Thursday, December 22, 2011

This Body, the Extent of Eternity: A Review of Kazim Ali’s "Fasting for Ramadan" (Tupelo, 2011).

Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali
This Body, the Extent of Eternity: A Review of Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo, 2011).

Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan is a meditative journey through the experience of Ramadan fasting, ranging from nitty-gritty details about the writer’s daily diet and doings, to how the fast registers in the body and on its perception, to broader explorations of faith, identity, and tradition. Fasting is composed of two daily journals kept during the period of Ramadan fasting in 2007 and 2009—the latter of which was published online at the Kenyon Review, the former of which was written as a private diary.

Though he grew up in a Muslim household, Ali’s book marks his return to the devotional practices he shared with his mother during his youth. His private revelations, particularly in the earlier journal, broach his pain at his exclusion from the “ummah,” the community of faith of Muslims, because of his love for another man—a theme he explores with delicacy and poignant beauty in his book of poetic essays, Bright Felon (2009).

As an outsider to Islam, I found in Ali a bracing and delightful guide—one who admits to feeling both inside and outside the tradition of the faith of his parents—and by virtue of practicing the fast, enters into its question.

Ali brings his study of yoga to his experience of the fast, and creates all manner of philosophical interweaving between the yogic and Islamic traditions, in ways that illuminate the secret unity of the faith journey. In one passage, after Ali injures himself trying a yoga pose, he writes, “as a yoga teacher I have always viewed the limitations of my body as part of what I have to offer.” And later: “Maybe this body, this one, mine, yours, this fleshly thing, if this is the extent of eternity, is all there is of divinity, maybe there isn’t anything else.” Throughout, Ali proposes that we take the body—in all its limitations—as not a temple, but the temple, the place where we experience the divine, the infinite.

At times, I wondered why Ali chose to reveal certain prosaic facts of the fast—for example, that he’d eaten miso soup, or had drunk water too quickly in the pre-dawn morning. Yet, in such details, Ali reveals how the novice faster can make the fast harder than it needs to be; for example, drinking too quickly can cause the body to process the fluid quickly, and thus create more thirst. In such a revelation, we learn how fasting requires a patient and intentional consumption of food and drink, to savor it in order to let it last through the long day.

While I longed for a bit more research on fasting in general and on the Ramadan fast in particular, Fasting delivers its own unexpected wisdom, the wisdom of the body communing with an exquisite mind, the intelligence of observation of opening. As Ali writes, “we pray best by opening ourselves like a book.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Muslim-Americans

My Fellow American, a website dedicated to standing in solidarity with our Muslim American fellow citizens, is soliciting your stories "about a Muslim friend, neighbor, or colleague that they admire. Using the power of social media, My Fellow American seeks to change the narrative – from Muslims as the other, to Muslims as our fellow Americans." 

When millions of dollars have been pumped into the media to promote Islamophobia, we must counteract the fearmongering in any way we can. 

Why not add your voice to the chorus?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Goodbye, Iraq. Hello, Darkness.

“The Iraqis are going to wake up in the morning and nobody will be there,” said a soldier who only identified himself as Specialist Joseph.  (from the New York Times). 

Nobody, meaning Iraqis. 

And nobody, more or less.  Since there is certain to be U.S. presence in the form of security contractors and the whole apparatus of supplementary security. 

So I guess the war's over, nine years later, and many years after President Bush stood under "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier--the ultimate pie in the sky sold to the public, one news bite at a time.

Was it worth it?

In an AP story, Rebecca Santana writes:

The war cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury. The question of whether it was worth it all - or whether the new government the Americans leave behind will remain a steadfast U.S. ally - is yet unanswered.

If you can't answer the question when the costs have been so great, and the reasons for war so flimsy, so nakedly imperial, the answer isn't one that any of us is going to like.

Time to count the cost.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Come On Now, Lowe's. You've Reached, Well, You Know.

One of my students, for her final presentation in the course "After 9/11," chose to examine representations of Arabs and Muslims in the United States--in particular, "Amreeka" and the new show, "All-American Muslim."  And now, right on time, the Right has chosen to attack this show for NOT showing "the radical side" of Islam in this show.  Sorry for not confirming your stereotypes.  And Lowe's, being the upstanding American corporation, stopped advertising on the show because of the "controversy."  Thanks, Jon Stewart, for stepping into this madness.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Field Magazine: The Muriel Rukeyser Issue (Fall 2011)

One of the odd and slightly inexplicable aspects of literary culture is the literary magazine, or literary journal.  Increasingly beset by digitization, and the loss of university funds, the literary journal as a material artifact very well may be going the way of the LP, the V.H.S. tape, and the business card.  The most faithful adherents to literary culture subscribe to multiple journals, or read them in the library, and necessarily so.  I know I could do more of it.  Each journal is a kind of microbrewery for poetry--bringing together various and often very-unlike poetic styles, generations, and visions of what poetry might do. 

A good journal, like Field, which has been around for over forty years, reflects the largesse and care of the editors; among them, David Young and David Walker have been around for quite some time, producing their own esteemed poetry, translations, and edited collections.  One of the concepts of Field--and, I'd argue, of good literary magazines--is that the journal is a kind of communication to its readers, and between its writers and editors.  This notion is embodied in the very form of the journal: each issue is sandwiched in a personally-addressed postcard, the front of which is the front of the postcard, and the back of which is the back of that postcard, with the message and author intact.  There is something plainly beautiful about that idea, that the journal is like a kind of polyphonic postcard--that intimate, that open. 

The new issue (85, Fall 2011) features a Symposium on the visionary poet Muriel Rukeyer, including classic poems of hers and essay readings of those poems.  Rukeyser is a poet who was almost forgotten, until Adrienne Rich, Jan Heller Levi, and a couple other poets decided to make it their job that another generation of poets had access to her work; I can't recommend her highly enough, and the decision by Field to send us another reminder of why she should not be forgotten.

Other poets in the journal include Betsy Sholl, Laura Kasischke, Alexandra Teague, Georg Trakl (translated by Stephen Tapscott), Karin Gottshall, Chana Bloch, Sarah Barber, Elton Glaser, Sarah Maclay, Sandra McPherson, Philip Metres, Catherine Pierce, Christopher Howell, Cynthia Cruz, Gretchen Primack, Rachel Contreni Flynn, Thorpe Moeckel, Angela Ball, Anna Journey, and others. 

Catherine Pierce and Cynthia Cruz's work again caught my eye, as well as the translations of Venus Khoury-Ghata (by Marilyn Hacker)...many, many intriguing poems here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two Songs for Veterans of Wars, for Whom the War Has Not Ended

My dad's been working with veterans suffering after their war experiences.  These go out to him, and to them.  One way to stop PTSD is to stop us from getting into stupid, unwinnable wars.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On Khaled Mattawa's Tocqueville

This is the beginning of my review of Mattawa's Tocqueville, which appears, among twenty other reviews at "On the Seawall":

Khaled Mattawa’s Tocqueville, his fourth book of poems, is an experimentally-daring meditation on what it means to be a poet at the center of American power. But Tocqueville, in contrast to his lyrically-driven previous work, pronounces that it no longer suffices to sing, even to sing of dark times, as Bertolt Brecht proposed. Rather, through the poetry of Mattawa — born in Libya and for years an American citizen — we become witnesses to our own implicatedness, our own vulnerable privilege.

