Lungs

Posted: January 12, 2018 in Media

“There’s water in your lung,” the doctor says.
He listens to my father breathe.
“Like crinkling paper,” he says, takes the stethoscope from his ears,
“you’re drowning.”

We’d wait on the beach, my father says, for hours
the North Sea pounding the shore like a bloody hammer
and the planes. Planes fell from the sky. We’d watch for hours.
We’d watch them fall from the sky like shot birds
Wait for them to wash up
wash up on shore.
Dark spots. Like ink on the water. Sky always overcast. Dark spots
rolling in, rolling in toward us
a tire     a wing       a body
When I rub my face with my hands (like this) sounds

like water

“Your lungs are two spongy organs,” the doctor says
(I look concerned)
“Almost all filled with air       the rest solid.”
He looks at me:
“there’s symptoms of infection.”

Sometimes they’d stick on shore, my father says.
Then a wave would grab them like a hand pulling them back and pushing them
forward and then back again
bloated
dark spots and if they stuck, we’d run across the sand,
pull off their boots,
and sell them in town. If we could get them off

“Take a deep breath please.” The doctor’s hand firm on my father’s lower back.

My mother found out.
A smile, a sound wave across his face
disappears.
Thought she was going to beat the hell of out me! He looks away.
Instead, she cried

standing in the middle of the empty street she cried.
I wanted her to cover her face with her hands.

Air travels air follows air
pathways  “In and out in and out … “
Inflammation of the lungs bronchi alveoli capillaries
A passage blocked
My father’s right hand begins to tremble
like he’s ready to role dice across the floor.
Surprise us all with a deep inhalation, and I
wake up underwater.  Dark spots
float above me. (I want to cover my face)
no air, no
air
and a man on the edge of my bed looking
for his boots

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my name is my mother’s exile

Posted: November 3, 2016 in Media

my name is my mother’s exile
geography pulled from under her feet
with no latitude to land, no flag to mark the spot
folded up wrong in your paper map until she disappeared
in turned heads, pretending

my mother’s exile is my name
she haunts my streets
knee deep in drifting stories
bones, left to dry in my mouth
ghosts, my fingers worry over and over

she never liked the snow

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No, I’m not a “nasty woman”

Posted: October 21, 2016 in Media

 

“nasty.” adjective. Dutch nestig “dirty,” literally “like a bird’s nest.” Likely reinforced in either case by a Scandinavian source (compare Swedish dialectal naskug “dirty, nasty”), which also might be the source of the Middle English word. Of weather, from 1630s; of things generally, “unpleasant, offensive,” from 1705. Of people, “ill-tempered,” from 1825 (OED).

So, actually, no, I’m not “a nasty woman.” And that’s okay.

I get the knee jerk response of solidarity to reclaim the power taken by Trump playing the name game with Clinton during the third and thankfully final “debate” for the U.S. Presidential election. But I’m gonna refuse the “nasty” label, t-shirt, hashtag, FB like, and coffee mug.

Almost as soon as the words “you are a nasty woman” were delivered from Trump’s pie hole, tweets flooded the internet: #strong women are nasty women.

No. You are strong women.

The virulent misogyny that runs through and through the compulsion to disparage strong intelligent non-compliant women with insults has gained counter-traction and push-back by women and girls “owning it”: Yes, I am nasty.

Yet, is this really how one asserts power?

This current nasty uptake should not to be confused with the reclamation of the words such as“slut” and/or “whore” which have resurfaced because their discourses stand and deliver sexual agency and power by individuals who have been exploited and objectified. Another powerful act of owning it is with the word “cunt.” The etymology of “cunt” is found with the Proto-Indo-European “cu,” and links to other feminine/vaginal terms such as the Hebrew “cus;” the Arabic “cush,” “kush,” and “khunt;” the Nostratic “kuni” for woman. The word cunt is woven into the name of powerful women such as the Indian goddess Kunt. It flows in the energy force Kundalini. Even the devil (another pebble thrown at Clinton during Debate # 2) was a powerful rebel angel tossed out of heaven after taking on the Almighty.

But “nasty”?  It’s an adjective. It qualifies a noun. There is a difference.

Perhaps it is easy to get swept up in the hate-hurricane. It continues to be necessary to shield ourselves by opting to wear the names hurled at us in order to parade the message: I am indeed strong. I am not vulnerable to attack.

But what else is this doing?

Another tweet read: “Taking my daughters to vote with me so I can raise some nasty women.” Is this response not contributing to forms of disempowerment by commodifying, popularizing, normalizing, and accepting violence?

Be you. Be strong. Be intelligent. Be the best you can be. Dream big. Shoot high. Or chill on the sofa at home eating tacos in your jogging pants, but perhaps also pause

(like really pause)

before claiming the misogynistic nasty descriptors that are cast your way because you can also refuse the words. Because you are strong and powerful.

