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Grateful and Grieving
"The world comes into being moment by moment, dependent upon our participation."
A week ago I was walking in the neighborhood where I used to sell books. I came upon a tree bristling with paper tags as if bearded by spanish moss, hundreds of them bleached and wet and dried again in the weather, curled on the edges from so many changes. A sign hung from a branch asking “what are you grateful for?” I stood for awhile with my face in the paper, reading and listening to their rustling. A few steps further on was another tree that asked “what are you grieving?” There were only four tags tied to the branches, each lonely leaf quiet with the lack of foliage, nothing to brush up against and share in grief.
I haven’t been back to those trees since last Tuesday. I suspect the second tree is a bit more full in the wake of the atrocity in Atlanta. I also worry what it means if its branches are still sparse. How many who are not Asian American feel disconnected from this loss, how many might not know what it is that has been lost.
Some responses that have helped me feel and think the last week have been R.O Kwon’s “A Letter to My Fellow Asian Women Whose Hearts Are Still Breaking”, as well as James Ikeda’s video “On Atlanta, March 2021”. James is an old friend, a history teacher, an activist and a musician, among other things. I encourage you to watch the whole video, but his final comments stuck with me and bear repeating here:
“I don’t intend to spend any moment of my life getting hung up on wanting some kind of perfunctory, performed sympathy and acknowledgment from political leaders, or from people’s bosses, or from corporations. […] And as for the hate crimes question, which is very, very important in this instance to be sure, and is an important part of the question of justice in this instance, I also think that the broader question of what it looks like to build a just society, of what is that thing we should be dreaming up and pursuing and working towards, I think that far exceeds the juridical question of whether or not we categorize a thing as a hate crime. And I hope and want for all of us the space and bandwidth to be able to imagine justice beyond this, and to leave aside some time and energy for the pursuit of that.”
Soon spring will be in full force, and branches bare of paper will be sprouting new green leaves, filling in the holes but not the gaps in our understanding. I recently had the honor of being part of a panel alongside Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who spoke with great emotion about the pain and fear she and other Asian Americans are feeling in the wake of Atlanta, and how writing about her experiences outdoors growing up in Tucson and Kansas helped her center and place that experience out in the open. You can listen to her speak about this and read from her book World of Wonders here (spoiler, I’m reading this now and it’s very good).
I hope you’ll consider joining me later this week at the virtual event for the book “Nisei Radicals: The Feminist Poetics and Transformative Ministry of Mitsuye Yamada and Michael Yasutake” at Elliot Bay Book Company. Take good care, friends.
What I’m Reading
Interdependence: Biology and Beyond by Kriti Sharma (Fordham University Press). We’ll never be able to read ourselves whole. Books can only go so far, as many have pointed out. But Sharma’s writing is at once scientific and eloquent, devoted to pointing out the ways that existence—our own, of the non-human, of objects—is inextricably tied to the existence of others. It is kind of for biologists, yes, in that Sharma writes at length about her research on different species of algae all made up from the same single-celled organism. But it’s also a book that contains observations such as this:
“The world is not a place that is created once and then waits for us to discover it. The world comes into being moment by moment, dependent upon our participation.”
Get Fresh Books is open for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts.
Arsenal Pulp Press will be publishing a “Queer Monsters” anthology, which is open for submissions of poetry and short fiction until May 15.
My book A Natural History of Transition, is available to preorder through Metonymy Press.
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