of sounds and something else

an immodest refusal

I know the worth in this is small in the grand scheme of things, but because I have a voice, I want to use it – because lately, I have been felt so powerless and tired. Know that I doubt the clarity of my articulation, but proceed anyway. I am tired of toxic doses of cynicism, so take it or leave it.

It is amazing to be alive – to be with others and know we are not alone. But living is difficult without knowing there is love. And if we are to be angry about what happens in the world, I wish this anger to be useful – to not come out of hatred but from love. And what I have learned from my family – biological and chosen – and so many teachers – academic, artistic, personal, vicarious – is that the prerequisite of this is to love and care for ourselves, to be confident. It has been a long learning process. I am still learning. I am learning to count my blessings, but also, slowly, how to articulate what I refuse.

So. I don’t want a world where human lives become numbers. I don’t want a world where we find justification for hurling bombs, crashing planes, destroying homes. I don’t want a world with terror or hatred toward anyone. I don’t want a world where our patriotisms make us blind to humanity. I don’t want to live in a world with antisemitism or Islamophobia. I don’t want a world where religion, becomes justification for any kind of oppression, any kind at all. I don’t want a world where girls are taken away, disappeared or forgotten. I don’t want a world that hates women, queer people, trans people or people of color and tries to make their lives worth any less than anyone else’s. I don’t want a world where some keep others down by pathologizing their existences. I don’t want a world where existence carries a debt. don’t want a world where slavery still exists, where it is helped via our prisons, schools, class divisions and broken justice systems. I don’t want a world where one person or group’s success story becomes the cue that everything is coming up roses. I don’t want a world where money is a right to life. I don’t want a world where migrants are denied refuge in a place that had complicity in the violence that they flee from. I don’t want a world where our children become criminalized from a young age on a basis of their color and/or ethnicity. I don’t want a world where our countries forget the roots of their origins. I don’t want a world where our countries deny immigrants humanity, even after they have proven themselves to be worthy “citizens.” I don’t want a world where anyone dies by the hands of another human being.

I want a world where people have the right to breathe next to each other as people. I want to live with love because it is the most beautiful thing we have — the most beautiful kind of safety. Everyone should have the right to leave this world, knowing that there is joy and love in it.

I want anger to be useful, to come from that love. I don’t want to live in a world with amnesia. If that means living with a heavier step, I would rather do that than go through the planet blind. I know things are complicated, but I would rather live knowing the complications than be complicit, even if my power is so limited.

I don’t know what to do but say this. Maybe if everyone does something small, then it will help. Centuries of history and deep politics work against us. I’ve been feeling down, and yet I am reminding myself there is good here.

OK. Small steps. Time to work.

from Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence

From the translation by Sinan Antoon. It must be quoted at length:

The lotus-eaters did not enchant you with the honey taste of forgetfulness. They safely slipped from their myth while you and your kin entered the labyrinth unprepared. You know exactly what you left behind: a past, not recorded in songs about the new Trojans, of whom nothing is told save what their enemies relate. But they did not kidnap Helen and cause the war. They were kind and peaceful, their only crime was being born on slopes that were compared to the ladders of God. They were courageous without swords, spontaneous without rhetoric, so they were broken before the rolling tanks, displaced and scattered in the wind without losing their faith that one day history’s wound would heal.

So who are you on this journey? A Trojan poet who escaped the massacre in order to tell the story, or a mixture of that and a Greek who lost his way home? The enchantment of myth makes you susceptible to choosing metaphors, so take what fits the rise of song to another end, deep enough for the lost voice of the Trojan victim and for the failure of the Greeks’ victory to restore youth to their warrior, prematurely aged by the yoke of home and road.

Taut, like a string drawn between yesterday and tomorrow, you know all you have lost and left behind. You cannot see what lies ahead clearly. But a horizontal gravity thrusts you into the thick of tomorrow, to an enchanting unknown into an unfinished poem you are about to begin. Then it will take charge of its course, for what is created overpowers its creator, and the newborn overpowers the mother. They called you a dreamer when you said that a Trojan does not surrender. They interpreted your dreams even before you had them. You said: I stepped away in order to be near. They said: This is how the nostalgic speak, do you regret this journey? You said: I do not know, because I am still at the beginning of the road.

You had to choose the margin to know where you stand. The margin is a window looking out on the world. You are neither in it, nor outside it. The margin is a cell without walls. The margin is a personal camera that selects the images it wants from the scene, so that the king is not the king and David’s slingshot is nothing but Goliath’s weapon. Is it true that the first one to write his story will win the land of the story? But writing requires claws to carve into rock.

They called you a dreamer when you drew the boundaries of your dream, which grasped your devotion to remembering your old name that stalks you like a mute shadow. As for me, I went to the streets to chant and bleed, to chant for the fall of pretexts and reasons until I thought I was free, had freed myself, and had atoned for the sins I had not committed. You would look at me from the margin because the distance between us, as you had told me, was a sieve and a mirror. In the evening we met, as usual, and you embraced me and patted my shoulder saying: I will go with you tomorrow, because the margin contemplates but cannot act.

