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.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

The Freedom Dream

What are the boundaries of the freedom dream?

I hear the bells ringing.

I smell the dough rising.

I feel the rain falling on the dessert.

And then I wake up.

2013_08_09_MLKMOW1 urgency of now

 

The New Olympians: An Earth Day Poem

Miracle Planet,

what have we done?

Allowed our own god Greed

to hold your Future,

which must be

our Future, hostage.

 

And now Greed’s

power has grown.

This god has corrupted

Justice, Industry, and Governance.

 

And we sit, paralyzed

by Greed’s minion  Guilt.

She drives our hand

to make offerings,

obeisance, offer fealty

to the servants of Greed.

 

But what if we reminded

Guilt that she is none

but Anger turned inward?

Instead of paralysis,

Anger could push us to

act, to resist, to vision,

to change.

 

What if we withdrew

our offerings to Guilt

to Greed, and to Destruction?

What if we found

new gods to worship?

 

What if our Future

was released

from bondage,

wounds healed?

What wonders

could she weave

on this Miracle Planet?

And do we have

the courage

to set her free?

———————————————————————————–

NaPoWriMo 2013: Day 22

What Darkness compels the heart?

Not sure what to say.

Tears well unbidden.

What Darkness compels the heart:

“Destroy”.

————————————————————

NaPoWriMo 2013:  Day 15

Evolution of a Freedom Fighter

I. Victim Blaming

i can’t believe

i can’t believe this

i can’t believe this is happening

why is this happening to me?

what did i do?

what did i do wrong?

i must have done something wrong

II.  Bystander Intervention

i saw something

i saw something

i saw something bad

something bad

something bad happened

something, something, something

not right

why is he doing that?

someone should help.

someone should help.

I should help.

I should do something.

I should say something.

I should tell him to stop.

“STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!”

Other voices join me.

“HEY YOU, STOP!”

He stopped.

I did it.

We did it.

III. Consciousness Raising

why did this happen to us?

why did this happen to US?

what did we do wrong?

what could we have done wrong?

We did not do something wrong!

What happened was wrong.

How did it happen?

We will find out.

IV. More Consciousness Raising

what can i do?

i can’t do it alone?

what can we do?

they have the power.

do they have the power?

they have the power because

we give them the power

we give them the power so

we are the power

they do not have the power

unless we give it to them

V.  Social Change

We will remember that we give the power.

We will convince others to see this truth.

We will remind them that we have the power.

We will withdraw our consent to be ruled.

We will rewrite the history they tell.

We will remove our support for their ways.

We will refuse to fulfill their demands.

We will insert ourselves into their plans.

We will undo the so called “done deals”

We will create our own means to the end.

We are the power.

We are the power.

We are the power.

We Will be FREE.

———————————————————————————————————–

NaPoWriMo  2013: Day 12

2013: Beyond Apocalypse

All the prophecies said end days. Which means, this is the beginning.  2013 will be the first year of my life.
This is the beginning.

I have never been here before. Never known this me. Never seen her dance on this New Years Eve, heart sore from loss, yearning, grabbing, getting, all the stretching of self that happened in 2012.

I have never been here before. Never fought this battle, never pulled up my boots and said,  “I will beat back the rising tides, I will find ways to end war, I will take on the impossible tasks: stable climate, peaceful humans, healthy world.”

This is the beginning.

I have never been this before. Shaper of humans. Child grower.  Safe harbor.  The one who holds tight while she lets go.  Home Maker.  Goddess.

This is the beginning.

For many people, apocalypse came in 2012 as predicted.
Hellfire. Plagues. Evil darkening the skies. Shattered world.
A moment of silence for all who suffered.

Now break the silence. Shake the mountains. Tear the skies
With your voice. With your spirit. With your ever rising souls.
Break through this apocalypse. The new world wants you.
To come.
Build.
The Beyond.

We voted

We voted for the Dreamers, and the Same-sex lovers, and the 99%. We voted for the unions, and the aging baby boomers, and the guy on the street who sleeps on vents. We voted for shattered glass, and equal pay. We voted for ourselves.