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Dear Mr. Trump

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Media

Dr. Mr. Trump,

You are an asshole. Let’s just say I’m responding to your predilection for “name calling” with a little tit-for-tat to your freewheeling objectification of women specifically the dehumanizing rhetoric that you project at individuals who challenge you. In a nutshell, Mr. Trump, I am addressing your misogyny.

I’ve observed the American electoral process with an ever-increasing disgust. The recent “leaked” tape exposing your conversation with Billy Bush adds to your expansive repertoire of deeply rooted hate speech that authorizes an explicit spectrum of discriminatory discourses. Your meaningless expression of having a “great respect for women” is delusional. Your sexist and exploitive lexicon was painfully showcased during the October 9, 2016 debate when in response to the above mentioned tape you downplayed your remarks as “locker room talk.” This violence is underscored by your statement:

“[…] when you’re a star, they [women and girls] let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Your self-described “star” status publicly validates your ability to enact a full range of actions that the power and privilege “celebrity” affords. Yet, Mr. Trump, in this case what you intend to do with your power constitutes rape (“you can do anything”). This sense of patriarchal entitlement with an outcome generating gender-based violence, Mr. Trump, sadly is not new. It has a very long history. Columbus had a parallel empiric drive when he arrived to an inhabited and economically, politically, and socially organized continent in 1492. The non-consensual desire to penetrate/own a woman’s body while stealing territory is the manifestation of imperial narcissism bound tightly with conquest. During the debate, the couching of your response to accusations of sexual assault with “knocking the hell out of ISIS” is not at all strange, but within a discourse of Empire that leaves no safety for, or acknowledgement of the citizens suffering in such places as Aleppo or for that matter anywhere. Your unrestrained and exploitive discourses weave into the common imperial desire of nation building or what you’ve branded as “Making America Great Again.” Mr. Trump, the sexual violence that you espouse is not contained in locker rooms, buses, Twitter, or lost and found recordings. The consequences of colonial violence continue robustly in the twenty-first century with for example over 2,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls here in Canada. Misogynists like you enact violence in real life everywhere every hour of every day. You, Mr. Trump, are not only the manifestation of gender-based violence but you are also a perpetrator, a predator, and an instigator who shrouds violence in the flag waving colonial signifiers of nation. Said another way, you are using the discourse of nation to enable your aggressive and violent behaviour.

Now I would like to turn to the second part of your chat with Billy: “Grab them by the pussy.” I’m writing (and speaking) the word “pussy” out loud with its full strength and power. I refuse to water the word down with *#$* which silences my body and my intelligence to respond directly to your ignorance and hate for women and girls. I refuse to not say a word which is (re)constructed to misrepresent and threaten me while concomitantly used coercively to shame, vilify, and dishonour.

Words of advice, Mr. Trump: never assume that you have the power to grab a girl or a woman’s pussy or any other part of her body. That’s sexual assault. It’s a crime. It’s a direct threat of harm onto a person’s body, self hood, and mind. Your threat expresses your intention of provable harm, an action with which you should be criminally charged. Your threat communicates the proof of your objective: sexual assault. Ironically, you are the actual threat of violence that your imagined walls are supposed to keep out and protect American citizens from.

You conclude your statement by announcing that, “you can do anything.”
What interests me here, Mr. Trump, is your sweeping use of the pronoun “you.” Who is this “you” that you are addressing? Your violent desires are crystal clear, but to whom are you also encouraging to take up this abuse of power? While concerned citizens have fallen over themselves feeling the need to “protect women and girls” from your grasping tentacles, what about the young men and boys who are listening/learning from your reckless acts of power and those men and boys who are now authorized to contribute to the culture of rape that you are advocating?

Mr. Trump, your response to “being caught on tape” is a classic narcissist’s move when backed into a corner. You deflect and blame. I refuse your pathetic and common declaration of reform: “I’m a changed man.” Really? Apology theorist Nicholas Tavuchis explains that “an apology, no matter how sincere or effective, does not and cannot undo what has been done.” What is devoid from your so-called apology is empathy for the individuals you violate. Clearly you are missing a chip … or two. Instead you seem to enjoy manipulating and (re)traumatizing women who have been harmed to serve your agenda. You attempt through apology + privilege to return us all to the status quo. “Sorry,” for you Mr. Trump, fits comfortably into an abuser’s bag of tricks that endeavours to disguise the oppressive structures of sexual violence, which rests on misogyny. The fact that you, Mr. Trump, are a candidate in the running for the President of the United States – is horrific.

Now, what’s to be done, Mr. Trump? Your narcissistic desire to injure in order to sustain and misuse power will not change. But my hope is that American citizens who support you will reconsider their vision of leadership when it’s voting day. In the meantime, Mr. Trump, please know that you do not have the power to do “anything” to anyone without consent. That’s a crime. Let me be clear: Mr. Trump, I am not afraid of your kind. You are an insecure bully. I do, however, fear the violence that you are advancing with your hate-filled ideologies. Hopefully you will return to your rightful place: a B-list celebrity and well away from any political power.

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 silent
like dust that never settles
as it all fell down.

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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.

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.