Writing about survival: Crucial reads for the times

This June is both National Indigenous History Month and Pride. We’re thinking of Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya’s recent words in Autostraddle: “Pride this year will take place during the eighth month of an ongoing genocide against Palestinian people by Israel. This cannot and should not be forgotten or ignored. It also cannot logically be separated from the origins of Pride itself.” 

As we remember the origins of Pride as protest and celebrate the sovereignty of all Indigenous peoples worldwide this National Indigenous History Month, we turn to writing about survival from the Room archives. May they guide us to make good trouble, this month and always.

 


“Prayer Ghazal for Orlando,” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in Room 41.3 Queer

The day the shooting happened,
I turned off my phone and fucked my lover.

We cleaned house and fixed things
nothing and everything in my life
has prepared me
to face very hard things
with a very good person:
this is the place where we pray.

your cunt is a dancefloor, your body
with its abundance of brave queer openings
where we pray
your blessed mouth’s hunger
where we turn the phone off to
face each other, pray

the litany of prayer beads                            of dancefloors,
of lineup, of all night, of body,
of chair dance, of cane dance, of wheelchair hump
of every time
someone might have shot up
Manhattan’s or Funkasia
found their way to Unit 2 or Quilombo
no, we pray

I love my love very much, I love them in exactly
every way my parents never prepared me to love anyone. I love this queer love
neither of my parents
got to enjoy, I love everything I learned in lineups
drinking overpriced Jameson’s ginger, chatting in crip corner

every time I made ritual of dressing up and then driving home with a burger alone
satiated and thigh sore, every place I dressed and wind
to find my body, every place
a prayer.

 

You Who The Earth Was For,” by Steffi Tad-y (excerpt), in Room 46.1 Around the Table: Asian Voices

After Jean Valentine 

You fleeing war, carrying a rooster with your shaky hand. 
You trained to pummel, never the first to wince or flinch. 

You who plant their sadness into the dirt. 
You whose questions have no gentle answers.

 

New and Gently Used Hijab,” by Sahar Mustafah (excerpt), in Room 39.1 Women of Colour

Iman shook her head dumbly. She’d sat with her husband, evening after evening, watching Al Jazeera satellite news, making sure the twins were asleep before inviting the images of dead children into her living room. War had still been distant to her, despite the uncensored carnage she could easily access with a click of a remote control. But now, death and destruction became as palpable as the cardboard boxes, the tape dispensers, the hundreds of scarves splayed across the donation tables. It was her turn to clutch the white woman’s box. She needed to keep steady, unsure what to do next. She looked again at Salwa who blithely dozed amidst the clamour of volunteers laughing as they finished sealing boxes. An imam in a skullcap gestured to them to lower their voices as he shuffled inside to lead the dusk prayer.

The white woman looked beseechingly at Iman. “It’s a terrible thing, I know, but it’s important to forgive in this life. You know this, dear. Your name means faith, right? You said so.” The wrinkles around her mouth looked like cracked mud. “If we can’t forgive, how can we go on? We have to believe we can do better. Isn’t that right, dear?”

“I don’t know,” Iman said. She was not sure she had uttered it out loud, or if it had been a whisper like the rustling of the trees.

 

“The Seven Sacred Ways of Healing,” by jaye simpson in Room 42.1 Magic 

/let it out/
they tear
through my
rawing throat,
saliva & blood
bubbling out
wild prairie fire
cacophony.
/don’t ask why/

/let it out/
her hand presses
deep into my chest,
pinpointed compression
my chest billows
a fine aerial orchestra
of ancestral trauma.
/tell them what they did/

/let it out/
my head thrown back
screams ripping out of my throat
faster than i can breathe,
my eyes strained, they
hemorrhage
red spreads across my sclera.
/you will never get to ask why/

/let it out/
i cough blood &
retch, i am told
i am letting go of
intergenerational trauma
this way: by letting go
of pain kept in my body.
/tell them what they did/

/let it out/
i can no longer lift
my arms, Zhigaag takes
my place punching the bag,
our screams synchronizing,
letting go breaks everything
i thought i knew
about healing.
/this will follow them/

/let it out/
final screams
dying with vocal fry
& tears tinged red,
i collapse
ribbon skirt pooling
around my crumpled form
hands clawing at chest
Zhigaag’s screams billow out now.
/they will know what it meant/

 

Tseung Family Snapshot,” by Alexandra Chang (excerpt), in Room 41.1 Family Secrets

Māma is no longer living her American dream. She stares at Bàba’s signed name on the papers that will end their dream together. The papers seem to speak to her now and say, You failed at building a good life here. If she failed at building a good life in this country that is so naturally full of good life, then is it she who is built for failure? It has been more than two years since they lost the shop and have been living off of savings, along with the little money Māma now gets paid for her first real job, a part-time bookkeeping position at the local grocery. Her husband has been out of work, his body shrinking as he spends more and more time alone in the back room. She begins to worry about his health, but as her anxiety builds, it leads her to the usual place, that familiar whirlpool of money worries—it’s running out, it’s running out—that seemingly endless fear that drives her survival. There is shared air in the household, and Bàba is taken by a parallel, simultaneous fear.