We voted because they thought we wouldn’t, and because we knew we had to. We voted because our bodies were being debated and our voices were being ignored. We voted so teachers can teach and students can learn. We voted to take care of each other.  We voted to be able to take care of ourselves.

We voted for soldiers to begin the healing. We voted for roads, and bridges, and pipes.

We voted because the lines were long and our patience was running short. We voted in waves of gold, and brown, and  pink until day turned to night.  We voted after polls were closed.

We voted because we know there are more superstorms to come. 

We voted in fear. We voted in hope. 

We voted. We voted. We voted.

 

 

I ride the Regional Rail

I ride the Regional Rail to work and back again, from outside to in, Center City to Marcus Hook, where the oil refinery shoots plumes of orange flame and the ladies at the diner call me hon. I watch the signs – Eddystone, Crum Lyn, “The Gas Light”.  A worn billboard, paint curled, letters faded, stands tall midway. I can just make out the hopeful plug:

“Visit our suburban city, and see what’s new in Glenolden!”

The first time I saw it, I laughed.  But the joke is too old, and too sad to be funny.  The lost luster of the suburban dream reminds me that I am not as young as I used to be.

I ride the Regional Rail from my hometown, seeing it with my 36 years old, consciousness-raised, social-science eyes.  The Chester Transportation Center speaks its truth to me.  Promises broken,  people unmade, climbing too many stairs just to wait for a train to somewhere else. University City still ten stops away.

I ride the Regional Rail to work, from outside to in,  Marcus Hook to Center City, where the fountain at LOVE park shoots plumes of purple water and the lady at the chinese food truck knows I need more hot sauce.  The sky scrapers rise up, the murals sing praise songs, and I am young once again. My pulse quickens with the beating heart of the city until it’s time to ride the Rail again.

 

 

 

I drew two pictures

I drew two pictures, just like the book suggested.  I was home alone, beads of sweat pooling in the crease between my thighs and the swell of my baby-filled belly.   The crayola box was covered in a thin layer of  dust.  I selected brown and red and peach and yellow, blue and gold and pink.  I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply.

Fear: I drew a dark, windowless room. I drew myself lying on a bed. My big, brown bulging form was strapped down by black wires and cords. I drew two women near me and colored their  faces peach and gave them long blond hair.  I drew word bubbles rising from their mouths. “#*?! ”  they shouted.  On my right calf muscle I drew a large red X.

Hope:  I drew myself sitting up in bed and my husband Jon next to me.  I drew a brown-skinned woman smiling nearby.  I drew a river flowing out from between my legs and a small brown baby floating atop.  In the air above the baby, I drew a star.

A few weeks later:  I sat up on a delivery room bed at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago and  pushed.  The room was bright.   I closed my eyes and went inside myself.  I sensed the people in the room: my husband, my blond nurse, and my friend Sandhya.  My right leg spasmed and I shouted incoherent commands to this team of supporters. “You!”  I pointed frantically towards no one with my eyes closed. “Rub my leg! Up! No, down!  Left. More left.  No. Outside!!”  I felt hands on my leg, easing the cramp into a dull ache.

The nurse’s voice warned me of the next coming wave.  “Focus on your bottom!” Words you only hear in a delivery room or at the gym.  I breathed in deeply, standing somewhere inside myself in the dark, wondering who this child would be. “Do you want to feel the head?”  I reached down between my legs and felt a patch of hard skull covered by soft hair no bigger than a quarter. I wondered why my baby’s head was so very tiny.  I imagined I was pushing out a small doll. It seemed very doable.

The doctor appeared between my legs.  “Hi Aarati, I am Dr. Starr. Your baby is almost here.  Let’s get another good push.” I pushed my soul against hers, willing her into the world. I felt a sudden gush, a rush, and thrust myself against myself. “Wow! That’s a lot of water! Here she comes!”

Asha. Hope.  Kimberly. From the meadow of the royal forest.  The hope from the meadow of the royal forest was born.  All hail brown-skinned, all hail pink-skinned.  Born on water and under a star.  She is here, she is here, she is here!

 

 

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