Thursday, November 29, 2007

DOAEN 11: Putha from Jammu

I'm Putha from a refugee camp in Jammu, which is in the southern part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. My family was part of a mass exodus from Kashmir in 1990 after violence aimed at Hindis. Whenever I looked out at night, I saw the pointed tops of canvas tents and the smell of cooking rice.

My father was an alcoholic. His job was to ensure that bodies were fully cremated. If children of the deceased weren't available, he pierced skulls with a sharp stick in a sacred Hindu rite. My mother married him at 14 and was never educated. But she didn't want me to have the same kind of life.

I can remember when I was seven and watching her carefully mix a half-cup of lentils in a pot of boiling water. She said, "You will grow up and get away from this place."

"Why would I want to go so far away from you, maataa?"

"You are such a stupid child." She added more water to the pot and stirred slowly. "Who wouldn't want to leave this hell hole? There is nothing here but sorrow."

My father usually came home at night drunk and as red as a chili. I did want to go somewhere else. But I didn't know how I could go.

I spent several more years growing up in our tent, collecting government-issued rice bags whenever they became available. I dragged them home because they were too heavy to carry. When I got a little older I'd walk around the edge of the camp until it became dark, and the lanterns from inside the canvas tents glowed with antique warmth.

On the weekend when my mother was busy cooking her few lentils, I'd walk to the central office where they stored our papers. But they also had a television set that was as big as a table. If I promised to be quiet, the manager, Sunil, let me have a lollypop and watch the programs. I always promised to be quiet. I was 12 years old.

I watched women on television dressed in long silk saris, lime green, purple, and saffron, with their hair brushed to the brilliance of a cascading waterfall. Their fingernails were long and red and they wore silver rings fashioned with the faces of gods and goddesses, walking in a trance inside a cave where they were waiting to find out by a tree trunk that grew inside the center of the universe what service the Lord Shiva wanted them to perform.

I'd sit in front of the television on a metal folding chair sucking my lollypop and sigh at how beautiful they were. Sunil would laugh. "A speck of dust longing after split logs."

"Look Sunil how beautiful they are. I want to look like that." Sunil was a grandfather with grey hair who was good to the kids living inside the camp.

"You are that beautiful now, my little raven," which is what he always called me. But the television programs filled me with longing.

One night when my mother had to go to the hospital to pick up my father, who had hit and cut his forehead on sharp glass, I remained inside the tent. I was bored. My eyes fell upon one of my father's empty bottles near his bed mat. It was a brown beer bottle. I picked it up and smelled its sourness and clasped it to my chest, feeling the hard glass against my breasts, which were beginning to bloom into pink hyacinths. It was a warm evening and the coolness of the bottle against my chest soothed me until I lay down and closed my eyes.

I hoped that my parents would return soon, but at the same time, I didn't want them to return. For I knew there would be a fight that would last throughout the evening. I kept rolling the bottle over my body, feeling the cool glass until it became warm like me. I placed it at my warmest place, my center, what my mother called my river stump. I felt a jolt inside my body that sent shivers down my arms.

Carefully, I nudged the lip of the bottle through the hole of my river stump and eased down over it. I knew now what the Lord Shiva wanted, and slowly began to stir the bottle with my hips the way my mother stirred lentils with a spoon, slowly and carefully, feeling the smoothness of the glass inside my own smoothness, adding my moans to the breath of the camp at night. For the first time, I felt a glow inside myself, a light from my own tent.

Yes, I could see that my mother was right. I needed to go far away from this place.

Friday, November 16, 2007

DOAEN 10: Fractals

Digits escape me as the digital world invades me. I am lucky to remember my social security number that places me bobbling on a sea of paper work. Soon it will end with a closed file.

On a good day, New Deal institutions linger in my mind like the Unisphere from the 1964/65 New York World's Fair in Flushing, Queens. Links of distant memory are excavated on the Internet. Memory is in remnants and I am a rag picker going through boxes.

My EuroDNA report indicates that my ancestors have lived for equal amounts of time in Northern and Southern Europe. I have acted out a similar migration path, living on both east and west coasts. I am not convinced that DNA is destiny. My geography is in fractals. I do not want my dreams to inhabit the linear world.

This morning the radio in the coffee shop played "Greensleeves." Donut holes, scones, buttermilk bars, and glazed crullers orbited around the flourescent light fixture. I stood in line wondering whether to buy a lottery ticket.