He is fearing life. How whenever he fails there is nothing to cushion or catch him, how he thought he’d made it, only to lose everything again. 

 

The Nasib, standing at the ruins,” by Rasha Abdulhadi (excerpt), in Room 40.3 Migration

ya Baba, yaha Baba
ya bab, the doorway through which I pass
when I do not know whether I’m coming in or going out—
into the family, out to the desert,
and what is the difference, in the end, really

 

“Funambulist Gesture” by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, in Room 44.2 City Rhythms

In her most selfish moments, your day nearing, your mother
longed to hold you outside her body
almost as much as everyone longed for rain. It was hot,
not like now, but hot and you were pushing on her lungs
and bladder. It was raining when you were born,
not this drizzle we’re in. Some thought it a sign, heaven’s
water breaking while she pushed you out; God
ever empathetic and aloof. In between breaths,
she fantasized about bathing you in that water of heaven—
ask her. But mostly she wanted to see your face and live.

The ones whose hands received your body
rinsed it in a warm windless room
—no one wished that you know regret just yet. You were ugly
in those first moments, the way dying things are,
but beautiful too; every cell breathing,
your dewy body learning how to walk the line
between dying and living.

 

Your Skinny Daddy” by Joya Guzmán (excerpt), Third-Place winner of Room’s 2021 Fiction Contest

​​When your daddy is undocumented, you learn how to lie with ease. You learn how to protect him, to shelter his body. You learn, at the age of twelve, that secrets are an intimate, heavy thing to bear. You learn all of that in the back of a blue pickup truck winding through the Oaxacan mountains, nestled with your sister amongst piles of watermelons in the truck bed. You open watermelons and devour them one slice at a time, spitting the shiny seeds over the side. 

Girls, I have a secret to tell you, he says. You love his secrets. You love his stories. The way he talks slowly when it’s important. You smile and grab your sister’s hand. Your eyes are wide. Your one dimple is deep in your left cheek. The wind is whipping all your hair around wildly. He sits up straight, clears his throat, and then gazes off into the distance before speaking. Your daddy’s black moustache is so thick and so wiry that it doesn’t move in the wind. Your daddy is so handsome and stern. 

I don’t have documents, he finally says. You don’t know what to say. Your daddy understands that, and continues. I don’t have a birth certificate, even. The weight of his words communicates something. Something. But you don’t really get it. You will one day, though. Or rather, every day throughout your life you’ll understand new implications of this abstraction. 

 

“Gethsemane” by Faith Paré, in Room 45.1 Ancestors

 

for our Black street revolutionaries, unnamed, missing, forgotten.

before we were cloaked in too late, before
the trees split open with torches, fear scorching
its name across our faces, before our friends
shattered onto pavement with the timbre of a city falling,
before we cut off the ears of those who laughed at our poetry,
before we cut off our own, cupped the folded dead
things in our hands, before morning, before night, before another
unsettled morning, before we donned the blue of sirens,
before all we had to chew on was rubble, before it ended
exactly as they said it would, our foreheads reacquainted
with the dirt,

we ate together. we started there.
we grew something in this stranger’s soil.
we grew something to share. we never needed names.
we cursed, we spat, we bared our teeth.
we came back for each other regardless. we laughed
knowing there would be a time we’d forget its pulse.
its airiness filled our bellies. we invented songs
they never sang to us as children.
we once were children. children who had nothing
left to see except a way out. we lived when they refused
to call it that. we still sweat blood,
but someone had the pad of their thumb
to wipe it away.

 

Summer 2020.

 

“Tricks” by Jo Billows in Room 44.3 Indigenous Brilliance

gentrification as colonial displacement
pipelines as land grabs
foster care as 60s scoop
prison cells as residential schools
fentanyl as smallpox blankets

I see your tricks

Immerse enough generations in self-hatred
and we do it to ourselves
we poison our bodies,
our children die by suicide

I see your tricks,
do you see mine?

rounddance as survivance
protest as empowerment
education as unlearning
dreams as sovereign thoughts
Indigenous parenting as revolution
kitchen table as political organization
direct action as reoccupation
cigarettes as offerings
tattoos as permanent regalia
art as reclamation
body as frontline

orgasms as decolonization
poetry as war cries
community gardens as windows through concrete
tender relationships as resistance
self love as fuck you
self love as uprising

 

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