Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Opening My Heart to Grief and Joy

The countdown has begun. In 26 days I leave for India. Before I take off, my room will be packed up, and my years in Milwaukee will consist of a neat stack of boxes. I have given 6 boxes of writing, publications, notebooks, and correspondence to Milwaukee Public Library. Many of my personal belongings are now on “long-term indefinite loan” to friends, including my piano, my books, which will remain in the Eight Limbs Housing Co-op lending library, my hand-hewn kitchen table, artwork, dishes, and the little bit of furniture I own.

My room at 8LHC will be occupied by Iyengar Yoga student and budding teacher, Helena Fahnrich, who moves in January 31. Helena, Sara Arends Haggith, Tracey Radloff, and others, will be providing classes at Riverwest Yogashala come January. The tasks of running Yogashala will be assumed by the Board and the newly empowered committees. Our site manager will be Iyengar Yoga student and enthusiast, Hart Ford, and our newsletter editor, the multi-talented Iyengar Yoga teacher, mom, and writer, Jackie Lalley.

Detroit beckons. I will spend Christmas day there with my daughter Meiko, son Malachi who will be stateside after a semester in India, Grace Lee Boggs, and perhaps a few friends from both Milwaukee and Detroit. When I arrive around 5 February, I will move into an intentional community house owned by the Catholic Capuchins, with 3 of their volunteers, on the same block as the Boggs Center. I will serve as house manager in exchange for a room. I am scheduled to cook dinner for Grace every night.

My official farewell is Sunday, 3 February at Yogashala. I will offer a workshop, “Teachings From Pune,” sharing highlights from my month of study at the Iyengar Institute, from 2-4:30pm, followed by Riverwest Yogashala’s Annual Membership Party from 5-7pm, followed by an open house to drop by and share a hug. Before that, I am trying to schedule a house concert for you all to hear the songs that have been pouring forth this Fall, with my collaborators, especially Jess Vega.

How do I feel about all of this? A few days ago, I was practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana, listening to Meklit Hadero, and in between repetitions of the pose, just letting the tears flow. I am flabbergasted at the depth of change I am choosing. I am frustrated at the work left undone in Milwaukee. I am scared of letting go so profoundly. I am heartbroken about leaving friends who have shaped me, taught me so much, given immeasurably to me, and have graciously welcomed what I can offer.

At the same time, I am thrilled to be leaving for study in India, where I can focus and give myself much-needed self-care to develop my yoga practice, live simply, and transition to my new life. I eagerly anticipate my life in Detroit, studying weekly with Laurie Blakeney, seeing Grace daily, and spending time with Meiko, my soul sister Marcia Lee, and others. I look forward to radically streamlining my life, taking a break from full-time teaching, and taking time to read, write, cook, and create. My goal in Detroit is to Not Be Busy. We shall see how long that lasts, but even a few weeks or months of this will do my spirit much good.

I plan to be back in Milwaukee for Riverwest Yogashala’s Spring Equinox 108 Surya Namaskar, when I will also teach workshops. You will not be totally rid of me. Through the tears, working on my tight upper back and shoulders, I open my heart to the coming weeks and months with both grief and joy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Peggy in "Change+ing Room," at Fahimeh Vahdat's exhibit, October 2012

remove glasses and
slip under black cloak
I peer through a slit
pressing down on thick eyelids

            inside mother’s protective womb
            cushioned in layers of fluid, muscle, bony pelvis, skin
            you cannot see me but I hear you
            hear everything

in silent blackout
breath condenses
under synthetic silk
            forming heart, lungs, ovaries
            limbs curled into trunk

walking through a crowd
space clears for me
like a road opens for an ambulance

            you do not know what I will become
            you do not know the generations of women’s rage I embody
            to you I am a bump yet unconscious

sensing my silent steps
conversation stops
sitting still I become invisible
eavesdrop on the last time I was in Turkey
and dinner plans
downtown or third ward?

            gestational I am carrier
            of my grandmother’s untold stories
            the egg that would hatch me
            formed in her womb
            as she carried my mother

eyes glance then dart away           
better to not look
an unspoken complicity
let’s not talk to her

            what lengths will you take to ignore me?
            what would I reveal given the chance?
            what threat does the curve of my hips present?
            clavicles, cleavage, clitoris?
cloaked and alone
in the eye of my own churning hurricane
I must hide my hands under black cloth
afraid of what they will commit


Monday, November 19, 2012


summary of my past weekend in detroit, with thanks to meiko, marcia, robby, colette, erin, nerissa, jess, grace, shea, and shout out to mary oliver

be outside at dusk to watch the first stars appear
make this your nightly prayer

as you step out of the car
lost on highway 23
a shooting star from leo soars directly overhead

a million eyes in the sky
now you can gaze back at the stars
that watch you as they always do
they ask:
what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

let your uterus speak
your kidneys and lungs
your perimenopausal thyroid and pineal glands
let your ears ring when you dance in front of the woofer
you will lose your hearing one day anyway
just as you will lose everything
your mother’s silverware
your father’s publications
the burden of your reputation
stomp it underfoot on the concrete dance floor

promote shamelessness
as a step into the emergence of interconnected self
infuriate as many people as you inspire

