New Year’s Eve

What happened in the old year?
Did the pieces fall apart?
Did we stretch until we lost control?
Did we crush our broken hearts?

Did we wrong a loved one? Break a vow?
Did we rage with all our might?

Did we miss our callings?
Did we watch them falling?
Excuse ourselves from the fight?

I wish for us this New Year
not happiness, not fun.
No prosperity, or success.
Just do what must be done.

My wish for us is mending,
I hope that we will toil.
Dig deep into our darkness,
pick rocks out from the soil.

Find seeds we thought were dying.
Our gifts still left to give.

I wish just this on New Year’s Eve:
the strength it takes to live.

Root medicine 2: Brothers

Cousin brothers
Forever children in my eyes,
these grown men
walk with me
into my self.

We talk
of love and fear
of mushrooms and Messiahs
We drink fresh fruit cocktails.
and wander the wounds
of each one’s hearts.

We build
a canopy to cover
the wearying
worrying press
into the jungles
of time, and mind,
and mothering, and
lovering,and grief.

My brothers stand guard
at the fountain gates.
While I weave nets of
flowering vines
to catch their falls.

We stay connected
in spite of all
that divides us.

Love and fear
Love and fear
Love and fear
brothers of my heart.

Root medicine 1

Undeveloped rolls of film, under my bed. Faces emerge from the liquid dark. Memories I forgot I had remember me. Jet lag pushes now into the past, the past into the now. I am here. India rising indeed.

The children are with me this time. Where did they come from? The seven years between this visit and the last are soft drinks fizzing and cutting the sweet scented jolt of whiskey I have been longing for. The India I have been keeping in my heart looks back at the real self she is the reflection of, and is pleased, “The years have been good to you.”

3am silence has begun to crumble as four year old and six year old tummies remember that it’s dinner time half a world away. As I pad quietly into foreign yet familiar kitchen to forage for pre-dawn here/evening there sustenance, memories of awakenings past prickle across my brow. I used to keep quiet, tell no one, wake no one, brain whirling, stomach howling, when it was I who was American grandchild come home. No close in age sibling to share my ravenous insomnia.

Already this is different for them, because they have each other. And because I am here. I know what this is like, the fear–love pull of roots on far flung branchlets. They are emboldened because I am here to anchor. Already they have giggled, snuggled, checkered, ribboned, and serenaded their ways into my Indian family’s loving embrace. Fed by hand, carried on tall uncle shoulders-newly anointed Prince and Princess.

Whether or not they remember, they will never forget. I never did.

He Feeds Her

He loves his babies. Always has. His hands perfect for holding small heads. His long flat chest a place to rest and hear the thump-tha- thump just like it was in mommy’s tummy.

I hated breastfeeding. Never enough milk. What did come was so often vomited back onto those bags I lugged heavily on my frame. She’d scream with acid pain and empty belly.

He’d soothe her patiently.  Rocking, and shushing and swaying. Cooing, and patting, and humming.  Loving her with every inch of himself.  She’d sleep fitfully. Reluctantly convinced into rest.

Midnight feedings were hazy nightmares. He wanted to help.  But the best milk was in me.

Breast is best. Breast is best.  Breasts are beasts. Breasts are beasts.

After each feeding, I’d wake him, saying, “Take her.  I can’t do this anymore.”  He’d rouse himself. Sweep her up in the darkness. Pour sweet nectar into her ears.

Delirium twisted mother’s milk into mother’s bane.  But the shame, the shame seemed worse than this.  The shame and the failure:

A stay-at-home mom who does not breast feed.

Unspoken damnation whispered into my mind’s eye. “You’re a bad mother. Selfish. Weak. She will suffer forever. It’s all your fault.”

He said, “You don’t have to. It’s OK.  Don’t listen. I love you. You’re good. You’re good.”

No. You’re good. I am bad.

He said, “I want to help. Let me help. Let me feed her. You can rest. You can sleep. No more pumping. No more soreness. Let me help.”

Every day for months, we three danced this way.  And I felt myself pushing away from the child so waited for. Now, so hungry, always so hungry.

And me with nothing left to give.

So I let him help.  Knowing I was bad. She would suffer. He would leave me.  All good things, as they say, would come to an end.

But instead.

When the clock struck 10 I’d be fast asleep. A night-owl, he stayed up for the midnight feed.  And I, the early bird, took the 4 am, happy to be with my girl.

