POEM: The Heart Is A Grenade

They say, take care of your heart. Don’t just let anyone in.
It’s a precious thing, a treasure, a jewel, a pomegranate seed
Ready to burst, plump full of sweet tender nothings, all around
This hard little bit. Some people eat it, some people spit it out.

I say, if you’ve got a good thing, why not share it?
Mm, no. If you’ve got a thing, why not share it?
They can handle it, they eat it. And it’s a part of them.
They can’t, they spit it out. You find someone else.

I don’t want to be safe.
I don’t want to be afraid.
You tore me apart and you broke my heart.

And someone came along and picked me up
And they ate
And they delighted.

POEM: A dozen ditties

A dozen ditties,
A dish of calla lilies
White death on a day of joy, they confound
And do nothing to dispel this spell of disquiet that settles
Like a lone crow clung on a birch tree.

The shuddering waves
Wash over wash over wash over
Me. Whispers of a song
Glint in the wind.
I taste salt.

Puzzling

Are we all just puzzle pieces waiting to be put in our proper places?

I was working on a puzzle last night. Sometimes, I’d pick up a piece and, like magic, it just fit perfectly the first place I tried to put it in. It felt like a small miracle.

A good friend from university married a guy that had been living and working in Myanmar. Their family was on vacation in Australia last year when borders closed and they’ve been stranded in Australia for over a year now. They’d much rather be in Myanmar, even with everything going on. Since the military coup and the Civil Disobedience Movement started about a month ago, they have been posting about the CDM and doing whatever they can to amplify the voices of peaceful protestors. They had set up a Zoom call for interested parties overseas to meet a protestor and hear stories from the frontlines. I wasn’t able to make it, but I got a hold of the recording and listened as I puzzled.

I had so many thoughts as I was puzzling. May these writings come into some sort of cohesiveness.

Dozens of young people shot and killed by military. Officers stealing pots of biryani from shopkeepers while peaceful protesters set up lost-and-found stations for phones and shoes left behind as protestors flee for their lives in the wake of gun spray. Local businesses offering free food and water to protestors. Kidnapped young people being held for ransom by military officers and pleading with their parents not to give in to their captors, simply asking for the lawyers who have given up their time for free. Roads to embassies blocked so that protestors cannot go where they would undoubtedly be protected by the mere hope of foreign eyes. Pictures of military leaders pasted on pavement as creative barricades against soldiers because to step on a picture of someone is the ultimate insult. Neighbouring countries allying together over milk tea, the Milk Tea Alliance. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram shut down; influencers who post about democracy put on lists for arrest; the Internet shut down every night from 1AM to 9AM; and people taken away under the cover of night. The people do not sleep.

Myanmar is a country of many peoples, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and religions, usually so disparate. Yet in the face of this, people of all walks of life have come together unanimously to decry the military coup. People are publicly apologizing for the prejudice and bigotry they have shown in the past to the Rohingya, having bore the cost now of such pain and evil. When all the puzzle pieces have already come together like this, what more is needed?

God. I wonder it isn’t a blessing that they have been stuck in Australia as they would certainly be out there with their friends and chosen family. Their two little girls, courageous and unafraid, what might happen to them? A blessing too that they are out so they can get word out.

As my friends post and share, I force myself to watch. I listened to this Myanmar woman’s stories. How incredibly heartbreaking. I sent a form letter to my representative and to my foreign affairs minister; my representative of the opposition party wrote back, saying they couldn’t do anything other than push the government to take action.

What does my looking do? Bearing witness? Is there any value in this?

I have a lot going on these weeks, and feel angry with myself that I cannot bear to look any longer. What privilege to be able to say, I need to turn away for a while. I dare not say it though. At the end of the Zoom meeting, an American said to my friends, thank you for setting up these meetings; it’s good to keep it in front of us, to help us to remember. For what purpose? My heart cannot hold any more. Don’t be mistaken. I have a heart; I feel for Myanmar. But I feel so exhausted and with what? Trying to rebuild my life in my passport country. A freedom I have, with no barrier except my ability to talk myself up.

As my friends long to go to their chosen home, I’ve been brought to my forgotten home and, now for unforeseen circumstances, have decided not to return. I thought I was one of those people who would stay, and persevere, and love with every fibre of my being, until every cell disintegrated. But it turns out I can’t.