move to detroit so you can throw away your bras
to embrace the reality of 49 year old breasts
spent on nourishing your young

choose what is most impermanent
like stir-fried vegetables for grace
on a tray carried to her house each night at 5
value what is most ephemeral
snow melting before it touches the sidewalk
tail of the meteor disappearing into night sky

boycott the media and create your own news
by learning ukulele and writing songs
fill your car with drums, your kombucha jug and record albums
leave everything else behind
forsake the sham of middle class security
your 401K, health insurance, a pension
spend your savings on avocados, limes, and mixed greens
make guacamole your new currency
place yourself at the mercy of strangers
cross double yellow lines to make u-turms on train tracks
after all it’s never too late
let your phone battery die and rely on telepathy

stand on your head and gaze out the window
at bare trees older than your house that needs tuckpointing
listen to the foghorns detroit sunday dawn
if the stars can fall
                                    no problem
                                                            so can you

pkh 18 November 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


for Milwaukee, Growing Power, Will Allen, and all our local farmers

in 21st century post-industrial milwaukee
city of foreclosures and soaring joblessness
the earth calls us forth to heal her

she’s been paved over, toxins dumped, trees sheared away
with emptied houses
closed schools
lunch programs cut
where is her silver spring?

industrialized then abandoned

we remake the earth
worm by worm
black gold

new earth smells like morning
like renewal
smells like community

ingesting all that we have discarded
the worms welcome it all
tree pulp beaten and bleached into paper
processed foods moldering and slimy
throw-aways of our material world

wriggling red worms
like the earth coming alive
the earth has been waiting for us to come and renew her
withstanding temporary devastation
by industry run amok
she knew we would return turn

turning over the compost pile
sift and sieve
nourishment everywhere

city hall gardens of mustard and cabbage
we walk through and graze during lunch hour
bovine, leaving hoofmarks of work shoes in the earth

beat your swords into plowshares
trade in your gun for a pitchfork
the weapon of choice

after all anyone can take life
but only the brave can make life
make kale and collards that survive the wisconsin winter
worm by redworm
polypropelene hoophouses the new native architecture
covering the milwaukee landscape

those who grow their own food
grow their own souls
families and communities

the worms teach us how to re-weave the fabric of community
neighborhood harvest parties
corn roasts
catch up on gossip at the local farmer’s market

worm by worm
mother earth’s revolutionaries

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Letter to Milwaukee

Milwaukee friends, this is a letter I wrote to the Riverwest Yogashala community explaining what is coming up for me.  I hope you will engage in upcoming conversations about what is next. This is not farewell yet--you all come over for a party before I leave! p

Dear Riverwest Yogashala Community,

With an ache in my heart and a catch in my throat, I write to let you all know I will move to Detroit, MI in February 2013.

This is a move I have been contemplating for some time, and am finally committing to now. As an empty-nester, I am at a stage in my life where a major change is quite possible, and I have decided to take the leap.

As Riverwest Yogashala was preparing with Eight Limbs Housing Co-op to purchase a building this past summer, I committed to at least 3 more years in Milwaukee, which has been my home since 1987. During those 3 years, my plan was to transition Riverwest Yogashala from being founder-driven to more cooperatively run, and for 8LHC to become established.

However, when the seller withdrew, our purchase plans were cut short, and a door opened for a new plan to emerge. At first I was devastated. We had put so much time, energy, and resources into finding a building and funding it. But as I recovered from my disappointment, I began to see new possibilities.

First, I had to admit that I really needed a sabbatical. I have been teaching 10-14 classes/week since 2001, as well as raising 3 children, running a household, organizing for various activist causes, writing, serving as Milwaukee Poet Laureate in 2006-2007, running racial justice workshops, performing in theatre and vocal groups, giving poetry readings and workshops, and more.

Next, I had to be quiet and listen inwardly to what my soul and spirit were asking for. As I approach my 49th birthday (my 7th 7 year cycle!) I realize I am longing to nurture my own studentship. I need to step back from the many leadership roles I have taken on in Milwaukee, and vastly simplfiy my life. I long, as Mother Teresa urges us, to “do small things with great love.”

I have chosen Detroit because one of the people I admire most in the world, 97 year-old legendary activist Grace Lee Boggs, lives there. I plan to volunteer at the Boggs Center and learn anything I can from her as I offer whatever services may be needed in caregiving, cooking, organizing, etc. She is still quite sharp and vital and I would love to avail myself in any way.

Aside from Grace, Detroit overflows with visionaries, activists, social reformers, artists, and grassroots Do-It-Yourselfers. I have so much to learn there! Also, my eldest daughter, 26 year-old Meiko Krishok makes her home in Detroit. We are quite close and I look forward to spending more time with her.

One of my favorite Iyengar Yoga Senior Teachers lives in Ann Arbor, 50 miles from Detroit, Laurie Blakeney, whom many of you have met. I have never had weekly access to a Senior Teacher, and I’m thrilled at the prospect of studying with her regularly. Laurie’s depth of knowledge and experience over 30+ years of teaching will nourish my dedication to Iyengar Yoga and enrich my practice and teaching.

