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As the wonderful Richard Söderberg said while he was on the Guldbagge awards, (Swedish Oscars) In order for women to take a step forward, men need to take a step back. It was a wonderful, true and very aware statement from one of Swedens coolest people. I thought about that statement, and about #metoo which he was, of course, referring too when I read this poem written by Syrian born Palestinian and now Stockholm resident poet Ghayath Almadhoun. It’s a beautiful poem of sadness and repentance for his part in the oppression of women everywhere, even in countries in which he has never set foot, in centuries long past and yet to come, for crimes against women he has never seen committed by men he has never met. If we are to grow past this oppression, men everywhere need to stand up and acknowledge their part in it, and take a step back so that women can take that so very important step forward.
 
Confession – Poem by Ghayath Almadhoun
 
You;
women who have trampled grapes
with bare feet
since the beginning of history
who were locked in chastity belts
in Europe
who were burnt to death
in the Middle Ages
who wrote novels
under male pseudonyms
in order to get published
who harvested tea
in Ceylon
who rebuilt Berlin
after the war
who grew the cotton
in Egypt
who covered your bodies with excrement
to avoid rape by French soldiers
in Algeria
virgins
in Cuba
who rolled cigars
on their naked thighs
members of the Black Diamond guerillas
in Liberia
samba dancers
in Brazil
women who have had faces destroyed
by acid
in Afghanistan
my mother …
 
Forgive me.
 
Translation from Swedish: James Blake
Ghayath Almadhoun
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Yesterday I received a copy of my fathers last will and testament in the mail as is a required part of the probate of his estate. I won’t go into the contents publicly, but it brought the loss once again very much to mind, as well as the years of absence we both endured from each other.
 
I found this beautiful, sad poem written by one of the best young poets I have found in quite some time, Warsan Shire. It brought a needed calm to me, as it embraced the emotions I feel as well.
 
 
Backwards
by Warsan Shire,
 
for Saaid Shire
 
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life;
that’s how we bring Dad back.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole.
We grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear,
your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums.
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can write the poem and make it disappear.
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass,
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Maybe we’re okay kid?
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.
You won’t be able to see beyond it,
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love.
Maybe we’re okay kid,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass.
I can write the poem and make it disappear,
give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums
we grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life.
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
 
Warsan Shire, “Backwards.” Copyright © 2014 by Warsan Shire.
 

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1. Your ashes blown eastward

Memories fade like flowers

Phoenix cries at night

 

 

2. We take our final walk

Your ashes mix with the frozen ground

The snow learns your name.

 

David Henry Hass,

Jan. 5, 1928 – Jan. 12, 2017

Missing my father, he died last week and his ashes were spread over his favorite hunting spot without a ceremony, as was his wish.

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I have a new favorite song!! The lyrics are strong but so very correct. We all know, or most of us know, or have met at least one racist in our lives, or someone who is “soft” about racism. They tell you they aren’t, but laugh at racist jokes, maybe even tell them, but they assure you, they “don’t believe this way”. I remember when I lived in NW Portland. I had just repainted and refurnished my flat. I threw a party. A boyfriend of one of my cowokers told me and my guests a racist joke, he made sure he had everyones attention. I was mortified!! I looked him right in the eye and told him that racism is forbidden in my house and my life. I asked him why he would think it was acceptable. We had never met before that night. I apologized to my coworker and tgen told him he needed to leave, immediately. He then said that he “wasn’t that way, but wanted to see my reaction”. I responded; ” Well, now you’ve seen it. I hope you hesitate the next time you want to tell such a crass joke”. 

This is one of the strongest ways to help people realize just how unacceptable racism is. It hits in the head like a baseball bat and we need to stand up with all of our strength against it. The more we make it known PRECISELY how unnacceptable it is, the more uncomfortable it becomes. Education is a strong tool. Use it in positive ways. Use it with strength.  

Here are the lyrics; 
If you have a racist friend

Now is the time, now is the time

For your friendship to end

Be it your sister, be it your brother

Be it your cousin, or your uncle, or your lover

If you have a racist friend

Now is the time, now is the time

For your friendship to end

Be it your best friend, or any other

Is it your husband, or your father, or your mother

Either change their views

Or change your friends

If you have a racist friend

Now is the time, now is the time

For your friendship to end

So if you know a racist who thinks he is your friend

Now is the time, now is the time

For your friendship to end

Call yourself my friend

Now is the time to make up your mind

Don’t try to pretend

Be it your sister, be it your brother

Be it your cousin, or your uncle, or your lover

So if you have a racist friend

Now is the time, now is the time

For our friendship to end

#NowPlaying Racist Friend – P3 Version by Naomi Pilgrim 

https://open.spotify.com/track/72OqDR7ynES3bChfTMNRzW

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I posted this first on Facebook, to share it with my family and those friends who were kind enough to offer words of comfort in the days after my fathers death. I am re-posting it here.

