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