Category Archives: Poetry

America: The Alien

Dear America:

For your every act of violence,
I will violate your unjust laws in my sleep,
live beyond my dreams,
love beyond your means,
cherish and celebrate life,
defy your arbitrary categories,
forgive but never forget.

After all is said and done,
when you send us to the gallows,
shoot us in encounters,
deport us to faraway lands away from our families,
I may not always win,
but you will always lose.

Because I have a heart that beats ever so strongly with love, kindness and compassion for everything that lives and breathes. And you clearly don’t.

Maybe we should be asking for your papers.

Love,
Prerna.

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Acceptance

I’m sure no one wants to be tortured with my mediocre poetry but there is one on “Acceptance” in the latest issue of Courageous Creativity, a zine produced by a friend(?) of a friend.

From the Courageous Creativity website:

Through this zine we present stories of courage and creativity sourced from people like you and me, living, working, being courageously creative and changing themselves and others in our community. Our writers come from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life – they are small business owners, state employees, corporate CEOs, non-profit founders and volunteers, professionals, scientists, sociologists, artists, activists, mothers and fathers, and friends.

Do consider subscribing via email and maybe even ordering some hard copies of issues.

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“That Woman Who Comes to Clean”

That woman who comes to clean
What do you know about her?
She’s just the woman who enters your office after hours
Leaving your office nice and clean for the next business day.

That woman who comes to clean
Washes your urinals and toilets
Dusts your tables and desks
Vacuums your rugs and carpets
Mops your floors and tiles
Throws away your waste and garbage
Recycles your empty cans and bottles.

That woman who comes to clean
Her torn hands tremble with age
Her weary eyes reflect a deep pain
Her shoulders slump with the weight
of responsibilities too huge for her to handle
Her bones ache from the laborious tasks
Her breath comes out in short spurts
She sneezes and wheezes
The toxic smell of cleaning chemicals
constantly invade her nostrils.

That woman who comes to clean
She works diligently without complaints, without asking for a pay raise.
Hands you a “Thank You” note and a bottle of wine during the holidays,
Hoping you would not notice how she has slowed down over the years,
Fearing that you may take advantage of the fact that she is a woman
working in dark and dangerous places after hours,
Worrying about whether you would fire her when you find out how ill she is,
Praying that you would just let her keep her job.

That woman who comes to clean
She drives a pickup truck
from one door to the next
making your living environment
clean and habitable
for next to nothing in return.

That woman who comes to clean
She’s my mother.

I’m supposed to be brushing up on legal writing samples for job interviews this week but I had to get this out after someone referred to my mom as “the woman who comes to clean” in an email. I hope everyone takes the time to get to know their maids, janitors and other service-workers and treat them like human beings who deserve respect beyond “the woman who comes to clean.”

For more, read Angy’s Immigrant Mani Pedi.

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Adjustments

“Do you not know how to adjust?”

I often wonder why we are compelled to adjust to the structures and institutions around us rather than have them adjust to our needs. It’s hard — if not impossible — to adjust things like skin color, sexuality, gender, class, certain disabilities, and sometimes even our immigration status. But we are asked to assimilate and acculturate to fit a certain mold.

Who are we serving when we adjust to the establishment? What are we upholding when we acclimate to poor living conditions, lack of basic human rights, a gentrified, hierarchical and capitalist society that is violent to each and every part of our existence?

According to my brilliant chiropractor, my foot pain is the the least of my problems. Everything from my neck to the balls of my feet are out of order. There’s physical trauma and injury to several body parts. Accidents. Bad exercising habits. Too much of something and too little of something else. Life. It’s a physical manifestation of how things around me are always falling apart and how my body is reacting to keeping everything together.

I am out of order. One leg shorter than the other with a pelvis that is tilted up right. My spine doesn’t fall in line. Nerves pinched so they don’t feel pain. Joints clicking loudly and popping out. Feedback mechanisms distorted and dis-functioning. I find it so amusing that even my body has such a rebellious spirit.

There’s beauty in functioning perfectly — functioning in well-behaved, mechanized, controlled, and contrived ways that are expected of us in a capitalist society. But it is so much more beautiful to fall completely apart and not serve any order or ordering. Of course it is going to hurt. They will make sure of it.