The road rises and falls, undulates, zigzags, extends, and branches off into countless roads that meet back at the beginning. How many times must we start from the beginning? We survived much death. We defeated forgetfulness and you said to me: We survive, but we do not triumph. I said to you: Survival is prey’s potential triumph over the hunter. We persevered and much blood flowed on the coasts and in the deserts. Much more blood than what the name needed for its identity, or what identity needed for its name.

We searched for our national flower and could not find anything better than anemones, which the Canaanites called ‘the lover’s wounds.’ We searched for our national bird and chose the Sunbird, because its resurrection from the ashes was a good omen, and to avoid any confusion with the ‘Phoenician’ brethren. We searched for our national flag and our pan-Arab horizon guided us to the verse that showered the four colors with descriptions contradicting what was being described, but that incited zeal.

And so much blood flowed that tracking blood, our blood, became the enemy’s reassuring guide, afraid of what he had done to us, not of what we might do to him. We, who have no existence in ‘the Promised Land,’ because the ghost of the murdered who haunted killer in both wakefulness and sleep, and the realm in-between, leaving him troubled and despondent. The insomniac screams: Have they not died yet? No, because the ghost reaches the age of being weaned, then comes adulthood, resistance, and return. Airplanes pursue the ghost in the air. Tanks pursue the ghost on land. Submarines pursue the ghost in the sea. The ghost grows up an occupies the killer’s consciousness until it drives him insane:

Israel’s new king sits on the balcony of a psychiatric institute, looking out on the remains of Dayr Yasin, and hallucinates: Here, here is the beginning of my miracle. Here I killed them and saw them dead. I saw and heard them die. Here I heard the wailing of human beasts, which did not disturb my music. From here, to terrify the rest of the holy land, I scattered their voices northward. From here I spread fright among what remains of the bipeds … to make them begin the journey into the wilderness. No, no, ‘wilderness’ is not the appropriate word for their fate. Wilderness is my specialty. Wilderness leads to guidance. Wilderness leads to return. Wilderness is my monopoly, just as God is. The king takes tranquilizers and remembers: Were it not for my heroism, for what I did to Dayr Yasin, my kingdom would not have been established. Were it not for absence, their absence, I would not be present. For them not to be, is for me to be. Whence did they emerge when I did not accept them as neighbors or slaves, woodchoppers or water carriers? The king clenches his glass of water nervously and crushes it. A trickle of blood flows from his hand and he starts to hallucinate: I did not see the blood of the ghost that my army is pursuing in Lebanon, yet I see my own blood! I killed them and saw them dead here, so how did they cheat death and disobey my orders, when I am the one who bestows life and death? I am the king, the new king of Israel. How have the dead become ghosts and how can ghosts defy me? Is this a dream or a nightmare? Is there no balcony in the world looking out on a different end? Take Dayr Yasin away from me again, take the cries of these ghosts away, or take me away from them. For I cannot apologize to them, nor do I want to! O Hiram, Hiram, king of Tyre, save me! My people have become angry with me. They say that my war is a waste, that killing the ghost is a waste, that my peace is a waste. O Hiram, Hiram, save me, even if with a false peace, to numb my mind, my heart, and my people, and be cured of my sorrows. Do you not know me? Do you now hear me, you son of a dog! No one listens to the king secluded in his house looking out on the scene of his first crime. When he goes out leaning on a cane to visit his wife’s grave, he does not speak to a soul. The ghost is his sole companion, his enemy who will not leave him. His enemy who returns in his delirium and guides him to their first encounter: You killed me right here and buried me in this pit. He cannot ward them off. He collapses: the murderer falls into the grave of the murdered!

I asked you: what does this mean? You said to me: Meaning might need another time to ripen in the earth’s salt. It might need another poet free of Trojans and Greeks, a poet who gazes into an abyss from above without falling in, and the abyss becomes a lake. As for now, a hand waving from afar is meaning enough: We are still alive and capable of amending the Greek text. The last chapter, the ending, has endless possibilities!

Figurative language, metonymy, metaphor, allusion

are the shadows of speech

The object’s image is neither like the object, nor its opposite

It is poetry’s ruse in naming

And I have other aims in metaphor

such as letting the song

go at its gentle pace

turning east and west

leaping from sky to valley

and treating its aches

with some irony


Fuck the San Bernardino city police.


Fuck the San Bernardino city police.

Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde



JB: One of the dangers of being a Black American is being schizophrenic, and I mean ‘schizophrenic’ in the most literal sense. To be a Black American is in some ways to be born with the desire to be white. It’s a part of the price you pay for being born here, and it affects every Black…


Palestine in 1896


A little light in midst of all the dark news lately. This week I saw an amazing band of Latino Angelinos by the name of Chicano Batman at Nublu, after having stumbled upon their music by some internet accident. I’ve never heard such a combination of so many familiar sounds: American and Latin soul, rockmantico, R&B, cumbia, norteña, psychedelic rock, tropicalia. I love that I couldn’t place their sound in any one place and that all those pieces still sounded so familiar. Since then I’ve been revisiting all these music that I grew up listening to via my family: many songs and bands that I didn’t know the names of at the time, but that I’m learning now, many years later just by having gone down this rabbit hole of listening. Songs from my mom’s car or in the kitchen while she’d make breakfast on Sundays, all these old ballads of that she’d grown up on, or sometimes the Tejano music that was adopted into our airwaves (by that funny association of being a Latin@ in Texas, no matter which country you or your parents came from). Songs from those wild Spanish-language variety shows, where, aside from the usual game show shenanigans, see small children and adults alike dress up and perform the hits and classics for prizes, long before the American reality shows came around. Songs that my tías would play on the radio that some of my cousins would sing belt along to in the car, even though our own language was pretty Spanglish-y. Songs from the jukeboxes in the taquerias and pupuserias, those jukeboxes that still take me back whenever I see one – many of which seem to have not been updated in at least a decade. They say that smell is the sense that most strongly unlocks memory: I’d say that hearing follows very closely behind. I guess I miss home a little this week. I miss those things of home – those roots, I guess, for lack of a better word – that I’ve felt so distant from for the last ten years.

Something about coming back home that always means coming back to here, always when everyone else in the house is long asleep. To linger in a place long enough in order to compose a coherent thought. I have felt like a failure lately because I cannot compose at length quickly enough, though I know that this does not make my brain a bad brain, and I think it means that I need to stay away from certain parts of the internet, or maybe just even people at large. Lately: the overwhelmingness of straight lines. Always this word, lately, as though things just happen. Home, because it is the place against which other places can be measured, though I struggle to come back to it until I am here. And by here, how I do mean home. Mostly, there is the desire to be a person as much as possible and to linger in the joy of that. All the work I think about is about being in the world by getting out of it: all I want is to be alongside it. How the trouble is always in keeping a distance and maintaining a kind of pragmatic sensibility. I think often about how you must assume that the logic will work in your favor if you are to assume “the good life.” The strange thing is that if were not for the skepticism I would fall apart, but if it were not for the love, I don’t know how I would have gotten to this position.

But I denounce. I denounce our weakness, I denounce the maddening horror of dying — and I respond to all this infamy with joy. Purest and lightest joy. My only salvation is joy. An atonal joy inside the essential it. Doesn’t that make sense? Well it must. Because it’s too cruel to know what life is just one time and that we have no guarantee outside our faith in shadows—because it’s too cruel, so I respond with the purity of an untamable happiness. I refuse to be sad. Let us be joyful. Whoever isn’t afraid to be joyful and experience even a single time this mad and profound joy will have the best part of our truth. I am––despite everything oh despite everything––am being joyful in this instant-now that passes if I don’t capture it in words. I am being joyful in this very instant because I refuse to be defeated: so I love. As an answer. Impersonal love, it love, is joy: even the love that doesn’t work out, even the love that ends. And my own death and that of those we love must be joyful, I don’t yet know how, but they must be. That is living: the joy of the it. and to settle for that not as one defeated but in an allegro con brio.
— Clarice Lispector, from Agua Viva

From Sicilian poet Maria Attanasio’s Amnesia of the Movement of Clouds & Of Red and Black Verse – the first full-length translation of Attanasio’s work, done by Carla Billitteri and freshly available from Litmus Press. This book moves me more and more, the more I move through it – so many things in it, literal things, animated by a beautiful heaviness for its world. So good to see this iteration, a long time coming, out, in it. 

Words to Dust: Language, Loss and the Coca-Cola Super Bowl Controversy

"But history is crucial in this conversation on language. What I’ve lost is, essentially, a link to my history. And it’s a history worth remembering, because for all its foreignness, it contains an essentially American story. My grandparents were school teachers, but my grandfather was fired from his job after getting into a fist fight with his principal. (That’s not the American part, though it’s a little bit John Wayne.) He parlayed unemployment into entrepreneurship, building the first corn and rice mill in the then-rural city of Mandaue. That business supported my mother and her seven brothers and sisters, who were able to go on to various successes. My Uncle Mart became a leading neurologist in the Philippines, my Aunt Almira became a nurse in Chicago, my mom Daisy earned a master’s degree in agriculture at the University of Missouri. And now here I am, the product of an American dream.

"I know this from interviewing various family members after my mom died; she never spoke much of it herself. But while I’ve cobbled together a shell of history, the stuff that binds it together is fading. I will never be able to go to Cebu in any role other than as a foreigner. My bonds are limited to blood and curbed by language. It is the fate of the first-generation American. We trade our parents’ homes, their histories and languages for a new life in a new world."