I am leaving Milwaukee and Riverwest Yogashala for a year or so of service, while learning at the feet of Grace, Laurie, and other wise Detroit elders. I will probably teach a little yoga, perhaps 2-3 classes/week. Housing plans are not set yet, but I have some prospects for living in intentional community on a barter basis.

I will stay in Detroit as long as I can be of use to Grace. The next stage of my life involves a 4-6 month stay in South Korea, where I lived until age 5, and where many family members live. In Korea, I plan to regain my fluency in the language, research my family history, especially regarding Japanese occupation and the Korean War, interview elders, and do a lot of writing.

When I return from Korea, I plan to make my next home in Oakland, CA. I have chosen Oakland because I have Iyengar Yoga friends there, access to Iyengar Senior Teacher Manouso Manos, a huge and diverse Asian American community, many like-minded radicals living outside the mainstream as in Detroit, plus avocado and lemon trees!

So, beloved Milwaukee community, I will bid farewell in December. I will complete the Fall Term. I will leave 30 December for a month’s study in Pune, India, with the Iyengar family. I will return 1 February, take a week or so to pack up and organize, and drive off to Detroit.

Let us make the most of our time together. I will pour my heart and soul into the best teaching I am capable of this fall. I will give everything I have to my mentees, who will serve you exceedingly well as they step up in responsibility. I am willling to come back on a regular basis to conduct teachers’ study groups, teach yoga workshops, and teach writing/movement (Embodied Voice) workshops as long as there is interest.

Meanwhile, I have full confidence in Lynn Celek, who, as you know, is an awesome teacher! Along with Lynn, other strong teachers will continue to teach at RY, and more are in the pipeline. However, exactly what RY will look like in 2013 is up to you. Please come to a community meeting on Sunday, 30 September, 4-6pm to discuss what is possible. We will provide snacks and you can too. RY’s future is in the hands of the community.

What I have received from all of you, over almost 10 years at Riverwest Yogashala, is immeasurable. You all have taught me how to be a teacher, and challenged me to be a better person. I am so richly blessed by all of you, and I will miss you.

Growing, learning, shifting, moving, with (G)race, and so so so much love,
peggy kwisuk hong

Friday, September 14, 2012

Calling All Visual Artists! Design a 49th Birthday "Brown Girl Dangerous" Tattoo for Peggy

Submissions due by October 25, 2012.
Is it time for me to get a tattoo? I have held off all these years because I could not think of anything I would want for posterity. But knowing that posterity may mean 20 or 30 years only, I think I can risk it. I have an idea that needs to be “fleshed out” by my visual artist friends.

“Brown Girl Dangerous” is my alter ego/inner superhero/spiritual warrior. I would like to have her tattooed on my left shoulder and upper arm. She need not be figurative but may be an abstract design.

Brown Girl Dangerous’s superpower is that she tells and lives the truth at all times, while being impervious to persecution and torture. She is perimenopausal, in a state of flux and transition, and her powers are getting stronger as she ages. She has not yet reached the peak of her powers. She is fearless because she knows she can never be hurt, and because she knows that truth, although it has the ability to both heal and destroy, in and of itself, is neutral.

BGD is dangerous because there are parties that depend on the denial and obfuscation of truth for their survival. She maintains a sharp edge because she has to defy these parties to do her job of living and telling the truth. BGD’s brownness puts her at odds with white supremacy. She identifies with the oppressed, marginalized, and persecuted, and lives out the truth as a revolutionary act to dismantle these structures. She knows that an individual’s act of resistance can disrupt a whole system and inspire an entire movement.

BGD is complex because the truth is multi-layered, problematic, shifting, and contextual. She has to encompass and embrace all of the messiness of truth. BGD’s vulnerability/weakness is that she has a poor sense of timing! She struggles with the best times to reveal the truth. Sometimes there is no good time.

BGD is maiden, mother, and crone. She is a girl warrior with irrepressible, daring energy. She is a mother, nurturer, and source of compassion. She is a crone, with nothing on earth to lose, and one foot in the spiritual world.

Are you getting some images, ideas, and inspiration? I hope so! Please, no anime characters. We like subtle, and abstract may be better than representational.  Show me what you got and drop off your design at 8LHC, 2474 N Booth, Milwaukee, WI 53212, or email to peggyhong@sbcglobal.net by October 25, 2012. I will get the tattoo done by my birthday on the 31st.

The artist of the selected design will be rewarded a 6-week unlimited pass into all of my yoga classes, from 1 November-15 December 2012.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


“Father keeps the graveyards deep in his throat, between his collar and his chin, near his Adam’s apple. His Adam’s apple sticks out and is locked up. That way the graveyards can never pass his lips. His mouth drinks schnapps made from the darkest plums, and his songs for the Fuhrer are heavy and drunken.”
--Herta Müller, The Land of Green Plums

“If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage to his mind as it is in his society.”
--Wendell Berry, “The Hidden Wound”

One day, teaching my yoga class for seniors, one student remarked on a recent trip to Paris, “There’s so much to do there.” Another student laughed, saying, “That’s gotta be the understatement of the year.” We chitchatted a bit about what a wonderful city Paris is. Then I could not help adding how problematic it was to consider these grand cities of Europe in light of imperial history, how these cities were built up during the 1700s and 1800s from the money and resources garnered from colonizing other nations, and to consider the suffering caused by the exploitation and oppression of colonized and enslaved people.