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Pain

I was just thinking about the different ways in which we are all hurting. Some of us have chronic aches and pains, others have heart-ache, and still more of us are so numb that we cannot say where and how it hurts. And we all deal with it differently.

late wednesday evening

somewhere in san francisco

sipping sweet refined wine,

chugging dark bitter beer,

tasting margarita cocktails

smoking cigarettes like blunts,

intoxicated by pink nail-polish fumes,

a distant pained voice filters through

conversations half-remembered, half-forgotten

it’s the unspoken words that i remember

a clouded mind cannot relay

a heart, no longer numb wants you

wants you us to be more than just okay

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that I don’t feel pain. I don’t know how to talk about it. I can’t tell you what and where it hurts. It shoots from 0 to 8 and then back down to 0 before I know it. Right now, I’m okay.

Just keep breathing.

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Plantar fasciitis

Every day is an exercise in walking on shattered glass. Today was much worse.

My feet cannot carry my growing weight. That may or may not be a metaphor.

My heels are constantly throbbing. Sometimes the pain is more intense than other times.

Plantar fasciitis renders me immobile.
It strikes at the very core of my existence.

I am restless. I always have to keep moving forward. If I am on a bus or train and it stops moving, I try to get out. If there is a traffic jam, I try to find another way forward instead of sitting around and waiting for it to clear up. I’ll jump off a bridge and swim if I need to get to where I need to go. And I’d rather break down a wall in my way than negotiate with it.

I don’t know how to sit still and wait.

Stillness scares me; Limbo is petrifying.
The mind wanders when the body cannot move, wandering into a deep dark black hole,
A phantom zone.

I feel the most pain when I am still.

Movement is my savior. To move is to agitate,
to rouse, to stir, to trigger, to migrate.

I lost the ability to run last year.

I can’t walk right now,
so I will just crawl around.

I will just keep pressing forward.

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Fiji Ghazals and Minority Writers

Memory
a process of articulating identity,
a substance begging inquiry
a practice of queer desires subjugated as perverse,
an action by the marginal migrant to challenge the dominant universe,
an intervention in the national historical archive

Herstory:

She swings to and fro: identity to icon, and back. Her lies.
She pumps her feet caste to caste blue skying with friends.

Girmitya, a noble mask of oneself, the collective memory.
The other portrait a tracery, the overseer’s whips’ lines: doubts, fears.

I was eleven when I got married and came here. In Nasavu, I stayed
for three or four years. Sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I did not.

I have to stay with my husband even if I have difficulties,
I rati, rati. I had a baby girl, a child—I had them every three years.

Language? the teacher says, “the lingua franca here is Fiji-Hindi
We try for a coherent discourse”. She says that. We call it Fiji-bat.

— Kuldip Gill

Dr. Kuldip Gill was a Sikh-Indian poet who did her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia as a mature student, graduating at the age of 54 in 1988. She did her anthropology field work in examining health care practices of Fiji-Indian women and she was a vocal immigrant rights advocate.

I’m usually not receptive to academics from India(!) writing poetry about the experiences of Fiji-Indians in the indenture system. I would much rather hear the voices of those who actually experienced the pain and trauma of 20th century slavery but I also appreciate Dr. Gill and what she has to say about minority writers and silencing from both the dominant culture and our own communities:

The anxieties that minority writers feel as authors are sometimes created by the values and beliefs of readers in their own ethnic or religious group, and not just by the dominant group in the societies they have migrated to. Freedom of expression doesn’t necessarily mean that writers can write anything they like, oblivious to the undercurrents that exist within the social, political and cultural life of their ethnicity. Most writers are aware that their work might offend some people some of the time, but for minority writers, the struggle between poetic self-expression and self-silencing has had, and continues to have, cultural implications for many of us. My socialization as a woman raised in the Sikh culture has made me acutely conscious of what I say, or write. When I was a child, my mother’s frown, her stare of disbelief if I said something she didn’t approve of or if I talked too much, or my father’s frown—all silenced me. At times my parents showed me what not to do by negative example; relating a story of someone else’s daughter who wasn’t very wise, and what happened to her, was usually very instructive. My parents taught me what many other women learn: the fine art of self-silencing. Much later, in academia, that upbringing, along with the demands of “objective” western science, kept me from writing anything of a personal or emotional nature. It wasn’t until I began to write poetry that I changed my practice to one where freedom of personal emotional expression became important to me and my work.

She’s right — the silencing starts early in our homes and it continues throughout much of our lives. We have to work actively against self-censorship and aim to write as freely as possible. You aren’t any less South Asian if your characters are only white and not any less American if you only like watching Bollywood movies.

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