So rested, body mine, no pumping, no resentment.  Just the everyday trials of new parenthood – shared equally by two.

My burden had lifted.  And his was increased? Would his baby love stay so strong in the face of the feeds?

When I asked,  he said, “You don’t understand. You have given me a gift.”

“I hold her in my arms, bottle in hand, and she looks at me.  I see in her eyes something different, something new, something real.”

“‘You feed me.’ she says, without words.”

“I am her father, and I feed her. Don’t you see? We men are not supposed to feed. But I want to feed her. I need to feed her.”

He feeds her. To this day, he feeds her.  And she knows it.

And we are all free.

 

 

 

Between the Bridges

I live between Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin.

Bridges between old world, and new.

between keystone and garden,

between river sharks and eagles,

between blight, and revitalization. 

 

They came after the ferries, but before the regional rail. 

These bridges that sing summer songs to city souls.

These bridges that bring berries and workers.

These bridges of commerce, and adventure, and lights.

These bridges that breathe life into and out of my home.

 

One writes the leaves of grass. 

The other reaches for lightening. 

And I live in between. 

 

Between the times. 

Between the states. 

Solid running over liquid.

 

We live between the bridges.

Walt Whitman,

Ben Franklin,

and me. 

My Song

This is not  a song for you.

I sing for you all the time.

Praises. Silly phrases.

Anything in rhyme.

 

But this verse has no purpose,

no reason to be.

This is not a lullaby.

I just wrote it for me.

 

This is not a chant for justice.

This is not a call for peace.

No demands, or reprimands.

Tonight nothing has to cease.

 

Tonight I am the only one,

who needs to hear the song.

This is not a chant for justice.

You don’t have to sing a along.

 

This is not a love song.

You know I love you so.

Heart’s desire, lit my fire

so many years ago.

 

Maybe I’l let you hear the tune.

But the words belong to me.

This is not a love song.

And this is not a chant for justice.

Oh and this is not a lullaby.

I just wrote it for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bringing our whole selves into the movement to end the climate crisis

** Framing speech I gave at the April 2014 Convergence of local 350 leaders working in their towns, cities, and states to end the climate crisis. 

I want to bring my whole self into this room.

  • I am the great-great grand-daughter of villagers from a rural, Tamil-speaking, Hindu people
  • I am the great-grand daughter of a people colonized by profit-seeking, English-speaking, pale-skinned, Christian, monarchists from thousands of miles away.
  • I am the granddaughter of civil servants whose families survived, then profited by taking on the values, language and practice of their British rulers.
  • I am the daughter of a father born a few years after Indian Independence, who was told by his parents, “we should speak English in this house.”
  • I am the daughter of a mother who was one of a few Hindu students allowed to attend a prestigious Christian Medical college in independent India.
  • I am the child who immigrated with her parents to the United States as a baby.  I am the naturalized citizen.
  • I am the child of a doctor and an engineer. I am comfortably middle class.
  • I am a woman.
  • I am a college educated person.
  • I am an anti-oppression educator and an activist for women’s rights and racial justice.
  • I am a woman of color.
  • I am a woman married to a man.
  • I am a brown-skinned woman married to a white skinned man.
  • I am the mother of two kids under age 6.
  • I am an activist working to end the climate crisis

I have brought my whole self into this room with you because we all share a basic goal: the end of the climate crisis.

We have the same basic analysis;

1.  the fossil fuel industry is the main driver of this crisis. We must stop them.

2. Alternate forms of energy exist that do not contribute to global warming. We should use them.

But just as I bring my whole self into this room, I also bring my questions:

Why do we as a global society allow the fossil fuel industry and other corporate and state powers to put profits before people?

This question keeps me up at night. Because when we try to answer this question, we know that the answer lies in 500 years of history we cannot ignore.

No.  We must bring our whole selves into this room.

In the 15th century the Kings and Queens of Europe sent their people to systematically colonize the non-Christian lands;

They prioritized power and profits for the kingdoms of Europe over the sovereignty, and survival of indigenous people, nation-states, and their lands.

In order to increase and maintain their power they exploited the lands, natural resources, and labor of the people they encountered.

They silenced those who stood in the way of this profit. They massacred tribes, enslaved whole villages, indentured workers, discounted local values, beliefs and practices and replaced them by force with their own.