Talk about bursting the bubble.

My elderly student, an elegant and refined white woman who grew up in Europe, who has a most lovely French/British accent, was silent for a moment, then said, “But France didn’t colonize.”

Her adult daughter, attending class with her said, “Sure they did, Mom.”

Mom remained silent for another moment. Then burst into, “Can you believe what that Scott Walker just did?” Eager to consciously or unconsiously shift the subject and relieve the tension she felt within herself and the group, she began a tirade about the latest Wisconsin Republican outrages.

In 36 years of living among white people (my first 12 years were in Korea and Hawaii), I have come to realize the deep and often impenetrable cognitive dissonance well-meaning white people live with. That is, in their most honest moments, they have difficulty reconciling their privilege with historical facts. The most prized ideal of white liberals is equality, while valorizing working people, and protecting the middle class. The cognitive dissonance consists of an inability to admit that their privileges of race and class resulted from the suffering of people of color. In the USA, this was primarily through genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans, but also exploitation of Asians and Central and South Americans, which continues to this day. The Koreas, Philippines, Vietnam and more all suffered at the hands of the US empire, which now includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

Joy deGruy writes about“post-traumatic slave syndrome” in which African Americans have deeply internalized the wounds caused by centuries of slavery, resulting in a sense of inferiority and self-oppression. She discusses the phenomenon of lynching, and the repression of compassion required to maintain it as a public social practice. In post-traumatic slave syndrome, the oppressor suffers a wound which mirrors the wound they inflict on the oppressed.

As Wendell Berry points out:

“I have been unwilling until now to open in myself what I have known all along to be a wound - a historical wound, prepared centuries ago to come alive in me at my birth like a hereditary disease, and to be augmented and deepened by my life.

“If I had thought it was only the black people who have suffered from the years of slavery and racism, then I could have dealt fully with the matter long ago; I could have filled myself with pity for them, and would no doubt have enjoyed it a great deal and thought highly of myself.”

If white people have also “suffered from the years of slavery and racism,” how does this white wound manifest itself? As a yoga teacher, I notice it in my students as a disocciation of mind and body. You know that cliché about “white people can’t dance”? I see this in many of my white students in their difficulty feeling what is happening in their bodies, not noticing asymmetries, and unable to bring their consciousness to various body parts. Many have difficulty connecting thoughts to actions in their body, and difficulty putting words to physical experience. I find this in the multi-racial gospel choir I sing in, when some white members clap and sway out of sync with the music.

If “white people can’t dance,” it’s because they are not feeling the music, the pulse, the rhythm, the vibration, the communal soul and spirit. I believe this is something that is taught to them, that “come[s] alive…at birth like a hereditary disease,” as Berry puts it. Although many white people overcome this disconnection of mind and body, I often find that a barrier arises at some point that my white friend cannot find the means to understand or traverse.

Once I was invited to perform poetry and dance at an elite college prep private school in suburban Milwaukee, to an ocean of white faces. I tried to teach them an audience participation “rhythm chant” which consisted of 3 different rhythms with speech and simple movement. They had difficulty enough coordinating a single rhythm, and it totally fell apart when we tried to create a polyrhythm by combining the 3 lines. I had taught this piece dozens of times to various groups, especially Milwaukee Public School students (ie majority students of color), and typically had great results.

The privileged white students couldn’t listen to each other, or feel each other, or even feel or listen to themselves, enough to create a multi-rhythm. These are practices of self-knowledge and sensitivity to others required for empathy and compassion. How does this dissociation and disconnection happen?

An acquaintance had a child enrolled in this school. At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher reported that this child struggled with “time management.” This child was in kindergarten. Why indeed would a 4 or 5 year-old need to manage her time?

When a kindergartener is taught to manage her time, she is taught by the culture of the oppressor to ignore her feelings and needs, and thus to disocciate mind and body. By learning as a toddler to manage her time, she would begin early to ignore her need to play, or to eat, or to rest, in order to conform to her teacher’s agenda. She would learn to neglect her friends in order to stay on schedule.

I see the white wound in white friends and family members who cannot accompany me in my journey of racial healing, because it hurts too much to explore these dark places. I can’t share my deepest hurts and realizations with such friends and family members without their becoming defensive or depressed. I see the white wound today in white roommates in our housing cooperative who feel unwelcome, uncomfortable, and sometimes scared, when I and friends of color speak openly and unabashedly about race.

One day, as I shared this reflection with a white friend, in a moment of insight and honesty, he wondered if he was “emotionally stunted.” In fact, the burden of whiteness stunts the emotional development of generation after generation. Furthermore, the ethic of privacy requires one to hold their cards close, not make oneself vulnerable. After all, one would have to become emotionally stunted in order to protect their privilege without shame.

I see the white wound in many white friends and acquaintances who direct their anger toward the Republican or Tea Parties, or Big Business, or the Oil Industry, or whatever convenient enemy there may be. Anyone or anything except looking inward.