While the first poem is entitled “Lyric” — and begins, “Will answers be found / like seeds / planted among rows of song?”— the lyric “I” of the poet pulses through the entire collection, through its wider networks of imperial history, global economic flows, and Machiavellian politics, emerging in the diverse voices of a Somali singer, a Sierra Leonean victim/perpetrator of atrocity, a gallery viewer of photographs of Palestinian exile, a factory worker in Georgia, Ecclesiastes as insurance salesman, a terrorist, a State Department insider.

The keynote poem of the book is “On the Difficulty of Documentation,” a dialogic meditation on the role of art in a world of violence...
(read the rest of the review, and other reviews, from Ron Slate's "On the Seawall") 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Changing the Narrative of Protest: How Creative Protest and Occupy Wall Street Have Garnered New Media Attention (and Why That's Only Part of the Point)

Allison Kilkenny's article, "Occupy Wall Street and the Importance of Creative Protest" (The Nation Blog) explores the ways in which the creativity of the movement has garnered more media coverage partly because their protest has been novel in ways that excite the novelty-addicted mass media. 

Yet part of the anarchism of the movement (and some of its anarchy) is related to its attempt to create something beyond hailing the Other, of performing dissent for the news media.  By making the movement about making the movement, OWS has shifted the eros inward, which is partly why the media (and we) are so fascinated--and frustrated--by the way in which OWS partisans refuse to play to the rules of traditional dissent. 

The article, to my mind, does not push far enough in this direction, though its valorizing the creativity of the movement is welcome and necessary.  She's also embedded video of some of the most effective moments of the OWS--in particular, the silent protest at UC Davis.  This from Kilkenny:

Perhaps the single biggest factor that helped lead to the Occupy movement’s success in capturing the media and public’s attention has been its creativity. Novel protest strategies have served as OWS’s foundation since its first days. The very idea of occupying, and sleeping in, a park twenty-four hours a day was new and exciting.

Up until Occupy, most protests had become exercises in futility. Protesters would show up with their sad, limp carboard signs, march around for a little while—maybe press would show up, but most likely not—and then everyone would go home. Hardly effective stuff.

Even when the protests were massive, say during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, media had learned to ignore protests as being the hallmark of a bygone era of granola-munching hippies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the media helped hand protesters loss after loss, perhaps recognizing the fact that protest waged within the perimeters constructed by city officials is completely ineffective.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Meets U.S. Militarism

The recent clashes between police and occupiers have a kind of traumatic repetition effect for anyone who's lived through past uprisings (the 1999 Battle in Seattle, or further back to the late-1960s protests against Vietnam), and of course it worries me that the clashes become the thing, rather than the attempt at democratic social change.  For a change of pace, here's a visual demonstration The War Resisters League's recent action, making connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and American militarism and empire.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day, But I Ain't a Marching Anymore

Outside, hail, hail turning to snow, and near the chapel, the names of fallen soldiers during the War on Terror are spoken into a microphone, one by one, all day long. 

In the silence between the names, perhaps, the unnamed dead. 

Always the young to fall.  What I find haunting about Phil Ochs' song is the traumatic repetition of the chorus; it's as if, despite all resistance, we find ourselves, inexorably, marching again and again.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Wayne Miller's new book, The City, Our City, is at once a meditation on The City itself as a human production, a mythic fable of City, and a secret autobiography of a denizen of certain cities; living in a city becomes an extension of ourselves, the way the cover image does, a picture ostensibly of an urban bedroom, when turned upside-down, becomes a massive city block.  One of my favorite poems from the collection is "A Treatise on Power (In 32 Strokes)" for its taut epigrammatic explorations of power, how it lights and blinds, how it leads and lures us.


(1) Even a leaf presses its weight against the table.


(2) In fog, the brighter the lights, the worse the driver’s blinded.


(3) How traffic makes way for the flashing ambulance,

(4) then jostles to ride the wake of its passage.


(5) How the dead keep writing us from down there . . .


(6) And they who lay down in the fields
to be shot—who’s cushioned by their ghosts? Now


(7) the fan in the window is turned by the wind;

(8) now it makes the wind.


(9) Let’s burn the leaders in effigy;
let’s beg for their return.

(From what space is the wind so endlessly hollowed?)


(10) Tonight, the street’s voice is

-----------------[glass breaking].

(11) Tonight, death will empty somebody’s face.


(12) In the abandoned government building,
papers covered the floor like spent lottery tickets.


(13) How quickly we erase ourselves—

(14) in favor of abstractions.


(15) And yet, people can become so cramped
pressed up inside their words—.

(16) (And when they recede into their silences, sometimes
the words remain.)


(17) Observe you father
bend to kiss the wealth on a bishop’s finger.


(18) Beyond the fence, a police helicopter
pinned to the ground by its spotlight—

(19) and by whomever the spotlight is trained upon.


(20) We find we’re not who we said we were.

(21) We ask: is this always the case?


(22) It’s impossible to enter a lake without chaosing the surface,

(23) and thus, how close yellowcake comes to being
the most beautiful word in the English language.


(24) Note how a young man looks
-------------------------------------at a gorgeous nun,


(25) watch as a finely dressed woman gets her luggage
stuck in a revolving door.

(26) There’s no better time for the bellhops
to take their smoke break.


(27) Without power, we’d be stuck in this elevator.

(28) Without power, the world’s submarines would sink silently
to the abyssal plain.


(29) Let’s remember:

(30) every direction meets in the compass rose of a body.


(31) So listen to how the body cries out!—


(32) how the wind dashes in to steal the echo.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" by Linton Kwesi Johnson

One of the "33 Revolutions" featured in the encyclopedic 33 Revolutions Per Minute:  A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day (2011) by Dorian Lynskey.  Although I know most of the songs featured by Lynskey, this reggae-inflected poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-sus poem)" was a new one; it was written in protest of the so-called Sus law, which allowed police to detain people suspected (hence, the "sus") of having "intent to commit an arrestable offence," in England.  The story of Sonny is a condensation of many experiences gathered by Johnson into this epistolary song, about a man who fights back, to defend a friend detained and beaten by police.  In our post-9/11, Occupy Wall Street moment, we are thrust back into the past, where it seems yet again that citizens are suspected of guilt by color or creed or association.

Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-sus poem) by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Brixton Prison
Jeb Avenue
London, South West 2

Dear Ma Maa,

Good Day
I hope that when these few lines reach you
they may find you in the best of health
Ma Maa I really don’ know how to tell yu dis
’cause, I did meck a solemn promise
to teck care a likkle Jim and try
mi best fi look out fi ‘im
ma Maa a really did try mi best
but none de less
mi sorry fi tell yu sey
poor likkle Jim get aress’
it was de middle a de rush ‘our
when everybody jus’ a hustle an a bustle
fi go ‘ome fi dem evenin’ shower

Me and Jim stand up waiting pon a bus
not causing no fuss
when all on a sudden a police man
pull up
out jump 3 police man
De ‘ole a dem carrying baton

Dem walk up to me and Jim
one a dem ‘ole on to Jim
sey ‘im teckin ‘im in
Jim tell him fi leggo a ‘im
fa ‘im no do nuttin
an ‘im naw tief, not even a button
Jim start to riggle
De police start to giggle

Ma Maa, meck a tell yu weh dem do to Jim
Ma Maa , meck a tell yu we dem do to him
Dem tump ‘im in ‘im belly
an’ it turn to jelly
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im back
an ‘im rib get pop
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im head
but it tuff like lead
Dem kick ‘im in ‘im seed
an it started to bleed

Ma Maa I just couldn’t just stan’ up
deh a no do nutten

So mi juck one ina ‘im eye
an ‘im started to cry
Mi tump one in ‘im mout
an ‘im started to shout
Mi kick one pon ‘im shin
an ‘im started to spin
Mi tump ‘im pon ‘im chin
an ‘im drop pon a bin
an crash an dead

Ma Maa more police man come down
an beat me to de ground

Dem charge Jim fi sus
Dem charge mi fi murder

Ma Ma! Don’t fret
don’t get depress an down ‘earted
be of good courage
Till I hear from yu
I remain your son


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thinking of the Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations, Here's "At the Demonstration"

At the Demonstration

Back when I used to march
in the noon of the green world,

I sang like a crow.
The cacophony of insistence

burnt like lightening.
Now ash lowers the sky

and I gasp through slits in my ribs.
Injustice, are you listening?

