Poetry

PRISONS DO NOT HEAL

shah noor hussein is a writer, visual artist, and scholar focusing on black feminism, art, and teaching. shah is a doctoral student and Cota-Robles Fellow at UC Santa Cruz in the fields of Anthropology, Critical Race Theory & Ethnic Studies. From 2016 – 2017, they were a Writing Fellow at the California Institute of Integral Studies and currently works as an adjunct professor, a freelance writer, and a multimedia artist in Oakland. Their previous experience as an editor includes work for arts organizations, journals, magazines, start-ups, and book publishing companies including Umber Journal and Nothing But The Truth Publishing. shah serves as an Event and Program Coordinator at their spiritual spiritual home, the East Bay Meditation Center located in Okaland, California, which offers radically inclusive dharma practices through Buddhist, multicultural, and secular approaches that focus on social justice. Return to table of contents for Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures.

"Fed Up," protests at City Hall, San Francisco, CA, 2020. Photo by author.

In Solitude and Solidarity

Who Are You? If we are what we do then who are you? Are you who you say you are? Are you the same when you are sleeping? When the world is sleeping? When the lights are off? In the dark? Are you alive when you are dreaming? When awake? In the light? Who are you when no one watches? Who are you when no one knows? Are you the same? Are you living who you’re meant to be? Or are you living who they say you are? Self and other?  One and another? All or none? All  in  one? Whole Essential Soul Credentials Who Are  You? Pandemic Symptoms and Systems “… for there are times when disobedience heals a very ailing part of the self. It relieves the human spirit’s distress at being forced into narrow boundaries. For the nearly powerless, defying authority is often the only power available.” ―Malidoma Patrice Somé1 “Slow down. Inhale peace. Exhale worry,” I’ve had to remind myself. The more chaotic everything gets, the more peace I try to …

From “The Afro Tarot” deck by Jessi Jumanji

Queering the Archetypes of Tarot

We find ourselves walking down a path that our ancestors laid ____A spiral ________Up or down depending on which way you bend your neck ____________We’re in lockstep ________________Passing the same points of interest again and again ____________________The same but different ________________________Slavery ____________________We loop round ________________Sharecropping ____________We loop again ________The prison industrial complex ____Back again and again until we’re numb, I get dizzy and reach for a way out My hands find my well-worn deck of tarot cards and I pull at them hoping for answers I pull The Emperor  The oppressive chokehold, the knee on our necks, the invisible puppeteer that we fight against Oh how this world would love us if he were gone, or if he were like a redwood instead of a ram The Star The first glance of light after a lifetime of darkness Hope A way out of this dizzying madness 10 of Pentacles A question What will I leave behind and for whom? I walk the path that my Ancestors laid and suddenly I see it fork I see …

Con*cep*tion

Prologue We all strive for understanding and meaning. Yet too often, we arrive at understanding by a consensus of the few. Our definitions, numbered and lettered, give us form from which we build beliefs and systems.  One of the skillful means I appreciate about Chogyäm Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to the West, was his ability to play with words to reveal the potential of any word to hold wisdom. Each piece below engages in a narrative that invites you to reconsider the normative definition of a word or phrase and what is true in your experience.  Each may give you an opportunity to create and experience and witness one. Although all pieces below reflect some aspect of Black birth and mothering, they simultaneously engage with how we relate to our world. Con*cep*tion We are all capable of conceiving. Some make worlds, others systems, still others ideology. All of this contributes to our (personal) Now and This Now (cultural) of the last 400+ years, which has deteriorated our humanity. Yet, co-arising …

Three Meditations on the Apocalypse

I. ORIGINS 3.23.2020 On the first day I look for origins1: Corona (n): [1] a crown, a garland of laurel bestowed for serving in wartime, in a lifetime; so may we make for each other garlands of tenderest gratitude, coronas of lotus and laurel. [2] a luminous circle left behind dark moon during total eclipse; this darkness remarkable only because of the knowledge of light that exists beyond it. II. GENERATION 3.27.2020 On the fifth day I boil bones to make a stock. My grandmother’s recipe, something passed invisibly from women’s hands— tender, strong, the shape of holding— into my hands, into my bones: a knowing how to hold on. The steam billows out from the stove and clouds the windows. If I had a child, I imagine her hands drawing flowers upon them, play affirming life, a crack in the fog of this uncanny war, through which we could look out on our neighbors and they could look in on us: the humanity of it— a small child and a grown one making something …

The Stowaway Seeds

The Stowaway Seeds I am afraid to touch the shopping cart, the bright cool hide of the fragrant orange, the wet sand on the beach. This pandemic virus spreads RNA where people pass too close to one another and gather to buy food, or crowd the ocean’s edge. “It cannot be killed because it isn’t alive,” my scientist brother says. But something unknown has always contained our death, which is why we are respectful and delicate as we lift teacups and snow salt crystals on grilled asparagus and touch one another and spoons and books and the surfaces of the earth we will one day be pressed gently between, like book pages on the fat stems of large leaves. Such abundant offerings – these tiny crowns and multiplying stars, the resplendent small burrs I found in the rough striped blanket we took to the woods before everything shut down. They came home with me, to seed a new world, in which we aren’t the most important thing. Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a socially engaged Buddhist …

How to Love a Mestiza Woman

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  I wish I could tell you what it is like to love a woman who knows and creates, nurtures and feeds love, a Mexica woman, a Mestiza woman, a Warrior woman. I wish I could tell you what it is like to go deep into the pain of a many-centuries-old nation, to feel the sacrifice of many generations, to see the resilience of a conquered indigenous people with reverence, to see the steadfast battle for present survival, and yet feel in your core the living ancient spiritual wonders. I wish I could show you that to be this woman it takes great strength, endurance, resilience, great humility to learn through unsolved grievances; it takes connecting to the cycle of life and its mysteries; it takes listening to Mother Earth and her whisperings. To love such a woman you would have to understand: she has …

Borders

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.    Jessica Stern, PhD, is a developmental psychologist at University of Virginia, a lover of Rumi and Mary Oliver, and an Associate Editor at The Arrow. She is grateful for the wisdom of writing mentors Deb Norton and Claudia Rankine.

I’ll Meet You There

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  We should dance as if dancing were a symbol of peace as if gyrating arms and fluctuating feet were the protest signs of the anti-war movement We should dance to shake and wake ourselves from complacent stupor for indigenous water protectors on the frontlines of our future We should dance as if dancing were finding our way home as if our ancestors’ stories were stored in the calcified minerals that built our bones We should dance to make sanctuaries of our bodies enough to welcome the stranger forced to flee dance at the gates of detention centers demanding migrant children be released We should dance moved by the momentum of the hummingbird fluttering her wild wings inside our chests as if inscribed inside the folds of our flesh were scriptures of ancient text and only through dancing could this hidden wisdom be expressed We …

Black Boys

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Black boys play outside and are told to bathe and change before sitting at the table for dinner with their families. Black boys get shaken awake by mothers to get ready for school on gray cold mornings. Black boys wait—in colorful coats, bright backpacks (black boys love purple but are taught it’s a girl’s color, so we hide it in blue)—black boys wait for autumnal shaded school buses. Black boys trade Magic and Pokémon cards in the library before the school bell sounds. Black boys run to class, afraid of tardies—and the mamas who will find out. Black boys play video games, because freeway-induced asthma chokes them from basketball courts and football fields. Black boys ignore tight chests up and down courts and endure. Black boys die from broken hearts. Black boys love their black teachers and smile and get excited when they see …