I see the white wound in addictive and compulsive behaviors, and could even include moderate alcohol consumption, or other seemingly innocuous actions that “take the edge off,” allowing one to maintain a mild and manageable state of cognitive dissonance. You know that niggling discomfort, like that moment I pointed out the history of European empire to my elderly yoga students? Instead of staying with that discomfort and processing it, we would rather drink a glass of red wine, smoke a cigarette, update our Facebook status, anything.

In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein contrasts “the story of the separate self” with “the story of the interconnected self.” The story of the separate self is based on the Cartesian model of individuality which shapes Eurocentric thought and culture. The story of the interconnected self tells us we are essentially one consciousness, and that what we do and choose pushes and pulls at the fabric of community that binds us to one another.

Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the effects of detached parenting, in which infant cries are left unanswered. When we ignore their cries, we teach our children early on the message of separateness, and the denial of feelings. As a physician, Maté examines the biochemical effect of being ignored as a helpless being. He describes how this stressful state can become a neurological imprint which remains with us as we grow up. Ignored cries in infancy can lead to compulsive behavior in chidren to alleviate their stress, sometimes manifesting as addictive behavior in adults.

I see the white wound in myself and other people of color, when we buy into the story of the separate self instead of the story of the interconnected self. I witness the white wound working in me when I buy into the illusion of scarcity, refusing to share my time, energy, and resources; when I hide my vulnerability, putting up a front of self-sufficiency; when I act out of fear rather than trust. Every time I protect my ego, I am buying into the story of separateness which informs the white wound.

I see the white wound in myself as a person of color, who has internalized the values of whiteness, success, and security. I see myself deferring to white people, and protecting white people at the expense of people of color, and allowing myself and others to be mistreated.

I see the white wound internalized in Koreans, in their drive to rebuild the nation after decades of Japanese colonization followed by a proxy civil war fueled by emerging super-powers. From the 1960s to the present day, as the economy has exploded in magnitude through workaholism, alcoholism and consumerism plague society: release valves for the pressure created by this drive for material prosperity and success on the global stage.

How do we heal the white wound? Every wound must be examined and cleaned. White people need to recognize their woundedness and begin undoing the trappings created by white culture. People of color need to recognize ways they have been complicit and accommodating. The degree to which we willingly stumble through this dark place of woundedness, to explore it and own it, is the degree to which we bring it to light and heal. The degree to which we heal the wounds determines the degree to which we live the story of the interconnected self.

Let’s not blame Scott Walker. Let’s not deny colonial history. Let us open our hearts to each other, by recognizing how white people, through denial of their woundedness, and people of color, through internalization of white values, have all upheld racism and white supremacy. By revealing our wounds and admitting our complicity, we bring light into those dark places.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Medicinal Love Poem from the Universe

a medicinal love poem from the universe
stand up and read it out loud to a jazz track
open your window, stick your head out and shout it to your neighbors
claim it and proclaim it
namaste, pkh


know this, friend
my love is the embodiment of angels
a flood of devas
a hurricane of cherubim and seraphim
encircling you, embracing you, lifting you

know this, child of god
when you look at the cloudless dome of the midwestern sky,
my love is wider
when you see the grandeur of mountains and know that its reverse
anchors it into the earth
my love is deeper
will the sun stop shining? will the wind stop blowing?
my love is a force of nature
infinite and irrepressible

know this, daughter
I will protect you with my own body
I will fight any demon
you can stink to the high heavens
be an asshole the size of iowa
kick scream punch me in the solar plexus and knock me off my feet
and I am still here
arms spread palms open
I will hold you through any storm
I will stay the night, watching and praying

know this, sister
I’m not letting you off the hook so quickly
don’t you break the promise you made with the angels, god, and me
to take human form and plant your feet here on scarred earth
to know suffering
to take it into your bones and your soul
so as to burn it up
and transform it
we are here to sit in the fire with each other

soulmate, know this
you have soul sisters
spirit mothers
boddhisattvas waiting in the wings for the invitation from you
we hear you and see you even when you’re determined to hide
we are at your beck and call to walk at your side
catch you when you falter
cradle, cajole, shake you awake to say
be here now
BE here now
be HERE now
be here NOW
now is the moment you have chosen
to bless us with your wild iridescent brilliance
a brilliance honed by lifetimes
tumbled and tossed, smoothed and polished
your wounds make you glow

beloved, know this
my love is a sliver of the infinite eternal
a ray of the sun
a drop in the ocean of the great lakes
a single blade of prairie grass
one link in the story of the interconnected self
in which multitudes embrace you
clouds and beetles and dandelions
children with sticky summer skin
squirrels balanced on powerlines
lightning piercing night sky
all fully present in your story—our story—to bear loving witness

know this, teacher
you matter more than rain
you matter more than earthworms
you matter more than paychecks
you matter more than poems
your significance cannot be measured in earthly terms
your reasons for being here cannot be counted out
only our souls convey your irreplaceability
why you have taken this pain, why now, why here
only our souls know
and we thank you
thank you for staying
thank you for bearing it
thank you for being in the story with me
thank you for this breath
this moment to be
pure electric
sparkling radiant