Light rises from my round mouth
and my heart jerks in my hand.

Greed hangs among clouds
as we stand here together,

palms up. Whatever sifts down
is our only food.

-Penelope Scambly Schott
Used by permission.

Penelope Scambly Schott is the author of eight collections of poetry, including a verse biography of Protestant dissenter Anne Hutchinson and, most recently, Crow Mercies (2010), available from CALYX Books.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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Monday, October 31, 2011

"Fatal Embrace in the Holy Land": Mark Braverman in Cleveland, November 10th, 7pm

Peace Action Brings Mark Braverman to Cleveland November 10

"Fatal Embrace In the Holy Land "
Dr. Mark Braverman comes to Cleveland Thursday, November 10th, 7 pm. The author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land brings his fascinating, compelling perspective on the Middle East conflict to our community. Download and distribute event flyer

A taste of what Braverman brings to the quest for Middle East peace can be found in Sam Bahour's book review: "The book is remarkable for its deft interweaving of the personal and the political in Braverman's account of his journey of understanding, an account which moves forward or backward in time as required but remains coherent and clear. The author does not lecture at us; he recounts, and describes, and discloses, and considers-and gradually disarms us. He shares vivid accounts of the people he has met in Palestine and Israel" - read more

Braverman will speak at Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115. Admission: $10.00 - Supporter: $25.00 - Benefactor: $50.00. Ample Free Parking.

For more information call: 216.231.4245, email: or go to our website

Visit Cleveland Peace Action's website for news, events, action alerts, and find out what you can do for peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ghost of Tom McGrath at Occupy Wall Street

I've been reading and seeing the some great signage at the Occupy Wall Street protests, and thinking of Tom McGrath, who called for "tactical poetry" as one mode of poetic intervention into the political life.  The level of humor, self-referentiality, and acid critique--all at once, sometimes--would have made McGrath and the poets of protest from our tradition--the Fugs, IWW Song Book, and on and on--pretty pleased.

It's not a replacement for "strategic poetry," poetry built for the ages, but rather a kind of poetry for the immediate, for "thinking with things as they exist" (Zukofsky), rather than endlessly waiting for recollection in tranquility (Wordsworth):
McGrath: One is the kind of poetry that might be called tactical, about some immediate thing: a strike, let's say; some immediate event. The poet should give it as much clarity and strength as he can give it without falling into political slogans, clichés and so on. I also thought we needed another kind of poetry that is not keyed necessarily to immediate events, a poetry in which the writer trusts himself enough to write about whatever comes along, with the assumption that what he is doing will be, in the long run, useful, consciousness raising or enriching. A strategic poetry, let's say. There have been a lot of tactical poems directed to particular things, and those poems now are good in a certain sort of way, but the events they were about have moved out from under them, Somebody asked Engels, "What happened to all the revolutionary poetry of 1848?" He replied: "It died with the political prejudices of the time." That is bound to be the fate of a lot of tactical poetry. But that's O.K. If we have to have somebody give us a guarantee that our work is going to last a thousand years before we'll be willing to write it, we may as well give up the ghost.

The Brecht song from the old Comintern: "And just because he's human,/ he doesn't want a pistol to his head./ He wants no servants under him/ and no boss over his head." That's as direct as you can make it, and it's got imagery to go with it... On the other hand we take a poem like Neruda's Canto General, a marvelous big poem, but it's not there to help in some immediate kind of situation; it's a strategic poem. But anyone who reads it will have his consciousness expanded by the reading of it... The ideal thing of course is to bring the tactical and the strategic together so that they would appear in this massive poem of pure lucidity, full of flying tigers and dedicated to the removal of man-eating spinning wheels from the heads of our native capitalists--absolute lucidity and purest, most marvelous bullshit. That's the poem I would like to have, because there's a place where those two are the same. That's in the archetypal heavens of course... I would like to put them together. We all would.
From an interview with Tom McGrath, appearing in North Dakota Quarterly (Fall 1982).  Also online at Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry site.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance

My review of Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance appears in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer. It begins:

Hisham Matar's second novel is at once a probing mystery of a father's disappearance and a vivid coming-of-age story. Matar, whose celebrated first novel "In the Country of Men" was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, returns to the theme of the missing father in "Anatomy of a Disappearance."   Matar's own father was abducted and vanished in Libya in 2002.

Sigmund Freud would have been intrigued -- as the Oedipus Complex pulls the undercurrents of this dreamlike, mournful, deeply sensuous novel. The first sentence heralds a complex father-son relationship: "there are times when my father's absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest."

The narrator, Nuri el-Alfi, begins his story at age 14, when he and his father, Kamal, meet the lovely Mona, closer in age to the son than his widower father. "I saw her first," Nuri will claim, as if to justify what will transpire between them.
read on....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Interim Magazine and Ecopoetics

The new issue of Interim Magazine, edited by Claudia Keelan, focuses on the conversation between poetry and the natural world; one of the exciting aspects of this gathering was the political action invitation by Jonathan Skinner, in which poets were invited to write something in light of the recent Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and visit with their congressional representative. 

This is Keelan's introductory note:

This special issue of Interim collects sui generis work to pose questions and positions relevant to the on going interactions of human beings and what we call the natural world. I am thankful to Chris Arigo, Matthew Cooperman and Jonathan Skinner for the innovative work found here, and I am indebted to the many writers and artists whose continued experiments in artistic expression further the dialogue and expand the possibilities of what is, precariously, our democracy. Here in these pages is a transfigured, yet communal space, countering the transfiguration of an oil rig planted in the ocean floor. You will find here, our legislators.

Many of the poets not only succeeded in engaging the political process, but wrote about their experience (see, for example, Brenda Hillman's piece).  Arielle Greenberg's letter to her representative, with its dual fonts, creates something like a reverb effect.   She ends her letter/poem:

And yes, this is a poem. When I was working on the homebirth legislation, I was instructed by wise, well-informed activists not to write letters like this when meeting with my representatives, not to stray from the party line or from the key points. It feels something of a radical act to write in the way I most want to write, to a person in your position, a position of legislative power. So that's what makes it a poem, to me.

On the heels of the "Poets for Living Waters" online collection, this anthology extends the conversation about what it might mean to bring poetry (and poets) to bear on our national (and, arguably, global) conversation about how we might change the deleterious dynamics between human beings and the rest of the ecosphere.