My life has been a series of movements in quarter time: civil rights, anti-war, women's, HIV and AIDS epidemics. Global warming and the environment. The half-off sale on democracy. The occupation of Palestine and the War in Iraq.

What is the sound of justice? This is a Zen koan.

Music: Abbey Lincoln, "Abbey Sings Abbey"
What's Been Happening: Pina Bausch
On a Personal Level: Motorcycle convention in San Mateo
Keywords: dreams (drama) on the other side of the door
whirlpool of further losses
face glued to the moment
awoke with a taste of soda in my mouth
the linear world does not inhabit me / I do not inhabit

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DOAEN 9: Dream Therapy

I sit wearing one coat of red next to Carol who is doing someone else's nails. Shop stylists run past me for their next hair appointment or maybe for a quick stop to the bathroom.

Carol says: My daughter doesn't want to leave. She's terrified of Ms. Fontana, who's the substitute teacher there. She says, Mom, she yells alot. That's not good, a girl being scared of school. She's only six years old. She never used to be like that. She's always loved school. She's scared of leaving me. I stand there in the morning. She says, Mommy, I don't want to leave you. I talked to my landlord because her daughter's in the same class and she's having the same problem. So it's not just her. Her little girl doesn't want to leave her in the morning either. That's a terrible thing for a six year-old not to like school. We have to see if we can have them transferred from Ms. Fontana's class. Or maybe there's another substitute teacher. I can't stand Ms. Fontana. My girl never was afraid of her old teacher.

My nails are already chipped. I'm back at home now, dreaming of the colors blue and green outside my patio window that hold the trees and sky in a rapture I can only imagine. It must have something to do with love and the power of forgiveness, moving on with self-knowledge as a gyroscope. My son and daughter are green and I am sky blue. They are growing and I am expanding. The universe is always expanding, but scientists do not know at what rate.

At the center of the universe there's a crossroads where everything has been reduced to the common denominator of commerce. It's all in the numbers. A sort of Star Wars intergalactic bar where everyone can dig the dirt, music, and the action. A man sits there with a peaceful look on his face like he's been masturbating for the last half hour. Off to the left, there's a store where you can find row after row of international best sellers that can be translated into any language. There's one case of slightly more literary and less formulaic books. They cost more. The numbers keep these books in their place.

Through a Romanesque arch, there's the snack area with beverages, mostly flavored waters in different colors, plus drugs and toiletries for those who have run out of cold or sinus remedies, vitamins, immune system boosters, or just a standard pair of nail clippers. They're there. Magazines and newspaper are loaded on throw-away minicomputer screens with profiles about the latest candidates and why they are any better or different or more attractive than the next person on the overhead flat TV screen. Or for those who need to buy a gift, there's an assortment of mugs, t-shirts, shot glases, tote bags, or paraphenalia from the local sports teams. Be prepared to spend more.

For me, I'd like to rent a sleep cubicle for a week and listen to the conversations of people as they pass through this area. So what if my children are off and doing there own things. Because once obsessed, always obsessed. The particulars are a matter of focus.

Music: Lou Reed, "The Raven"
What's Been Happening: Return from Matthew's bar mitzvah
On a Personal Level: at home with a cold
Keywords: dream therapy, pre-approved

Monday, November 5, 2007

DOAEN 8: Good-bye Miz Pele de Lappe

You showed me photographs of Frieda Kahlo and told me how you used to lie on a bed together and draw each other naked. All your shelves were filled with books and your walls with pictures, every inch was covered with your lithographs and political cartoons, newspaper clippings, bulletin boards, and later, with the canvases of your lover, Byron Randall. You sketched characters with your tongue. Every month you traveled to San Jose and visited your son in the looney-bin. You sailed across the Atlantic in a merchant marine ship. We both loved Archy and Mehitabel written by Don Marquis about Archy, a cockroach with the soul of a poet, and Mehitabel, an alley cat who claimed she was Cleopatra in a previous life. You named one of your cats Archy, and had a garden with a stone walk-way. Decca Mitford was your lucky card. Everyone was your friend. Once you had a face-lift because you didn't want to develop a turkey neck like your mother. You had fights with a lover in prison. Your cooking pots hung from a pegboard in the kitchen. You threw parties every New Years Day where people crowded along the staircase drinking and eating your good food and snaked out the front door. You edited my copy until I became humble. Your daughter played jazz in New York City and then in Woodstock. Blue was your favorite color, translucent silk scarves tied at your neck. You choose to to be a part of history, documented time in a sketchbook, told me stories and jumped on jazz keys with a lithographer's stone.