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Ode to Detroit


sterling toles is a bodhisattva sitting in the corner chair
smile broad as grand boulevard
arms as long as detroit summer
brother sterling’s third eye glows like the lights on belle isle

brother sterling chose post-industrial detroit to come back
so he can freestyle to the house didj
as mankwe practices her circular breathing

sterling’s hands are empty and open
sterling is here to say yes
and yes
and yes

sterling toles brings out the bodhisattva in me
(can’t remember what I was pissed off about)
and in you too

in a past life brother sterling was your mother
and before that you were his

we are all crowded into meiko’s living room
during july full moon thunderstorm
here for each other
for to heal ourselves is to heal each other and the threads that bind us

our hands are open and empty now too
we have also chosen to come back
into this house of crumbling plaster
down the street from grace lee boggs
abandoned by neighbors though music blasts on sweltering summer nights
we have also chosen to come back
into neighborhoods of 100% unemployment
and multigenerational front porches

do you mean to tell me you’ve forgotten?
that in some past life you took bodhisattva vows
that for the sake of all beings
you would generate the mind of enlightenment
and put your body on the line
so here we all are
in the beautiful broken city of detroit in 2012

we bring out the bodhisattva in each other
sterling’s long fingers describe the air as he jams
and I am beginning to remember

Sunday, July 8, 2012


another poem from the "trauma series"

“stay and fight”
says krishna to arjuna
startling me out of dream into cool june morning

what kind of bloodless revolutionary am I?
I’m not a fighter I tell friends
but they just laugh

they recognize my karmic burden a mile away
even if I do not

how does the pacifist
confront the madman?
how does the satyagrahi resist spray painted toxic fumes
that twist her words into bludgeons?

we repaint the kitchen red over the slanderous yellow
put some resistance into the plaster
a circle of protection primed and sealed tight

pack your toothbrush
3 pairs underwear
2 tshirts
and go

this flimsy summer dress
now always to hold the story
of the white man’s revenge

develop an allergic reaction to trauma
feel your chest tighten
sneeze four times in a row
as the whole body inflames into heightened immune response

choose the car not the bike
avoid street festivals
heart races when spotting a shaved head
or a black ford focus

come back a week later
chiming your way in to clear a path into the house
collect mail and phone messages
but leave quickly
forgetting what you came for

even now you can’t remember
the color of his deranged eyes

like the baby rabbit trying to cross locust street
the impala before the cheetah’s teeth plunge in
isaac on the stone slab before abraham
I prostrate myself
rounding my back to expose my kidneys

my polite neighbors are shocked
into impotent complicity
watching the drama unfold on a second floor balcony
starring three brown women and one screaming white man

I fall asleep at random moments
packing myself in ice
mid-sentence while teaching
I encase myself in a cool blue silence

i startle awake
to the sound of traffic or a pre-dawn robin
ready to fight or flee
where is the toothbrush my shoes my keys?

this time I give myself permission
to weep
no children or husband to put first
salty baptism in showers
in cars
between classes I teach
at dinner tables
and breakfast tables
I weep my way through songs
through prayers
I cry before strangers
I cry before civil servants behind glass shields
I cry naked like a newborn
or swaddled in bedclothes
I cry for omma and feel her presence near my right ovary
appa I call out and he appears under my shoulder blade
I cry in the presence of angels
the flutter of their wings creating an indoor draft
I cry in the arms of women who hold me as I held my slippery daughter at birth
or my deathbed mother in intensive care
I cry in the arms of my son
whose shoulders were so broad it took two extra pushes to urge them out
I cry as if my wealth is measured in tears
lavishly generously I weep
I cry as if I deserve to cry
for what woman does not?

Saturday, July 7, 2012


If you are outside Milwaukee, I may not have told you about this crisis on June 3, 2012. In short a resident of our housing cooperative had a breakdown which involved physically threatening behavior, verbal abuse, and spray painting and writing on the walls of the house consisting of racially charged hate speech targeted toward me. We called the police, contacted the landlord, and he was evicted that night, and the lock changed immediately. We are all safe, though shaken up. I am processing the trauma with friends, poetry, yoga, and much more. Five weeks later, I feel I am more or less back to normal. The only means I have found to write about this trauma is through poetry. Here is a piece I wrote that night. This has been an epic experience and an amazing teacher. The healing continues.

I am from a pink house with yellow walls covered with spray paint, and my name markered on walls

I am from he keeps his door open now and “you and I are the same person”
I am from his violent father and his hypochondriac mother
I am from his connective tissue disorder and a shoulder that dislocates during sleep

I am from “I painted this for you to teach you,” staying up all night with rolling rocks, practicing stand-up, and crushed cans thrown across the room
I am from camels smoked on the deck and a knife next to his bed
I am from jars of pepperoncini that burn up his stomach

I am from “white liberals are the worst” and thinking everyone can be your ally
I am from give him the benefit of the doubt and no judgment, no blame, and take responsibility for everything
I am from hurt people hurt people hurt people hurt

I am from I can’t think of what to do, a squad car that never shows up and better change the lock tonight

I am from what if he’s right and I’m wrong? and maybe if I stay still and breathe through it it will disappear
I am from it feels more comfortable to bear it than fight it and where did my body go?