For what it's worth, here's my small contribution.  But the contributors, just for the Skinner-edited section are many, and I'm still picking my way through them (many friends, notables, and others I'd wish I knew better): Jen Hofer & Hillary Mushkin, CAConrad, Ian Demsky, Diane di Prima, Alison Pelegrin,
Jack Collom, Marcella Durand, Benjamin Friedlander, Laura Elrick, Heidi Lynn Staples, Cara Benson, Ann Fisher-Wirth & Gara Gillentine, Sheryl St. Germain, E.J. McAdams, Michael Leong, Christine Leclerc, Timothy Bradford, Evelyn Reilly, Arielle Greenberg, Jared Schickling, Laura Mullen, Sharon Mesmer, Philip Metres, Kristen Baumliér, Brenda Hillman, Rodrigo Toscano, Martha Serpas & Heidi Lynn Staples, Brett Evans & Frank Sherlock, Keaton Nguyen Smith, Abby Reyes, JenMarie Davis, Jennifer Scappettone, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Michael Rothenberg, Andrew Schelling, Jonathan Skinner, Cecilia Vicuña.  Much good work to read and consider.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nahshon Cook's "From a Conversation-Hour Discussion About Intolerance with Adult English Students"

Nahshon Cook

"From a Conversation-Hour Discussion About Intolerance with Adult English Students"
Pak Kret, Nonthanburi, Thailand

Then he explained
how the Buddha

instructed us
to reflect on the body

our skin
our hands and feet

our body hair
our nails and teeth

our noses
our eyes

our minds
our hearts

so that we can see
ourselves clearly

in every person
no matter where

-Nahshon Cook
Used by permission.

A note from Nahshon:
This poem is an offering of
gratitude for the healing power of love
and I hope (with my whole heart)
that you enjoy it
Peace and a smile, beautiful people,
Nahshon Cook
Cook's second collection The Killing Fields and Other Poems will be published in 2015 by Shabda Press.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Perspectives of Three Recent Delegates to Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Gloria Brown, Randy Wilson & Kazim Ali at Peace House Oct. 19
Perspectives of Three Recent Delegates to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 7:00 - 9:00 PM, Peace House, 10916 Magnolia Drive, Cleveland, OH 44106 (University Circle, behind Western Reserve Historical Society)

Presentations & Discussion: Each speaker will report on their own observations about Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers they met as members of Interfaith Peace Builders delegations.

Gloria Brown, Director, Racial-Ethnic Ministry, United Methodist Church, E. Ohio
Randy Wilson, Community Organizer
Kazim Ali, Associate Professor, Oberlin College

For more information please download and distribute this flyer
Co-Sponsored by: American Friends Service Committee NE Ohio, Cleveland Peace Action Education Fund, and Interfaith Peace Builders, Ohio Chapter.

Free and open to the public. Refreshments served.

For more information contact: Cleveland Peace Action Education Fund, Tel: 216-231-4245, e-mail:

Visit Cleveland Peace Action's website for news, events, action alerts, and find out what you can do for peace.

Join Cleveland Peace Action or renew your membership by using our secure online donation form - click here Online donors will make a tax-deductible donation to the Cleveland Peace Action Education Fund.

Contact Information


phone: 216-231-4245

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

9-11 by Giddra: Japanese hip-hop takes on the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath

Today, in my "After 9/11" class, we were discussing the film "Syriana," and situating al-Qaeda as a kind of symptom of globalization and its discontents.  A student from the class sent me this video (thanks Stephani), a Japanese hip-hop artist's take on 9/11, connecting it to Japanese experiences of the nuclear bomb, but in the style and content delivery that shows the true global reach of hip-hop itself.  Pretty stunning to see the gestures of Giddra as a hybrid product of American culture and Japanese culture.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"I Parted with My Mother at the Country of Skin": Deema Shehabi's "Migrant Earth"

Deema K. Shehabi
"Migrant Earth"

So tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?
...............................-Mahmoud Darwish

I could tell you that listening is made for the ashen sky,
and instead of the muezzin's voice, which lingers like weeping at dawn,
I hear my own desire, as I lay my lips against my mother's cheek.

I kneel down beside her, recalling her pleas
the day she flung open the gates of her house for children fleeing from tanks.

My mother is from Gaza, but what do I know of the migrant earth,
as I enter a Gazan rooftop and perform ablutions in the ashen
forehead of sky? As my soul journeys and wrinkles with homeland?

I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country of skin. In the dream,
my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced naked in the street.

And no child understands absence past the softness of palms.

As though it is praise in my father's palms
as he washes my mother's body in the final ritual.

As though it is God's pulse that comes across
her face and disappears.

-Deema K. Shehabi
Used by permission.

Deema K. Shehabi is a poet, writer, and editor. She grew up in the Arab world and attended college in the US, where she received an MS in journalism. Her poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies such as The Kenyon Review, Literary Imagination, New Letters, Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, Perihelion, Drunken Boat, Bat City Review, Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry, and The Poetry of Arab Women. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart prize three times, and she served as Vice-President for the Radius of Arab-American Writers (RAWI) between 2007 and 2010. She currently resides in Northern California with her husband and two sons.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Alan Gilbert on the Cost of War

In this piece, Alan Gilbert explicitly links the cost of war with the Occupy Wall Street protest movement now sweeping the country; one possible part of the solution to our economic woes is to redistribute our wasteful military spending on pork and pet projects.

From: Alan Gilbert
Subject: [Democratic-indv] The dead
To: ""

The dead

Under Bush, dead American soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq were flown secretly to the US. There was no public act of mourning, no attention to coffins.

But as I was flying to Chicago for a connecting flight to Richmond this week, the pilot came on the air to announce that two soldiers, an honor guard, were seated in row 14. Could they be allowed to get off first, he asked, to honor them and their fallen comrade?

As the flight landed, the captain repeated the announcement. The two soldiers stood up and many people applauded. I did not, nor did the black officer who was sitting next to me. I said: “I don’t know about applause. Seems like silence and prayer would be more fitting.”

I was in a window seat. I and he took turns looking out, he sometimes turning away (hard to look too long at one who paid such a price; not everyone is killed or wounded among soldiers, but it is people one knows, never far…). Six soldiers, two black, four white, marched up to the ramp where the flag-draped coffin was brought out, lowered to the ground. They stood three by three, and then a black officer turned to face the ramp, receive the coffin.

The army, below sergeant, is the one, genuinely integrated institution in American society. Wednesday morning, in a class at Metro, Armando, an army vet, said to me firmly: “you’ll be at the Occupy Denver march this Saturday.” I said no, I am going to a black history conference in Richmond this weekend. He then told me about being one of the two hundred people who had marched on Broadway this past Saturday, and how good it felt.

Among the demands floating from this Occupy Wall Street movement is the demand to withdraw troops at last after 10 years from Afghanistan. A march in Washington will raise this shortly. Wednesday evening, 10,000 workers from many unions and college students marched on Wall Street, demonstrating their solidarity with the growing movement.

The honor guard received the dead soldier. He will be buried with honors. In America, now, perhaps private air lines can share the dead briefly with ordinary citizens. Perhaps we can think, now in the Obama era, of why we should withdraw, why there should be no more dead on far away foreign soil, having not the vaguest idea of why they were in Kandahar nor any hope of doing damage to Al-Qaida (that was done by the seals taking out Bin Laden in Pakistan, but not by invading armies, let alone drones which take a tremendous civilian toll, are morally vile, politically breed new enemies and are counterproductive).