But perhaps the most clever thing they did was this:

They rewarded those who complied by minimally sharing profits and offering security. And those who actively brought profits in were granted riches, safety, and access to power.

They rewarded those who complied…and we are still being rewarded, or privileged simply because we were born into the middle/upper class, simply because of our European ancestry, simply because we are culturally American.

We have been taught to believe that our ideas are good, our methods are rational, are causes are just.

And now we are all here in this room. A group of good, rational people, with a just cause:  shutting down the fossil fuel industry, and ending the climate crisis. But who are we in this room? And who is missing?

I bring myself into this room as a person who has internalized the values of a profit-driven colonialist culture.

****

Around the world people who rely on the land, natural resources and on their own physical labor for their daily survival are most often Black and Brown people, indigenous people, and migrants.

When their ancestors attempted to resist colonization and the unending drive for more profit, more growth, they were massacred, enslaved, indentured, exploited, dehumanized, and objectified.

Today the great-great grandchildren of those resisters carry that trauma within them and face the 21 century colonial weapons being wielded daily:  malnourished and poisoned bodies, crumbling neighborhoods, children trying to learn in dysfunctional schools, hostile law enforcement, and decimation by incarceration.

In order to survive, they too have often been minimally rewarded for compliance.

Compliance has often meant working in service of profit for the wealthy, in the very industries we are trying to dismantle.  Coal mining, oil-refining, pipeline laying.

Knowing this, are we still good? Are we still reasonable?  Are we still just?

If we want to end the climate crisis, is it enough to end our reliance on fossil fuels?  If the” profit before people and land mandate has gotten us to where we are right now, what must we do differently?

******

We do not have to answer this question by ourselves. In fact, we cannot.

Many groups led by people who work the land, black and brown people, indigenous people, and migrants are finding ways to resist the fossil fuel industry, AND prioritize the people and the land.  Some refer to this work as “THE JUST TRANSITION’. Others may think in terms of building the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

I bring myself into this room as a humble student of those groups working toward a Just Transition.  Groups working for more triple bottom line approaches: Groups like the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Green Jobs Movement, and Idle No More.

I am asking you now to bring your whole selves into this room and into this work. To consider becoming a student like of those who have been traditionally outside of the environmental movement.

As you strategize, organize, and mobilize, I ask that you consider the following:

1. How can we prioritize those who rely on the land, natural resources, and their own physical labor to survive?

2. How can we prioritize the voices of those who have been silenced?

3. Who is missing from our strategizing, our organizing, our mobilizing? Why?

4. How do we begin?

 

 

 

 

How will we save the planet? (aka We Didn’t Start the Fire 2.0)

Hydroponic, symbiotic, solar-powered farmings fun.

How can someone save the planet when she lacks a green thumb?

Loca-voring, and divesting, raising chickens cage free.

Walking, sailing, cargo biking, canning fruit straight from the tree.

 

How will we save the planet?

When it’s all so crazy

and I feel so lazy.

How will we save the planet?

There’s so much to learn

meanwhile the planet’s burnin’

 

Wind turbines, electric cars, siphon power from the stars

How will I survive if I can’t get my daily candy bars?

Building bunkers, keeping bees, local living economies

Crop rotating, fertilizing, don’t forget the heirloom seeds.

 

How will we save the planet?

When it’s all so crazy

and I feel so lazy.

How will we save the planet?

There’s so much to learn

meanwhile the planet’s burnin’

 

How will we save the planet?

I’m sure she’ll keep turning,

But we’ll all be burning.

How will we save the planet?

I can’t tell who’s winning

and the world keeps spinning.

 

Dark Daughter Questions

When you die

will you be burned?

(Ummm.)

or buried?

(Uhhh.)

or rise up to the gods?

(What do you think?)

Will I be able to hug you?

(Yes. )

Do you know

what it means

to leave people behind?

(I do. I do.)

When Bube died 

did she go up with the gods?

(I like to think she’s up there looking after you.)

Sometimes,

when I am in time out

I talk to her.

(What does she say?)

She says,

“Your mother and father

are the ones

who chose to put you in time out.”

(Thanks alot, Grandma. Thanks alot.)

My favorite me

I was six.

Two long braids.

Beaded head band,

arcing over black hair.

Sun darkened skin,

kissed with light.

And the prettiest dress.

Not too big to be carried.

Small enough to avoid responsibility.

But just big enough to feel free.

My favorite me.

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