Monthly Archives: May 2011

Memorial Day…

It’s not the happiest of days for many people, but this is a day of memory, reflection and a celebration of the lives of fallen service members (fallen in action, or not).  I can’t think of a better way to spend Memorial Day than hanging out with one of my favorite veterans, and that’s just what I did.  It was a fantastic weekend, really, but more on that later.

For now, I’d like to share some poetry in honor of this day.  These are from Brian Turner‘s amazing book, Here, Bullet.  I stumbled on it accidentally one day at the book shop and it has since become one of my favorite works.

A Soldier’s Arabic

This is a strange new kind of war where you learn just as much as you are able to believe. –Ernest Hemingway

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.

Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.

Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

———————–

What Every Soldier Should Know 

If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon,
it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.

Always enter a home with your right foot;
the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.

O-guf! Tera armeek is rarely useful.
It means Stop! Or I’ll shoot.

Sabah el khair is effective.
It means Good Morning.

Inshallah means Allah be willing.
Listen well when it is spoken.

You will hear the RPG coming for you.
Not so the roadside bomb.

There are bombs under the overpasses,
in trashpiles, in bricks, in cars.

There are shopping carts with clothes soaked
in foogas, a sticky gel of homemade napalm.

Parachute bombs and artillery shells
sewn into the carcasses of dead farm animals.

Graffiti sprayed onto the overpasses:
I will kell you, American.

Men wearing vests rigged with explosives
walk up, raise their arms and say Inshallah.

There are men who earn eighty dollars
to attack you, five thousand to kill.

Small children who will play with you,
old men with their talk, women who offer chai–

and any one of them
may dance over your body tomorrow.

————————

Kirkuk Oilfield, 1927

We live on the roof of Hell, he says,
and Ahmed believes it, he’s watched the gas flares
rise from holes in the earth, he’s seen the black river
wash through the village in a flood of oil
as if the drillers had struck a vein
deep in the skull of God, and the old man says
Boy, you must learn how to live here–
where the dead are buried deep in the mind
of God, manifest in man and woman,
given to earth in dark blood,
given to earth in fire.

————————-

Sadiq

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. – Sa’di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

————————-

Really beautiful, huh?

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Who put a quarter in you?

I have opinions.  A LOT of opinions.  The other day at work I was voicing one when a good pal walked by and said I was like a broken record, or a juke box, “who put a quarter in you?” He said.  Good question.  As much as I would like to, I do not run on quarters.  That’s right, anyone who wants to (or doesn’t) can hear any of my opinions free of charge.  And why shouldn’t they?  I have something to say.  As do many people, but it is my humble opinion, that many of them have learned through years of careful conditioning to not say exactly what is on their mind.  It’s not very lady like, mild-mannered or polite, and it’s a perfectly good way to get yourself in a screaming match.  In which event you will most certainly be ganged up on, especially if this opinion is peculiar or not commonly held.  But if you are lucky, your opponent will be reasonable and level headed and though you may disagree, at the end you will stand as equals on the battlefield.

I hate arguing, I really do.  But what else is life all about?  The only way to sharpen your own understanding of the world is to hear and examine all sides of an issue.   Being that this is a blog, where I have the ability to go on and on about whatever, it doesn’t really serve that purpose.  But it serves my own selfish purposes, so whatever.

Anyhow, here’s something that really pisses me off:

Slurs.

or

I hate them.  I especially hate them when they are used by influential people, in public. I hate slurs against any marginalized group.  I hate the N word, the F word (no, not “fuck”, I am actually fond of that word), the R word, and many others that aren’t of particular popularity at this time.  I hear them every day.  Every damn day.  And it just really makes me sad.  The use of these words is particularly prevalent at the schools I worked at.  The use of the N word was so prevalent that I was confused on those days where it was absent.  Of course, it wasn’t the white kids yelling it at the black kids–most of the time.  “We” tend to believe that racism doesn’t exist anymore because “we” don’t see it.  How could a white person who hangs out with a bunch of white people see that racism is still alive and well?

Whenever I spoke to my students of color about racism, each one of them cited at least one recent event when someone used one of these terrible words against them.  One student, Eric, an extremely kind, intelligent, and athletic young man (who is black), told me that at a basketball game a few weeks ago, a white student on the opposing team pulled out the “big guns” and used the N word on the court.  Eric played it cool, of course, and simply kept scoring points on him (he’s a sophomore starter for the Varsity basketball team, he scores ~20 points a game).  Eric said he felt sorry for him.

And Eric is right to feel sorry for him.  People (adolescents) who use slurs should be pitied for their ignorance.  After all, they are a product of their environment.  On the other hand, adults have a responsibility to rise above such things.  On another occasion, at the middle school, I heard the F word.  I immediately responded by saying that I don’t appreciate or allow that type of language in my groups, and if I hear it again I will ask you to leave. I was able to use this as a teaching moment .  The discussion turned to why the word is so hurtful when one young lady interrupted, “Well, my mom says it all the time at home.” Really?  Come on.  How could you blame her for saying inappropriate things?  After our discussion, though, I think she got the point.

Thanks, Wanda!