The soldier and I spoke briefly of the war. Someone behind us said: it’s cheaper to send the honor guard and the corpse by private airlines...

The human effects of American militarism are amongst us. There was no comment on the war (United Airlines is a business, and the war complex, like Wall Street, does not want to hear from the citizens). But Chris Tranchetti, a naval officer and my student who has written a master’s thesis on Socrates and Jesus, sent me the following story from the Atlantic of an officer shot through the throat who miraculously survived, his caregiver and others who suffer like him.

"Alan Gilbert

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On the Death of Taha Muhammad Ali

Recent news of the passing of Taha Muhammad Ali brought me back to his poem, collected in "Come Together: Imagine Peace," which ends:

After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we've done,
and on all that we've longer for,
on all that we've dreamt of,
all we've desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to putrefy within us.

Here's another poem that's circulating:

REVENGE by Taha Muhammad Ali
translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin

At times ... I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise ... I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—-as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Art Makes Something Happen: the Vassar Haiti Project

My Aunt Lila and Uncle Andrew have been engaging in a project for a number of years to help fund Haitian development through the sale of Haitian art. With all the violence and exploitation of the world, we need projects like the Vassar Haiti Project to remind us what is possible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why the cancellation of the Gaza Children's Art exhibit matters

It is a small matter, the cancellation of the Gaza Children's Art exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art due to outside pressure, but for the fact that it repeats a sort of social trauma experienced by Palestinians since the founding of the state of Israel--that their very experience, their reality, their identity, their rights, their humanity, their desire for recognition are refused, excised, suppressed, ignored.

As the PLO has embarked upon an effort to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state around this time--itself a more "important" political matter, one which Palestinians themselves are fiercely debating--and as the U.S. continues to discourage such attempts (partly in the fear that it will lose whatever sway it has in the region, in a player in the now long-moribund "peace process)--it seems useful to pay attention to why such small things matter, and why the PLO might engineer what is really such a small and desperately symbolic move, one that risks the loss of Right of Return for Palestinian refugees from 1948.

The exhibit, organized by the Middle East Children's Alliance, depicts the horror of war experienced through the eyes of Palestinian children. According to the article in the San Francisco Chronicle,

"Our aim, as with all exhibits, is to foster insight and understanding," Sorey said in a statement. "However, upon further review and engagement with the community, it became clear that this exhibit was not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children."

Yet it wouldn't have been the first time the museum has featured wartime art by children.

In 2007, it exhibited paintings made during World War II by American children in the Kaiser shipyard child care center. The art featured images of Hitler, burning airplanes, sinking battleships, empty houses and a sad girl next to a Star of David.

In 2004, art by Iraqi children hung on the museum's walls. The pictures, made shortly after the U.S. invasion, included a picture of a helicopter shooting into a field of flowers.

The art by the Palestinian children was similar in content.

In one colorful picture, a row of buildings burns as five tanks move through the area. In the foreground, women and children are crying as are trees and the sun. What looks like a small, abandoned teddy bear lies face up in the street.

In a simpler image, a frowning girl with a bandage on her forehead faces out from behind prison bars.

There is little doubt that the exhibit is politically-motivated, but it's not necessarily merely "political," in the sense of partisan--i.e. "Israel-bashing." It's motivated by people who want to see Palestinians as human beings, whose stories have not been told, or have been so distorted as to make them seem irrelevant. But that's the trouble. Every time that Palestinians want to tell their story, it's seen as an existential threat, or a device for shaming pro-Israeli people.

Ziad Abbas expresses that feeling of silencing in this way (not without a dollop of shaming!). This is from the Chronicle piece: "Even while the children in Gaza are living under Israeli policies that deprive them of every basic necessity, they managed through art, to express their realities and hopes. It’s really very sad that there are people in the U.S. silencing them and shredding their dreams,” said Ziad Abbas, MECA’s Associate Director.

A colleague I respect wondered whether the exhibit could have displayed art by Israeli children who also have experienced trauma from violence--to demonstrate that all children suffer from conflict. It's actually an interesting possibility, and one could imagine an exhibition which would bring those children together for an opening--one that would need to involve a lot of peacebuilding preparation and support, to move into further dialogue.

And yet--and this is what I wrote in reply, the level of trauma in Palestinian children is so devastating, it deserves its own stage. Studies have been done that show Pal children with levels of PTSD ranking moderate to severe... at 90%. Israeli children, of course, particularly in zones of vulnerability/conflict (settlements, border, Jerusalem) also suffer from levels of PTSD, though they are much considerably lower. Actually, my understanding is that most people in Israel live as if there is no problem at all; the Wall has solved everything. I say this even though I'm believe that comparing suffering is always a dangerous and politically blindered game. Suffering is always suffering, and children's suffering an atrocity.

I don't have the answers to this conflict, but something needs to change. And soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lisa Suhair Majaj's "Guidelines"

Lisa Suhair Majaj's "Guidelines" is the sort of how-to kit that more than a few Arab Americans could have used after the 9/11 attacks, when suddenly they became a national suspicion and felt the need to drape themselves in flags to prove their loyalty.


If they ask you what you are,
say Arab. If they flinch, don't react,
just remember your great-aunt's eyes.

If they ask you where you come from,
say Toledo. Detroit. Mission Viejo.
Fall Springs. Topeka. If they seem confused,

help them locate these places on a map,
then inquire casually, Where are you from?
Have you been here long? Do you like this country?

If they ask what you eat,
don't dissemble. If garlic is your secret friend,
admit it. Likewise, crab cakes.

If they say you're not American,
don't pull out your personal,
wallet-sized flag. Instead, recall

the Bill of Rights. Mention the Constitution.
Wear democracy like a favorite garment:
comfortable, intimate.

If they wave newspapers in your face and shout,
stay calm. Remember everything they never learned.
Offer to take them to the library.

If they ask you if you're white, say it depends.
Say no. Say maybe. If appropriate, inquire,
Have you always been white, or is it recent?

If you take to the streets in protest,
link hands with whomever is beside you.
Keep your eye on the colonizer's maps,

geography's twisted strands, the many colors
of struggle. No matter how far you've come, remember:
the starting line is always closer than you think.

If they ask how long you plan to stay, say forever.
Console them if they seem upset. Say, don't worry,
you'll get used to it. Say, we live here. How about you?

-Lisa Suhair Majaj

From Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press, 2009)
Used by permission.

Lisa Suhair Majaj is the author of Geographies of Light (winner of the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize) and co-editor of three volumes of literary essays: Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels (Syracuse University Press, 2002), Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist (McFarland Publishing, 2002) and Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers. (NY: Garland/Routledge, 2000). She publishes poetry, creative nonfiction and critical essays in journals and anthologies the US, Europe and the Middle East, and has read at venues such as London's Poetry International. She currently lives in Cyprus.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jeff Gundy's "Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"

This sermon by poet Jeff Gundy deserves a wider audience; Gundy, a Mennonite, has been one of the contemporary poets who has struggled with the question of how we respond to violence in both poetry and life, and I admire his steady and grounded vision:

"Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"
Sermon Given at First Mennonite Church, 9/11/2011

I suspect everyone here who’s old enough remembers the morning of 9/11/01, ten years ago today, and what we were doing when we heard about the planes crashing into towers and buildings. I was at my desk, getting ready for class, and at first thought the web headline about a plane crash was just a curiosity, a freak accident. Of course, I soon learned otherwise.

