

https://services.exeter.ac.uk/bfa/az.htm

When you have finished your research, do the following:

  • Write down 5 publishing houses that you think would be well suited for your work.
  • Short list 3 out of the 5.
  • Return to the 3 publication sites and really consider “the one.” Write down the name of the one publishing house.

Now you are ready to begin to draft your proposal.

Next stop: The Million Dollar Question: How many proposals should I send out?