When I lived in Southeast Asia, my friends and I went through a puzzling phase. Once, we invited our local friends to come over and we worked a bit on the puzzle together. Puzzles are not a known hobby and our friend would take a piece, put it in a spot, shake her head, pick up another piece, put it in the same spot, shake her head, and so on. My small miracle didn’t materialize for her, not even once. At the time, it was kind of funny. We didn’t make fun of her, but our logically-educated minds could see what folly was in such a strategy. She told us she wasn’t enjoying herself, she couldn’t do it, she’d never done it before, and she expressed much awe over our telling her we’d recently finished a one-thousand-piece puzzle. We were good friends, or she wouldn’t have said those things out loud. I wonder what she was thinking inside. What folly, perhaps, to spend an entirely good afternoon doing something that had no purpose or value, made no money, didn’t put food in anyone’s mouth, didn’t help a soul. How foreigners could spend so much time closed up inside on something so pointless, and yet not know how to clean a fish, or sweep out their front yard, or sit and talk with the neighbours, not know how to be a human being.

When I told a friend and mentor I was thinking of leaving, or rather, of not returning, she wrote back and said, is it maybe that you have burnout?

I don’t doubt it.

I don’t fool myself thinking only we foreigners are susceptible to burnout. Sometimes I wonder how they didn’t come up with the term themselves, what with the daily chores alone. I wonder how long these young Myanmar people will be able to bear daily protests. And in the same vein, how long these poorly paid soldiers will be willing to kill their brothers and sisters for pennies. A battle to the end.

To die alive or to live a corpse, there is no choice. But the hours and days before the end, hoping for an alternative: to live free and fully; can you bear it?

Our friends may not understand fully why we leave. Sometimes we ourselves don’t. But I’m certain they will not laugh. They understand what it means to face options that have no choosing, choices that should not be given the dignity of consideration.

Sometimes we pick ourselves up and almost miraculously fit just right the very first place we land. Sometimes we pick up, put down, shake our heads, and pick back up again and again, the proper place ever elusive. Oh, for the miracle of fitting just right. But moreso, the miracle of movement.

The Questions That Plague Us

Let our doubts lead us into deeper intimacy with the divine, as we tell the truth of the questions that plague us.

@blackliturgies

What am I supposed to do then?

It’s as if, all my life I’ve had this nose that knows no sense, and one day, wake to the scent of tea brewing, sun-kissed sheets fresh from yesterday’s wash, apple blossom lingering on my nape from last night’s bath. Do you ask me to turn away?

What shall I do then?

It’s as if, all my life I’ve been sitting in Plato’s cave, back turned against the light, taken in with shadows attempting at joie, silent and flat against a dank wall, and one day, at the morning call of the lark, turn toward the light and see the colours of every rainbow, a kaleidoscope every hue calling my name. And it is a mirror held up to my soul. I don’t know their names yet, but how do I turn away when the unnamed see me and name me?

What then?

It’s as if, all my life, I’ve been unpacking dolls, this is who I am: daughter, sister, friend, bookworm, student, possibly writer, hopefully poet, definitely weird, awkward, and shy, I hold space for their souls and now open to find that being indoors each one dwells dwells too in me—strong, worthy, beautiful it rings. Are these limbs, these eyes still yours? Are they still lovely to you? Or do you turn away?

How now?

To face the light and the essence of who I am takes a courage I do not know that I possess. To awaken to the beauty and keep it close seems a pity. I want to be seen beautiful. But what if my light assaults your senses, and you cannot see my beauty? What if I cannot stand under your scrutiny?

Well?

This fire, it burns within me. But the fire, it is a dangerous thing.


Note: I’m open to comments, suggestions for improvement, etc.

BOOK REVIEW: Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Cover of Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta, published by House of Anansi Press

It’s February, which is Black History Month! Yesterday was also I Read Canadian Day. So, here is Zalika Reid-Benta’s OwnVoices debut collection of short stories about Kara, and her family, Jamaican-Canadians who live in Little Jamaica in Toronto, Ontario.