I am from put your head down and work, hurry up and buy something to feel better
I am from “guchuh”: stop crying already or “are you holding back tears?”

I am from jess faces off against him in her bare feet and skinny legs while the neighbors are watching us up on the second floor deck and trying to decide what to do
I am from friends on either side shoulder to shoulder who won’t leave me until I am safe
I am from I don’t even recognize my mistreatment until the white male in recovery points it out to the police

I am from rip off the bandages and look at the wound, and give yourself a whole day or week or month to weep
I am from weep for the mothers, the grandmothers, the maidens and crones, the asian call girls in the backs of alternative weeklies published by white liberals, the manicurists in nail salons, generations of picture brides and comfort women
I am from generations of women suffering alone and silently, accepting the blame and wearing it like a cloak

I am from kombucha, powdered greens, and probiotics tossed into a canvas bag,
I am from kefir strained at midnight and strawberry rhubarb crisp from the first spring harvest
I am from setubandha until sleepiness comes, under full moon through lace curtains
I am from you are safe now

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do I Hate You?

As I heal my own racial wounds and internalized racism, I seem to be attracting white people bringing up issues of race with me. It may be that they feel safer with me, a petite Asian woman/yoga teacher/poet, than, for instance, a pissed-off militant black man or woman. Or it may be I am the only person of color they know well enough to bring up risky topics, and besides, Asians are “honorary white people,” right?

Often these discussions become impassioned. After all, a beast like global white supremacy won’t budge without a little …. feeling.

All too often, as the conversation progresses, my white friend becomes uncomfortable. They claim I am shouting, that my anger is coming from nowhere, that I vibrate hatred, that I hate white people, and specifically, I hate them.

I know from anger. Not only are Koreans expressive, passionate people, but I’m a fire sign, pitta dosha, and as the baby of my family, the bearer of the emotional baggage. I was a rageful child and had temper tantrums well into my grade school years, driving my parents crazy.

As a teenager and young adult I learned to channel my vague sense of rage into art, dance, music, writing, activism, spirituality, and more. I learned that my anger was larger than my personal wounds and unmet needs, but also cultural and intergenerational. As an adult I began to understand my anger in the context of deep injustice in a capitalist, patriarchal white supremacy.

Despite my hours of meditation and yoga asana practice each week, it’s still all too easy to marinate in anger if I am not channeling that energy consciously into constructive projects. One foray into a racist, sexist mainstream media can set me off, or any number of other prompts.

As for hatred, probably like many of you, I like to think I bear hatred toward none. While I certainly have favorite folks to hang out with, and others I choose not to, I don’t feel enmity toward anyone. Even when I picture someone who has committed serious harm to me or others, I don’t feel hatred. I feel compassion for their suffering or lack of knowledge that has led them to harm others.

Do white friends and acquaintances wanting to talk about race prompt my rage and hatred? Certainly the injustice and oppression wrought by white supremacy should not be tolerated. Maybe the more constructive question is: why aren’t more white people equally outraged about the system of global white supremacy? Yes, even when I don’t hate the perpetrator of racism, there are times when I hate the racism that runs this nation and the world. Then my equanimity training kicks in and I realize that we attract what we resist, and fanning the flames of aversion only keeps me trapped.

So all of this comes up as I discuss race in impassioned conversations with white friends, when they stop and back off because I Am Shouting and Raging and I Hate Them.

I discussed this phenomenon with an older white friend. She attributed it to white people clinging to their privilege when they feel their status being threatened. “White people aren’t used to seeing people of color as their equals,” she admitted. So they may see an assertive, passionate person of color as aggressive, threatening, angry, and hateful, when maybe, I’m “just sayin’…..” Just speaking my truth clearly and directly, that’s all.

Dear White Friend,
Are you my ally? Do you really want to dismantle racism/white supremacy, or are you trying to convert me to your point of view, get me to salve your wounds, or flash your anti-racist resume to win points from a person of color?

What are you passionate about? What do you raise your voice over? Or were you brought up to keep strong feelings suppressed? Can you experience strong feelings or disagreement without hating? Haven’t you had an impassioned conversation with a teenage child or other family member that, even though voices may have been raised, was not hateful or rageful?

I do not hate you. What a waste of energy that would be. I hate the actions of white supremacy that oppress and exploit. Don’t you feel the same way, and if so, why aren’t you expressing it? After all, white people need to take responsibility for dismantling white supremacy.

For God’s sake, don’t be afraid of me. Walk side by side with me. Join me in the sacred battle of eliminating oppression and exploitation on every level. Confront your own anger so you don’t interpret every feeling I have as rage or hate. Do your own inner work so you are not threatened by strong feelings, and you feel your own feelings. Do your own research so you don’t expect me to educate you. Meet me halfway at least, so you’re not coming to me at the Racism 100 level when the rest of us are at the 700 level and ABD.

Most of all, stop taking stuff personally. What a God-awful distraction and waste of time.

Of course we’re pissed off: if you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention. But nobody’s hating on anybody. We’re too busy for that. Let’s get to work.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Offending White People

Like many other persons of color, I was raised to protect white people. Unwitting participants in white supremacy, my parents were determined to uplift their children by making sure we got our fair share. My immigrant parents could see no future for us that did not include excelling within the economic, political, educational, cultural system already in place, that of global white supremacy. This meant we internalized a sense of inferiority, so that we stayed submissive, respectful, quiet, and never offensive.