But a moment I especially remember came a few days later, when Marlyce and I got to talking with some other soccer parents. We were all still stunned and reeling from the images on the news, collapsing buildings and plumes of smoke, people running through the streets, faces of hijackers, all the rest. And yet here we were at the field on a beautiful early fall evening, watching our sons run around. It seemed so ordinary, and yet we knew things were going to change.

“One thing I know,” another parent said, “things like this bring us together as a country.”

“True,” I found myself saying to him. “But together to do what?”

I’ll come back to that question. But first, a little background on our feature person for today, poet and pacifist William Stafford. He was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914, grew up in various Kansas towns, in a close but not wealthy family. He was an older student at the U. of Kansas in December 1941, already starting to write poems; his life was changed by Pearl Harbor as ours were by 9/11, but even more dramatically. Stafford was not a birthright Anabaptist or member of a peace church; but when his society was swept up in war fervor and total mobilization for the vast enterprise of World War II, he became one of that small group who refused to go off to war. He convinced his draft board to grant him conscientious objector status—then a new thing—and was sent to Church of the Brethren camps in Arkansas and California, where he did forestry work and firefighting.
Read more--

Naomi Shihab Nye reading last night

Last night, after a day talking with students, Naomi Shihab Nye read her poems--particularly from her new book, Transfer, and shared her ebullience for poetry. Spending the day with her is to feel her great enthusiasm and curiosity for just about everything--the Cleveland artist who bought 1000 sweaters he found in a closed garment factory, a memoirist who said she hated memoirs, a student's poem about making smoothies, why Philip Roth says he doesn't read poetry (though he writes it), a St. Louis accent, why a Gazan children's art display was canceled in Oakland, a child's gerbil named Butterscotch, etc. She is the rare bird who makes poetry seem possible. For everyone. If only we had a cadre of Naomi's. Naomi for Poet Laureate!

And now, Naomi Shihab Nye. I'll spare her the embarrassment of hearing the catalogue of her numerous accolades and awards, for her thirty books, and just tell you why I love her work, and why I invited her here tonight, just after the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The terrorist attacks struck each one of us in this room, all of us in different ways; a college friend of mine lost his father in the towers, another friend worked the emergency rescue operations, my aunt ministered to rescue workers for weeks after. We felt shock, confusion, fear, grief, and rage, in a toxic confusion of emotion, and the days that followed were like living under water.

Those of us who are Arab American felt all of this, and more, a sense of shame, isolation, and terror, at how people might use this act to attack us, and people we love, people and places where we and our ancestors came from, who had nothing to do with hijacking and murder.

Naomi Shihab Nye was one of a handful of Arab American writers who courageously stepped into the fear, and spoke and wrote with clarity, with authority, and with anger, at those who threatened to make us all targets, and who tried to explode all the work we'd done to bring cultures, and peoples, and faiths together.

In short, she spoke for us, and we were not alone. And though we knew that these attacks would lead to more terror, she reminded us that terror would not be the last word. And through her witness, through her words, that we could and would work again to awaken us to the fact that what we all share is far greater than what separates us. That is her gift, and why I am grateful she is here tonight.

Here's a poem from her new book:
"Problems" (reprinted from Molossus)

They are not yours.

You may observe them without owning them.

Conflict and chaos that wanted to go on a journey.

There was always a way to walk around them.

Often a difficult path.

You couldn’t fix them if you tried. And you did try.

It was presumptuous to think you could fix them.

William Goyen said his writing started with Trouble.
Something you could do with it, that took you out of it,
or let you look at it.

The power of people saying nothing.
You don’t know my problems, I don’t know yours.

I don’t have problems.

I am happy when I have something to sew.

Matisse said, “The moment I had this box of colors in my hands.
I had the feeling my life was there…”

Where is your life without problems leaning?

Will it go somewhere without you?

She would find something not to like, even here.
But that is not yours to heal.

No one healed the fire.
Dormant seeds popped up in its wake.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011: *abu ghraib arias* is hereby released

Flying Guillotine Press has just released *abu ghraib arias,* my new chapbook of poetry. More information shortly forthcoming! See Flying Guillotine Press' blog.

Reflection on 9/11 by Sister Camille D'Arienzo, RSM, on

What is an adequate response to mass violence that does contain the seeds of future mass violence? Sister Camille D'Arienzo considers the options.

Reflection on 9/11 by Sister Camille D'Arienzo, RSM, on

August 23, 2011 4:53 PM

With the tenth anniversary of the suicide bombing of the Twin Towers
remembrances of that life-changing event seem inescapable. Adults, especially those who worked in the city or know people who died there, recall the anguish. My niece’s husband Jerry can’t forget the scene he witnessed as he exited from the subway into a smog-like atmosphere. He looked up to see people holding hands as they leapt to their death to escape the flames. Two of my nephews, Michael and Ronnie, as New York City policemen, were among first responders. Their memories are terrible.

Thousands of stories of anguish and loss contribute to the way we now see
ourselves. We, unlike citizens of other continents, had never suffered an enemy attack. We didn’t know how to respond. Although we’re a nation that values “thinking outside the box,” we’re not good at doing it. So it was no surprise that our first response was to return violence with violence.

While the buildings were still smoldering and our world was severely shaken, President Bush and his administration launched a search and destroy mission. They were determined to find Osama Bin Laden and to take revenge on those responsible for the deaths of the people killed here. Almost three thousand people in Manhattan – including 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 medical technicians and paramedics. More in Washington, D.C. Then there were the brave souls who took over the plane meant to be a weapon and disabled it, losing their lives in a Pennsylvania field.

Our rage and fear was widespread. In many quarters it still is. And then there was this thing called national pride to uphold.

Whatever the intent, this strategy has cost us the lives of more than 6,000
American soldiers – twice as many as victims of the initial attack. Many who survived have returned to us broken in mind and body. The suicides among them have equaled or excelled those of returning Vietnam veterans.

And decency doesn’t allow us to ignore the fact that this decade of warfare has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan citizens.

Then there’s the financial cost of this conflict. Surely it continues to contribute to the collapse of our economy.

Might there have been a better way?

We’re not conditioned to solve problems peacefully. Although we recognize the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” we approve many exceptions –from womb to tomb. From abortion to the death penalty, we make excuses to justify our choices.

But every once in awhile individuals demonstrate by their very different choices that recovery can take alternative forms.

We had proof of that when on Oct. 7, 2006 the Associated Press reported out of Georgetown, PA: “Dozens of Amish neighbors came out on Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage.”

Reports of the actions of a local Amish man with children of his own stunned the quiet, peace-loving religious community. Charging into the West Nickel Mines Amish School, 32 year old Charles Roberts released fifteen boys and four adults before shackling and shooting ten girls, aged seven to thirteen. This shocking crime, perpetrated by a local husband and father, rocked that neighborhood and the nation. Even more startling than the massacre was the Amish response to that violence – especially in a world that seeks instant retaliation. Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister reflected in her column in The National Catholic Reporter:

“What kind of people are these? It was not the murders, not the violence that shocked us; it was the forgiveness that followed it for which we were not prepared. It was the lack of recrimination, the dearth of vindictiveness that left us amazed.”

She’s right. The Amish Christian culture is predicated on the acceptance of
Jesus’ instruction to extend forgiveness to those who inflict harm. They believe to do so ensures citizenship in heaven. Two aspects of forgiveness in this case were its immediacy of expression and the victims’ families’ outreach to the wife and children of the murderer.