It's not about black and to white.
It's about wrong and right.
Reverend Chicken Wing
He was sitting behind the counter of a store with the lights off
The TV's never on anymore in the locker room.
A knat on the windshield.
Joe Cocker

Thursday, November 1, 2007

DOAEN 7: Quoting Folks

"Much in the week of rollers passed along my head, and porridge it was also. It finished to only fill kontentom the newly-made RU- project, as it shaded me thinking to inspect the thickets of vordpressa and to look what interesting in it still there is. Site simply was not opened. And something in the region of heart began at that moment, it recalled suddenly besprobludnye nights after kompom, sorting out kontent, line after the line, each word should have been verified and corrected, while friends pull beer and wenches. Now I do ask in all, whom I can - knows who, as this to restore and to correct? In the furnace of dialap, Ancient Chinese. Recently I rummage in the Russian pit."

The above is not from a character in Anthony Burgess' "Clockwork Orange," but a portion of a blog entry written by a 27-year old Webmaster and translated through the online auspices of Babelfish. And while the translation service did its best to render the Russian into intelligible English, what remains is something mongrel, pit bullish, some quality of a Russian landscape lined with porridge and thickets. Bears do not sleep in autumn here, which is where I fit in.

As I now possess black leather pants together with a black leather motorcycle jacket that contains as many zippers and pockets as Marlon Brando's in "The Wild One," I decided to do battle with the local parking police at UC Berkeley and to attend the 11th Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. I rode no motorcycle nor wore my leather attire because I didn't want to draw attention unbeknownst, but walked into Pauley (now King) Ballroom together with clearly 1,000 other people, thinking about the car I had illegally left behind with my AC Transit badge on the dashboard. Drums ratcheted outside of Zellerbach Auditorium. Food wagons were still parked on Telegraph Avenue, one week before we turn back the hands of time, serving chicken kababs and burritos. Or I could be a Webmaster in Moscow wrestling with kontentkom?

But no, I sat in the front on the wooden floor to the right of the microphone where two young people were given a "Young Activist of the Year Award," but since in the interest of saving trees no programs were printed, and I can't guarantee the correct spelling of their names so bearish kindly with me. Patricia Colours (sp??), 24 and from Los Angeles, a member of The Labor/Community Strategy Center, a multiracial "think tank/act tank," and Christopher Goodman (sp??), 19 and from Baltimore, who is demonstrating in Annapolis with others for "quality education as a constitutional right," both speaking to a national movement led by young people, and how the system is "intentionally miseducating black and brown youth by underfunding our school systems."

Shadows clogged around the edge of the room move to the front -- Fanny Lou Hamer, John Brown, Fred Hamptom, Jonathan Jackson, Asada Shakur, Elaine Brown, Cesar Chavez and other freedom fighters.

Standing ovations on behalf of both young people and now one of the former leaders of the Free Speech Movement, Bettina Aptheker, speaking in the deep voice of a thousand lectures, introduces the evening words, Angela Davis, Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at UC Santa Cruz and life long teacher, writer, and political activist. Her talk is on "From Jim Crow to Guantanamo: Prisons, Democracy and Empire," all in 40 minutes.

Angela invokes the spirit of Antonio Gramsci who was an a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy, writing in his prison notebooks about culture and politics. Gramsci wrote (she, Angela said), "that the pessimism of the intellect must be balanced by the optimism of the will," kindly words in these days when we are being Bushwhacked and Schwartezeneggered here in California with the largest prison system in the country. But Angela, her hair slightly tinted golden, dressed in black standing at the podium, representing a link to that not-so-distant past of social activism says, "as disheartening as our contemporary situation appears, it could be worse."

Angela says that without the people who have come before us, we would not have "the imagination to struggle."

She is fighting for prison abolition. She is working with other organizations to create a different notation of justice. She is imagining this. It's in her head.

I go back outside again as a clump of young people form around Angela to help stop the bleeding. There is always Keats and a ticket on my car. Right away, I didn't look to see for how much.