Yet again, we face, or don’t, the fearful symmetry of white supremacy

March 15, 2019, and the news, once more, is terrible. In Christchurch, New Zealand, 49 Muslim worshippers massacred in the name of white supremacy. Off the coast of Morocco, 45 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Three years ago, all that was human drowned in the seaall that was holy had been profaned, and we thought, we hoped, we were at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind. Seven years ago, we thought it might be too late to sing songs beyond mankind. We thought there had to be songs to sing, and that those songs had to begin by turning swords into ploughshares, immediately, right away. And then we moved on, which is to say we went nowhere.

Today, the news and much of the world is filled with discussions of “white supremacy.” The butcher of Christchurch was “deep” into white supremacist culture. The drowned migrants, many of them women and children, had to take to the sea because Europe (and the United States and Australia) have declared a “just war” on migrants of color who are represented as an “invasion” at the border and in the homeland.

There are no more songs to sing; even silence fails us, as we fail silence. Here’s how the news from Christchurch was contextualized, “Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, which is known to have an active white-supremacist subculture.” Known to have an active white-supremacist subculture. What kind of knowledge, what kind of knowing, is that which knows and does nothing? White supremacy is hate; white supremacy is a hate crime. It is not a preference; it is a deadly assault always already in motion. 

Having survived, at times regretfully, the Holocaust, Paul Celan tried, and failed, to turn the pain, horror and anguish of mass violence into the possibility of understanding. Poetry is what emerges from that failure. May it not be too late.

Whichever stone you lift

Whichever stone you lift – 
you lay bare 
those who need the protection of stones: 
naked, 
now they renew their entwinement. 

Whichever tree you fell – 
you frame 
the bedstead where 
souls are stayed once again, 
as if this aeon too 
did not 
tremble. 

Whichever word you speak – 
you owe to 
destruction

(Image credit: Meditatioprodomo)

There are still songs to sing …Newtown, Connecticut, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012, and the news from Newtown, Connecticut, is terrible. A nation says it is in anguish. The President speaks of the pain and the horror, of our children and our neighborhoods. Our tears flow. And the traffic in guns continues. And in these theaters of horror, more often than not, the shooters are men and the first targets are women.

We have been here before. It is all too familiar.

Near the end of a life spent trying to turn the pain, horror and anguish of mass violence into the possibility of understanding, Paul Celan found that the project of poetry, his life project, was “an impossible struggle, doomed from the start to disaster. For poetry cannot save the soul or retrieve a lost world. It simply asserts the given.”

And Celan wrote:

“THREADSUNS
above the grayblack wastes.
A tree-
high thought
grasps the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond
mankind.”

The thought that is tree-high is too high for our grasp. It is too late to sing songs beyond mankind. There must be songs to sing now. And they must begin by turning swords into ploughshares … now. Right now.

(Photo Credit: Panoramio.com)

Haiti, deux ans déjà

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower”

It’s two years already since the earth in Haiti burst open, and a world collapsed. That moment of rift is unspeakable and absolute. It does not allow for discovery or discussion. This is not about the event of January 12, 2010. This is about what follows.

What follows, what has followed, is called re-construction, but it’s an inapt term. There is no re-construction. There is construction anew.

For two years, now, people of Haiti, in the thousands, have been living in `camps’, in `informal settlements’ and `precarious circumstances’. In unacceptable, degrading conditions. For women, like Therese Charlemagne, it’s `simple’: “This place is ours, it’s our land. I didn’t buy this land. I built on it; I have a job. What else could I want? A house. A home.”

It’s simple … isn’t it?

Build houses. Clear the rubble. Clear the camps. Too often, clearing the camps has meant treating the residents as if they were the rubble. The Haitian government and the international funders and agencies that support it have consistently refused to enter into real consultation with the `camp dwellers’.

They have particularly refused to talk with the women and the girls.

The women and the girls in the camps in Haiti describe a culture of sexual violence. Rape is rampant, as are all forms of violence against women. The camps present row after row of despair.

But that is only half of the story. It is the half that concentrates only on the absence of homes, only on the presence of violence, only on the despair.

People in despair do not march, do not protest, do not organize. Organizing comes from hope. Women know this.

Women like Colette Lespinasse, director of Le Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés, or Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, know that building housing must mean building community. To build houses without deep and extended discussions with the people who will live in them is to deprive the future residents of homes. They get roofs, walls, floors … but they don’t get homes.

The women who are organizing in the camps, organizing against sexual violence, women like Jocie Philistin and Earamithe Delva, the women of KOFAVIV, Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, live that lesson out every second of every day. Ending violence against women must mean building community, communities of women and girls first, then larger and larger communities. It must.

Camp residents are described as`frustrated’. Although they certainly live with frustration, they are, more importantly, women, children, men, who are working, organizing, building a world, building homes and communities, building cultures and a culture to be cherished.

As Michaëlle Jean noted today, January 12, 2012 it’s two years already, it’s already two years. It is time.

It is time the stone made an effort to flower.”

More than fifty years ago, Paul Celan wrote those words out of his experience of and experiences in the German death camps:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower.
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.”

It is time.

It is time `reconstruction’ took on the beating heart.

In her poem “Stones don’t bleed,” Michèle Voltaire Marcelin transports and translates Celan to Haiti:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower
said Celan
It is time it bled red I say
And love
And love
And love
flowed out of its wound
for ever and ever
Amen …”

It is time to understand that the women struggling for houses are organizing communities and entire worlds. It is time to understand that the women organizing to end violence against women and girls are organizing peace, are organizing love.

It is time for houses, and it is time for roses. It is time to be guided by a song of hope, the song that Haitian mothers have sung to their daughters, the song that Haitian mothers sing to their daughters today.

 

(Photo Credit: Flickr.com)