Now that I have awakened to this habit of thought and behavior passed on through generations, I have the responsibility of dismantling it. I have to catch myself every time I am tempted to please and protect white people, recognizing that the system of white supremacy hurts absolutely everyone, including white people. Instead of stifling my truth and making myself sick, as I have done for most of my adult life, I am finally learning, at age 48, to live and speak my truth, and stop unconsciously complying with systems of oppression. This means that I may offend white people.

White supremacy hurts everyone. People of color experience this harm daily, through the media and through microaggressions, which may marginalize them, exoticize them, objectify them, and reinforce a sense of inferiority and shame. The problem is white people can stay immune to the harm of white supremacy. After all they are on top. White people can be unconscious of the pain of white supremacy until it is pointed out to them. That is, until they are hurt or offended by a person of color.

Would-be white allies, take note:
If I offend you, I am compelling you to experience the harm of white supremacy, which hurts both white people and people of color. If something I say hurts you, it’s because you are awakening to the pain that white supremacy causes, the pain that has always been there, like the water table under the earth’s surface. While people of color live with this pain, you have been largely protected.

I will not protect you from feeling the pain of white supremacy, for white people will never dismantle the system of white supremacy without feeling this pain. I will not even protect my own children from experiencing the pain of white supremacy. Unless we all awaken to the suffering and harm created by this system we will be silently compliant. White people comply by upholding or resigning themselves to the status quo. People of color comply by internalizing a sense of inferiority and shame that compels them to protect and please white people, and support the status quo.

I will not apologize for offending you. Instead, I welcome you to our club. You have been awakened to the pain of white supremacy. Now what will you do with this awakening?

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I woke up early this morning to hit the road with my thumb in the air. I knew I needed to give myself a good hour at least to get from Kapaa to Kalaheo on the island of Kaua'i. The buses are on weekend schedule, meaning they run every 2 hours instead of hourly. My only hope to arrive on time for 8am yoga class was to hitchhike.

Talk about making yourself vulnerable. I'm almost 50 years old for God's sake. But not a rental car to be found until Monday. After all, we're on an island. When car rental agencies sell out, they sell out. It's not like they can drive them in from another county.

I tried raising my hand boldly at head level, walking backwards. I tried a milder shoulder height gesture. I tried walking sideways instead of backwards. I settled on a low thumb, hip level and slightly outward, open heart center toward oncoming traffic, and direct eye contact with drivers. I practiced metta meditation as I walked, wishing every person well. Still, it took me a good 30 minutes until a middle-aged local marble worker in his big red pick-up truck was willing to stop, and then was only able to take me about 1/3 of the distance I needed.

At the bus stop where he dropped me off, folks had been waiting since 6-something in the morning, and here it was, 7:30 already. Once again I put myself at the mercy of the community and stuck my thumb in the air but 8am came and went, with no bus and no stopping cars.

How can I complain, deeply disappointed to miss my morning asana workshop, but hey, it's the tropics, and here I am on a beautiful, breezy, sunny day instead of sub-freezing Wisconsin. Surrendering island-style means not everything goes according to plan. It means you can only get so much done and get so far in one day. It means you have to slow waaaay down.

The pidgin I overheard on the bus was music to my ears, which had grown used to nasal Midwestern accents. I soaked it in like I soaked in the sun to replenish my vitamin D appetite. I picked up a spam musubi, a nori-wrapped roll, in the convenience store and ate it as a rite of passage, re-entering island life, tasting my childhood.

Riding the bus, eating processed convenience store food, talking to locals on the street and in their cars, I shed my privilege, my expectations of efficiency, my pretense of control. I remove my mainland layers of not only clothing, but values of whiteness that I have internalized. I become that little brown girl again that I left in Hawaii in 1975. I sit on the curb and watch the boys in the skate park at the bus stop, talk to the grandmas, eat manapua and crack seed. The bus will come when it comes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Personal Mission Statement

I am here on the planet to heal myself on every level of being, so that I can encourage and inspire others to heal themselves. I am here to participate in the healing of my ancestors, my progeny, and members of my communities, as well as communities themselves. I am here to be teacher, student, and collaborator in the process of healing.

In order to fulfill this mission my goals are:
1. To live increasingly independent of societies and livelihoods based on exploitation and oppression of the earth and its people, especially people of color.

2. To live in voluntary simplicity requiring a minimum of earthly resources, while cultivating a sense of inner abundance.

3. To cultivate clarity of consciousness and continually increase my capacity for loving kindness through practices such as yoga, meditation, the arts, and deep conversation.

4. To build healthy communities by participating in cooperatives and other structures free from exploitation and oppression on every level.

5. To live cooperatively with people of color and others committed to healing themselves and their communities, sharing resources, inspiration, and healing practices. These resources may include time, energy, space, food, and knowledge.

6. To strengthen cooperative communities by practicing clear, compassionate communication through deep listening, and frameworks such as Nonviolent Communication, Circle work, Clearness Committees, and more.