The Amish people, out of sync with modernity and contemporary culture, set an example outlandish to nations who equate retaliation with self protection.

Sister Joan Chittister wondered what the world would be like today if after the attacks that felled the Twin Towers on September, 11, 2001, we had not
invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and, instead, had gone to every Muslim country on earth and said: “Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We know that this is coming from only a fringe of society and we ask your help in saving others from this same kind of violence.”

Laughable, ridiculous! some would respond. Perhaps including those who lost loved ones in that tragedy. After all, almost 3,000 perished in the attack on the Twin Towers.

But we have to wonder if it’s less foolish to have deployed thousands of
American troops on punitive raids that brought death to countless innocent
civilians, returned over 6,000 U.S. servicemen and women in body bags and left thousands of others physically, emotionally and spiritually maimed, their families forever changed.

It’s unlikely we’d have such obscene statistics to report if diplomacy had been substituted for preemptive strikes. We have as yet no accurate accounting of the residual damage to survivors who have lost loved ones and property in this conflict; however, history warns that its damage may find expression in future violence.

What can we expect of those Middle Eastern civilians who have lost loved ones and property?

In 1991, during the first Persian Gulf War, American soldiers rode into Baghdad, demonstrating good will, especially toward children. While handing our candy bars and other treats, one G.I. asked an eleven-year-old what he planned to be when he grew up.

“A pilot,” the boy replied.

The soldier encouraged his pursuit of such a profession, but a reporter standing by asked the child why he wanted to be a pilot.

“So I can fly to America and bomb the people who killed my family,” came the chilling response. Ten years later when suicide bombers flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I wondered if that child, then 21, had become a pilot. Is it possible that we will ever grasp the consequences of relentless retaliation? If so, perhaps when we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, our nation will resolve to build bridges instead of bombs.

President Abraham Lincoln left advice worth considering today. He said the best way to destroy our enemies is to befriend them.

Camille D’Arienzo, R.S.M., a member of the Mid-Atlantic Community of the
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, is a past president of the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious. She has delivered commentaries on 1010 WINS
Radio for more than four decades.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peace Show 2011: Peace Poetry Village (Gandhi Meets Poetry)

Thanks to Maria Smith, for dreaming up the original idea of the Peace Poetry Village, based on the Gandhian principles of nonviolence, and for the collaboration of Phil Althouse, Paul Kapczuk, Noah Hrbek, my daughters, and me--ushering this installation into being.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ken Butigan's review of Brian Willson's autobiography

This piece is pretty stunning. I remember hearing Brian Willson's story many years ago, and his stunning, word-defying act of resistance. Why would one risk one's life, to stop a munitions train? For Brian Willson, one can draw a direct line between that moment and his experience in Vietnam.

by Ken Butigan | September 1, 2011, 6:06 am

Twenty-four years ago this morning---September 1, 1987---Vietnam veteran Brian Willson joined a handful of peacemakers on the railroad tracks at Concord Naval Weapons Stations to begin what they envisioned as a forty-day fast and vigil to protest arms shipments from this Northern California military base to US-backed forces in Central America.

Instead, a 900-ton munitions train, traveling at three times the legal speed limit, plowed into Brian and dragged him under. Standing a few feet away, I saw him turn over and over again like a rag doll and then (as the never-slowing train rumbled on toward a nearby security gate) sprawling in the track bed, a huddled mass of blood.

Miraculously, Brian survived (thanks, largely, to the tourniquets applied by his then-wife Holly Rauen, a professional nurse), though both legs were sheered off and his skull was fractured.

Now, over two decades later, he has published Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson, a new autobiography available from PM Press. This book does not simply recount a horrifying event from long ago. It offers, more importantly, a vivid example of a still-unfolding pilgrimage for peace that turns on a burning question: "What is my responsibility to make peace and challenge murderous violence in a direct and meaningful way?"

At a critical turning point in his life, Brian allowed this question in and everything changed. Of course, this question is not Brian's alone. It is meant for each of us in the midst of the storm of horrific violence that continually bears down on our planet and its inhabitants.

Brian's memoir recounts his journey from childhood in Upstate New York (born on the Fourth of July, he enthusiastically shared his family's pro-military and anti-communist convictions), to his decision to go to law school, and then his being drafted and sent to Vietnam as an Air Force captain, where two incidents changed his life.

One was a rocket attack in which he was saved by a quick-thinking companion who pushed him to the ground and out of the way of the blast. Though they survived, another soldier was blown to bits a few feet away. The second event even more clearly seared his soul. He had been sent out to do damage assessment of US bombing raids on villages and found a blackened mess that used to be huts, littered with bodies:

My first thought was that I was witnessing an egregious, horrendous
mistake. The "target" was no more than a small fishing and rice
farming community. The "village" was smaller than a baseball playing
field. The Mekong Delta region is completely flat, and the modest
houses in its hamlets are built on small mounds among rice paddies.
As with most settlements, this one was undefended---we saw no
anti-aircraft guns, no visible small arms, no defenders of any kind.
The pilots who bombed this small hamlet flew low-flying planes,
probably the A-37Bs, and were able to get close to the ground
without fear of being shot down, thus increasing the accuracy of
their strafing and bombing. They certainly would have been able to
see the inhabitants, mostly women with children taking care of
various farming and domestic chores ... The buildings were virtually
flattened by explosions or destroyed by fire. I didn't see any
inhabitant on his or her feet. Most were ripped apart from bomb
shrapnel and Gatling machine gun wounds, blackened from napalm
burns, many not discernible as to gender, and the majority were
obviously children.

I began sobbing and gagging. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing,
smelling, thinking. I took a few faltering steps to my left, only to
find my way blocked by the body of a young woman lying at my feet.
She had been clutching three small, partially blackened children
when she apparently collapsed. I bent down for a closer look and
stared, aghast, at the woman's open eyes. The children were
motionless, blackened blood drying on their bullet and
shrapnel-riddled bodies. Napalm had melted much of the woman's face,
including her eyelids, but as I was focused on her face, it seemed
to me that her eyes were staring at me.

She was not alive. But her eyes and my eyes met for one moment that
shot like a lightning bolt through my entire being. Over the years I
have thought of her so much I have given her the name, "Mai Ly."

I was startled when Bao, who was several feet to my right, asked why
I was crying. I remember struggling to answer. The words that came
out astonished me. "She is my family," I said, or something to that
effect. I don't know where those words came from. I wasn't thinking
rationally. But I felt, in my body, that she and I were one. Bao
just smirked, and said something about how satisfied he was with the
bombing "success" in killing "communists." I did not reply. I had
nothing to say. From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same
for me.

Thus began a deep transformation, which led him in the 1980s to notice with deep alarm the connection between what he had experienced in Vietnam and the Reagan administration's war in Central America. He traveled to the region and saw a vivid parallel between the two conflicts, especially the wanton attack on civilians, and became convinced that he had to take action.

"We are not worth more, they are not worth less," he declared, and joined the Veterans Fast for Life on the steps of the US Capitol in 1986, where he and three other former members of the US military fasted for 47 days. One year later, he and others formed Nuremberg Actions---named after the principles of international law enunciated in the wake of the Nuremberg tribunal following World War II that defined crimes against humanity and the responsibility and complicity in such crimes---and organized a 40-day fast at Concord in which he and others planned to block weapons trains. A Freedom of Information Act request had yielded concrete evidence that ships leaving this base were carrying 500-pound bombs, white phosphorus, and millions of rounds of ammunition, and Brian wanted to stop such shipments in their tracks.