Themes: Jamaican-Canadians, belonging, family, strained relationships, peer pressure, growing up, growing up Black, moving, fear, striving, immigrant family, rootedness.

“What’s this? Miss Canada gwine fi bust out the patois? Yuh need to stop Ja-fakin’ it, Kara.”

— “Snow Day”

These twelve short stories follow Kara as she grows up, from elementary school through her early university years. We meet her on her first trip to Jamaica. She was born in Canada, “the Canadian” as her relatives in Jamaica and her Jamaican-born friends in Canada call her: delicate, soft, quiet. She sees the head of a butchered pig in her aunt’s freezer and is traumatized, but when she goes back to Canada, she boasts to the white children about being the one to kill the pig, claiming as fame her exoticism. Straddling two worlds so distinct from each other, she is made fun of on both sides, and when those two worlds fold in on themselves—that is, when her mother is called to school about her stories—she is once again left on the outside.

“What is your, like, beef or whatever with fun?” said Hannah.

“Are you listening to me? You may go to their school but you cannot afford to act like them. You have to be better than this, Kara.” There was a tremor in her voice, a quiver I rarely heard. It wasn’t anger and it wasn’t sadness. It was something different, something she never meant for me to notice. Fear.

— “Drunk”

Kara struggles throughout childhood and adolescence to belong. To her friends, she is no fun; to her mother, she has too much fun. These days, we often hear how dangerous the world is for young Black men, but you feel the fear of Kara’s mother. She cannot afford for any one of them to make mistakes, despite this being the sole purpose of teenagedom. What will the world do with her daughter? And her fear is not unfounded. At 17, she had Kara; the father leaves them soon after. Her mother and father live separate lives, sometimes in the same home, sometimes not. She does not have an easy relationship with either of them. What will the world do to this her daughter?

Twenty minutes into reading, my mother interrupted me, shifting on the couch to look at me from across the room.

“Go to the interview and then we’ll see,” she said.

I paused. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Why are you smiling at me?” she said. “Do your homework.”

— “Standoff”

Kara’s story is a lovely look into Jamaican-Canadian family, life, and society. I loved how unapologetically Zalika wrote in Jamaican patois, Jamaican accent, and also a little bit of French. This exploration of code switching was just as crucial in portraying the emotions and psyche of the characters as anything else. Who can speak patois? Who cannot, and why? Who can, but does not? Who does not, and then does?

The boyfriend got up first and dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the floor, his way of refusing my payment for the movie tickets. I picked it up without a word because I’d already stuffed a twenty-dollar bill in his gym bag when he went to the washroom, anticipating this move.

— “Lovely”

Do yourself a favour and read this. The characters are wonderful. The relationships are fraught, but never veer into soap opera territory. I laughed out loud, by myself, several times.

4 stars.

POEM: Your Fire

To you, my secret keeper

How did you know?
When did you know?
How did it feel? And
What did you feel?
Look, I’m just asking,
I’m not questioning. Tell me—
Won’t you?

Did it feel at last like finding
That missing puzzle piece?
Did your mind toss and turn
Your body thrashing in the
Throes of your own passion?
Did it feel like being a teenager
All over again, finding yourself
In a brave new world,
Heart of darkness colored purple?
Did you order your things just so,
Make yourself odd other ways
Hoping then we wouldn’t notice it when
Your heart got all heavy, heaving
And hanging just so?
Did you surround yourself then
With allies like so that when
Your family turned to the truth,
would see you were not alone, and
If they turned at the truth—that is to say, well, you—
Would see you were already surrounded?
Does it feel, this thing that so frees you
All at once so encapsulates you
All at once so raptures you and
Captures you—this cross:
Do you bear it
And does it bear you?
Please understand, I ain’t questioning you,
I’m just asking, it’s just
I wanna know because
Now that you’ve forged your sword
Into that​ bold and blessed crown—
Won’t you lend me now
Your hammer and your fire.

POEM: I think now in poems

I think now in poems,
None of them very good.
My thoughts measure
Themselves in metre and come
Together in rhyme, and I let them.
Oh, I let them! You don’t yet know
How you affect me. How lovely
It is to be in love again.


It seems my goal to read more poetry in order to infuse my mind with poetry is working. Surround yourself with who and what you want to be and become, so I hear.