on refusing / on choosing different eyes

Culture is a monumental force. I am not naive enough to believe that culture is completely democratic and that we constitute it at our whims. But I am also not willing to resign any capacity I have—however limited—to refuse, boycott, expose, or subvert the violent cultures that encroach on our hearts, minds, and bodies.

There is a value in recognition, in allowing yourself to enter into a community of consciousness and awareness. Through that we learn to see anew. Reading through the dominant lens offers at best a partial reading of our lives. At worst, it offers a completely distorted reading that does not allow us the knowledge and understanding to flourish and seek better lives, spaces, and worlds.

Why do we concede so much of ourselves—even our vision—to these dominant, violent powers? We already concede enough: the hours of our days, how we are perceived, how our identities and homes are shaped, the destruction of our minds and bodies, the power to act, to feel, to become, to be.

What we cannot afford to resign is our sensitivity. We cannot afford to stop guarding our hearts from the toxicity and pollution that pervades everything. If we feel fully, if we think lucidly, we see what we truly are and what animates our spirits and communities. And if we allow that fullness and lucidity to guide our words, actions, eyes, we can protect the integrity of who we are and cultivate healthy, beautiful communities around us.

Culture looms over us ominously and colors our lives and perceptions, hemming in our possibilities and vantages. But it cannot master us. While the world cheers on male violence and violent masculinities, liberal disaffection leading to inaction, imperialist wars fought in our minds and on our lands, and an insatiable capitalist system which destroys as it accumulates, we can refuse. We can refuse to see, to speak, to act in accordance with those values and refuse to inhabit the worlds they create and put forth as the only possible worlds.

We are accountable for our eyes, ears, tongues, hours, energy, thoughts. We are accountable to God, and we are accountable to the victims of the violent cultures in which we are complicit and which we further by our participation. In as much as we, too, are victims, we are accountable to ourselves.

After all the violence has clouded our visions, we need to learn once again to see. That will require different eyes.

…as there is no such thing as an innocent reading, we must say what reading we are guilty of.
—Louis Althusser, Reading Capital

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our
existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate
our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into
language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be
thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are
cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our
daily lives

— Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not a Luxury

a garden of letters [and a conversation with gloria]

It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold. I have not yet unlearned the esoteric bullshit and pseudo-intellectualizing that school brainwashed into my writing.

How to begin again. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course.

—Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers”

I have been writing poems and letters for my sisters. I have been writing letters for my loves, for my mother, my aunts. I envision letters sprouting from somewhere in a garden in me, flowers to give. But I have yet to send them.

Does it ever feel like you have to learn all over again how to be? It feels like this is the only way to come back from exile—drawing home in to you, going out to meet it where it wanders. Chasing parts of you in your own words and letting them go as epistles that sometimes never return, but sometimes do, fuller, more abundant somehow for having been received.

There is something sincere in that, something irrevocable.

It feels like I can only write letters lately, and they still feel incomplete. I am still trying to figure out how to account for all these half-articulations. I chase sincerity, I chase things that soften and open and flourish. All I find are fragmented sensibilities. Sometimes I think the world has forgotten how to commit, how to be vulnerable, how to encounter a hermeneutic softness and let it be.

Every time I write, my language is severed from me, from my inner community. It draws me in violently and then pushes me out, truncated, shattered. I cannot find myself in these faulty mirrors.

They convince us that we must cultivate art for art’s sake. Bow down to the sacred bull, form. Put frames and metaframes around the writing. Achieve distance in order to win the coveted title “literary writer” or “professional writer.” Above all do not be simple, direct, nor immediate.

They tell me my edges need softness and my softness must close in on itself, become rigid, discrete, rational, masculine. They tell me to add buffers, reduce myself lest I become reductive. My anger must wilt, and my flowers must transform into concrete. They advise a radical disjuncture between my world and myself, but permit me no radical disjuncture from their world. Not even from their language.

I lack language / The language to clarify / my resistance to the literature. / Worlds are a war to me. / They threaten my family. / To gain the word / to describe the loss / I risk losing everything.

I have no space for more double binds to be woven through me. I cannot endure another false universality thrown in my face. Lack of specificity was always just another kind of violence.

So I will write letters. Send me one, too.

متاحف الثورة

All this time I thought I was waiting, I was creating an archive. I was remembering.

The impulse to remember, to collect, to archive, to curate—it felt like it arose from something deadening, a vestige. Sometimes all I see are all these vestiges, locked away in museums. The freedom, the overflowing gardens, the revolutions—they all feel like vestiges now.

But what of museums? Can they be retrieved and reclaimed? Their histories are tainted. In museums we try to understand things, so we nail them to thin paper, cover them in glass, force them to stand still long enough to see, the epistemic bleeding into the metaphysical, the impulse to conquer knowledge conquers all. But is everything lost? Can we curate something alive, give it presence, space, and flight?

More importantly, can we restore? Can we commit to encountering, being encountered by goodness, beauty, community, hope? Can we find it in between the vestiges, vestiges, all these vestiges?

But I was not only waiting. I was creating space and time for all this gathering, recollecting, collecting again. After all, there is an agency to letting things slip, an agency to remembering, re-remembering, forcing stories into collective vision. Neutrality was always a myth.