He expected the train to stop, at which point he would be removed and arrested---in effect compelling the military to demonstrate the kind of care that should also be accorded to those at the other end of the line in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Instead, the government ran the train (in spite of the clear communication with the Navy over the prior ten days), thus dramatizing with palpable clarity what those at the end of the line faced every day.

We are not worth more. They are not worth less.

Brian's autobiography details the aftermath of the Concord attack, including his activism, his own inner and outer growth, his comprehensive and embodied choices to live simply (on this recent book tour, for example, he traveled by pedaling a special bicycle that uses his hands instead of his feet), and his thoroughgoing critique of the American Way of Life (AWOL). (Less than three months after being run down by the train, Brian testified in Congress about this event. You can read his engrossing testimony here .)

What can we learn, after all these years, from Brian's journey?

One lesson is the importance of "finding your own tracks and taking a stand there," as he has often said. A catchphrase we used at the time held that "Stopping the war starts here"---stopping it at a weapons base, but also in many, many other places. Brian did so by taking this action "in person": using the most powerful symbol at his disposal, his vulnerable, resilient, determined, and spirited body.

We can do this, too. This is not to say that we are all called to sit on train tracks (such action requires much discernment and training). But there are many places to stand nonviolently, withdrawing our consent and pointing our communities, our societies, and even ourselves in a new direction.

The world begins to change when we find this place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Steve Earle, on the Death Penalty and John Walker Lindh, and Singing "John Walker's Blues"

Thanks to Paul Lauritzen for passing this along; a text for our discussion of the songs of 9/11, coming up on Tuesday.

Cleveland Air Show? Try the Peace Show this Labor Day...

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show
Labor Day, Monday, September 5th at the Free Stamp

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show is on September 5th from 12:00PM - 6:00PM. As always, the Peace Show is at the Free Stamp, corner of E. 9th and Lakeside, in downtown Cleveland. And, as always, it's free. Sponsored by Cleveland Non-Violence Network - details

Performers this year include Early Girl, Deborah Van Kleef, E&JNtoxicated, Zak, and Revolution Brass Band. A key feature of this show will be Peace Poetry. Come for the children's activities, music and lots of activists; the Bloodmobile will be onsite for donations as well. The Eyes Wide Open display of boots representing Ohio's lost servicemen and women will be featured.

Rain location: St. Paul's Community Church, 4427 Franklin (W. 45th & Franklin), Cleveland.

Volunteers needed...We need help leafletting at fairs and festivals in August; call 216-932-8546 for details.

Check our website for news on military spending, nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iraq and more. You'll also find contact info for your elected officials and what going on currently in Congress.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Putting the Blood Back into Words

In "On 9/11 and the Politics of Language: An Interview with Martin Espada," Espada discusses his poem "Alabanza," written for the workers in the restaurant who died in the terrorist attacks, and also the politics of language around 9/11 more generally. One nugget:

What I want to do as a poet is to reconcile language with meaning, to bring them back together again. A phrase like enhanced interrogation or, for that matter, weapons of mass destruction removes the blood from words, drains the blood from words. Our job, whether we are poets, activists, or teachers, is to put the blood back into the words, so the words are once again vivid, alive and charged with meaning.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Louisa Thomas' "Give Peace a Chance" op-ed

From Louisa Thomas' "Give Peace a Chance," that appeared in the New York Times on August 27, 2011 (thanks to Tim Musser for sending it along):

FOR the most part, though, nonviolence and pacifism in the United States are today discredited as utopian, hippieish or narrowly religious, more anti-American than anti-war. There are still people who say that force only destroys, that its consequences are uncontrollable, that it is unethical — but those critiques trouble us on the margins, or in books or movies. There are still a few antiwar groups (not all of them pacifist) — the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Albert Einstein Institution — but hardly any serious public figures take the stage to defend their views.

Some of what the American peace movement fought for has come to pass: there is no draft, there are no special taxes raised to pay for war, the threat of nuclear Armageddon has receded and the country plays a leading, if controversial, role in multilateral institutions. Rooting out terrorists and intervening in civil conflicts, soldiers often do more police work than conventional combat.

The results have been mixed, though, and in some ways at odds with pacifism’s longer-term goals. Most people don’t want to think of war, and thanks to the lack of a draft, most don’t have to. Huge worldwide protests against sending soldiers into Iraq in 2003 were a sideshow for many people. Significant antiwar sentiment over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has mostly challenged the time, the place, the conduct and the costs of deployment, not the use of force itself. Those who are on active duty — less than one percent of the population — and their families bear most of the burdens.

Such complacency has allowed for the possibility of unending war. Because of the nature of intelligence gathering and weapons technology like drones, the government can use deadly force without popular support or approval. The president has claimed — and we have given him — extraordinary powers.

We should respect the sacrifices of soldiers and the complexity of governing in a dangerous world. But war has a way of coming home, eroding our democratic culture as well as our safety. American pacifists of the past knew that, and we need people like them today: people who don’t believe war is inevitable, who will challenge what we assume and accept, and who will work to end it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Versions of President Bush's Initial Response to 9/11: Bush vs. Moore

As we near the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the nation begins the necessary memorializing of that terrible event, we need to pay attention to what it is that our public gatherings propose to remember, and what gets left off the page of memory, outside of the frame. Recently, National Geographic interviewed President George W. Bush about that fateful day, and some of his comments articulated some degree of regret about the "fog of war" that surrounded those hectic hours when no one quite knew the extent of the attack.

In the first video, we have Bush recounting the events, narrating his first person impressions as he recalled them; in it, Bush is very much the self-branded decider, issuing orders, "intently listening" to the teacher's lesson, etc. In the second video, if you watch 16:34-19:39, we have Michael Moore's take on the same events; here, the voiceovers by Moore brand the President as a nitwit who has suddenly realized his utter helplessness, and is frozen in place, a deer in the headlights of history, unable to act.

At this point, if this were my classroom, I'd ask you to decide what you think of each take. The moderates among you may suggest the "truth" is somewhere in the middle of Bush and Moore. What it reminds us is that it was difficult not to feel some anger at the failure of the powerful to take the terrorist threat seriously.

"The Seinfeld Analog"

The Seinfeld Analog from Bresland on Vimeo.

I've never liked "Seinfeld," for reasons that mostly evade me now. Perhaps it hit when I wasn't really watching television--during college, during a year out of the country, etc. Though I was one of those graduate students in the 1990s who saw pop cultural artifacts as the juiciest of texts to theorize, "Seinfeld" seemed to celebrate the narcissism of the culture through its profoundly narcissistic characters--all of whom the audience was invited to laugh at. Like a sitcom version of the Jerry Springer show, the audience was allowed to feel smugly superior to the jackassery of the fumbling Elaine, the ridiculous Kramer, etc.

John Bresland's fascinating video essay, "The Seinfeld Analog" juxtaposes three motifs--his obsession with a fast car from his youth, the genocide in Rwanda, and Seinfeld; through this juxtaposition, we see how difficult it is to navigate the insularity of our own culture in the face of our connectedness and distance to global catastrophes. He doesn't propose to judge Seinfeld or us, but simply to hold a mirror to our cultural conundrum.