And now for the R word.  A slur we often forget about.  This one is particularly hurtful, because this is a group who cannot stand up for themselves, who happen to also be the sweetest, kindest, most innocent group of people on the planet.  The use of this word is completely unnecessary, and it cuts like a knife.  The amount of pain this word causes to people with intellectual disabilities, to those who know them, and especially those who have spent their lives caring for them, is indescribable.  Really, who has the disability, someone who would simply do anything to make you happy and shows an unbelievable amount of unconditional love?  Or someone who derives self satisfaction and displays a serious lack of creativity and humanity by insulting the most innocent members of society?

So why is this such a big deal?  Whenever someone brings these things up, people (white people, straight people, cruel people), cry at the “dangers” and annoyances of political correctness.  This is a reflection of privilege.  These people have the PRIVILEGE of not being offended by slurs, the privilege of not being the target of these words.  The privilege of being “normal.”  And now they are upset that they have to think about other people, and how these words might make them feel.  What a travesty? Get over it! You are not the only type of human on the planet.

As one of my most influential professors once said in response to the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”: words justify the throwing of sticks and stones.  Words are used to dehumanize, because it’s a lot easier to throw stones at a “retard”, or a “nigger”, or a “faggot” than a human being.  This is why a $100,000 for Kobe saying the F word on the court is not enough.  I want a full on, Michael Vick type punishment, I want game suspensions, I want community service, I want REAL consequences when someone slings a slur on the court.  I want suspensions–expulsions(!!!) in the school, and I want negative social sanctions when I hear the words used socially.

Don’t be a jackass! Be a responsible and productive member of society, and think before you speak.

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Swishiness… Origins and Meanings

Why Swishiness, you ask?  Well, let me just tell you.

As some of you may know, during college, I was a creative writing major.  This major required many things of me, primarily writing, but mostly reading quietly, attending public readings, and listening to excessive blather from some of the most pedantic members of the academic community.  It was a very peculiar experience that I loved very much, looking back.  Anyway, it was also occasionally required of me to read aloud, publicly.  This fact never bothered me too much, having had much workshop experience and also a strong proclivity for speaking aloud (I’ve been known to spew pedantic myself).  And so, during my poetry workshop second semester senior year, I was called upon to fulfill my duty as a creative writing major and read aloud a poem for a presentation from my most beloved poetry book, Poemland, by Chelsey Minnis.  And so I read:

The swishiness of others is legendary…

But I must live under the swishiness of my own self…

There is swishiness in the future…

But I don’t know about it yet.

Death will come to end swishiness

But my swishiness will continue in my poems…!

Yes, it is a beautiful, strange little poem.  And as I proudly lifted my head from the book to begin speaking on the bizarre and brilliant use of the word “swishiness“, one classmate cut in loudly with “Maybe that’s because it’s swiNishness, not SWISHINESS! (You moron)”  Well, yeah, it is swinishness.  Oh well?  I really screwed the pooch on that one.

My face was red, but I laughed along with the rest of my classmates and did what any good loud-mouth would do: owned it.  Yeah, I said swishiness, so what??  I saved face, but secretly I was very embarrassed. When you embarrass yourself as much as I do, you get pretty good at masking your humiliation.

The scene continued two days later, when our class was graced with the presence of Chelsey Minnis herself.  Side note, I think she is a genius.  She is hands down my favorite poet and a great presence in the classroom as well.  Anyhow, she had chosen a few poems to read aloud and talk about.  I was hoping, begging, PRAYing that she wouldn’t turn to page 39.  But you can guess what happened. And as the word “swinishness” so flawlessly rolled off her tongue, I bit my lip, and smiled as my classmates’ eyes unanimously shot in my direction.  Yikes.

It became a dominating theme for me in this classroom, I went so far in my attempt to neutralize my gaffe by naming my chapbook “swishiness” and even further by giving my blog the name.  But in truth, I think this concept is very representative of who I am. I love to laugh, and it’s a good thing too, because I give myself reason to quite frequently.  Life is swishy.  Period.  I say dumb, inappropriate things all the time, every day of my life.  You should hear me order at an unfamiliar burrito shop or restaurant, really, can’t take me anywhere.  Some say they find it enduring, but I find it like reality.  I’m a swishy person. I’d rather be swishy than swinish, wouldn’t you?  I am taken back to this quote from Feste, the clown of Twelfth Night:

“Wit, and ‘t be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits
that think they have thee do very oft prove fools; and I, that am
sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man: for what says
Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.'”

In conclusion, I said it before, and I’ll say it again: swishiness sounds better anyway.

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I’ve begun again…

Well, after my long hiatus from blogging, which I hadn’t fully undertaken in the first place, I have decided to start again for many reasons.  The greatest being that I just really, REALLY need some sort of outlet for my abundance of opinions.  I can no longer raise my hand in class, and after a year of living together, Kevin grows tired of my opening my mouth all the time just to “enlighten” him on a subject that he already knows my feelings about.

The second reason here is that I will also use this forum to document my future travels.  Yes, I am pleased to announce that Kevin and I have just sent off our applications to volunteer in Thailand next February.  Though it is a long way off, I’d like to become fully blog-savvy by then.

The final reason being that I am just a little bored.  Just a little.  And so, here we go.  The next few posts I will dedicate to background information with a few opinions sprinkled in and out.  As we say in the restaurant industry, please enjoy!

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