 

I am surprised and forever grateful at all of the warmth and support I have received regarding my fathers death. It truly is empowering to see so many kind words from friends and family both far and near, new and old. I will try to take the time, later, to thank each of you individually but for now, please accept my heartfelt gratitude.

When I grew up, my father and I didn’t have a close relationship. My parents divorced when I was about 6 years old and he and I had some very different concepts as was so usual in the 1960s. I knew that no matter how much I might have wanted things to be different, no matter how much I, in my youthful innocence, blamed myself for their divorce, things were the way they were for reasons that I couldn’t understand, nor change. Sadly, I don’t have a great deal of memories of him from my youth.

I do remember the service station / garage he owned at the time of the divorce. It was up in NW Portland, an area I actually would move to after college. I was in kindergarten and then first grade (ages 5 and 6) and when school was out, I would sometimes go there, to be with him and to have a parent to watch over me, as Mom was also working. I seem to remember it being a Flying A (or Texaco?), station by brand name. I would sit on the long workbench in the garage, where they did the car repairs and look forward to eating the chocolate malted milk balls, called Hercules, that he hid in a drawer. I remember his trucks; he was also a truck driver and was often gone on longer hauls. That had, as I found out later, a damaging effect on my parents’ marriage, and my memories of and relationship with him. It meant that I didn’t see my Dad as much as other kids did theirs. I do remember going to the woods with him, though, as he always loved the outdoors, hunting and fishing, and he passed that love of nature on to us.

Sadly, the divorce was not all smiles and fond farewells. There was more than a little bit of bitterness, due to the circumstances involved. As an insecure, shy 6 year old, I bonded with my mother, who had custody of us, as is typical in a single parent family. I remember hearing some of what was said, or what I thought was said, or what was implied, or what was the creation of either me or my siblings and being fairly well devastated by the whole thing. As I said, I internalized it. Without understanding where these feelings came from, without knowing the reality, despite the best efforts of both parents, sometimes directly or by proxy, and my brother and sisters, I remember being very sad, more sad than angry, although I was angry too, for a very long time and I kept it inside.

Sadly, I don’t know what my father thought of me growing up. He was never the type to express his feelings at all. If you allowed him, he would show his kindness, his humor, but rarely did he talk openly and never about the divorce, not to me. Probably for that reason, he and I grew apart. I more or less decided to go my own way without his support or consent. Through my college years and for many years thereafter, we rarely saw or spoke to each other, and then it was strained and uncomfortable.

I remember one time he had gone into the hospital for surgery, when I was a fully grown adult. I don’t remember the year, but I THINK, I was living in Yakima at the time. My Mother told me to call him at the hospital and talk to him, a request that always brought both tension and resentment to the surface. It was a very short phone call. I remember almost every word. I said I was calling to see how he was and hoped he was resting. He replied “I’m fine, and you don’t need to call anymore. Goodbye” and hung up. I was shattered. What I didn’t realize then was that it was his way of dealing with his own discomfort at being in the hospital. He hated it, as I found out later and felt as if his air of invincibility was compromised. His gruffness was not intended to wound, but was an almost desperate defense against vulnerability. My mom had asked me to call her back and let her know how he was doing. I did. I told her how bloody angry I was and that I didn’t want to call him anymore. And I didn’t for a number of years.

In 2002, I met the woman who would later become my wife and decided to finally get married. The wedding was to be held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day in 2003, at my sisters’ house in the Portland suburbs. It would be small, only family and a very few select friends, invited verbally or by mail or phone. Despite the informal invites, friends and family rsvp:d. Except my father. You usually didn’t know whether he would show up or not. I remember telling Inger that I doubted he would come and wasn’t at all surprised that he didn’t rsvp. He did show, and it started a healing process for us both.

After I moved to Stockholm the next spring, it was harder to keep contact with anyone in my family, of course. I called him a few times a year; each phone call would be a little warmer in tone than the last. Easier, I suspect for us both over time.

In May 2016, I got a phone call from my sister, Della. Dad was very ill and probably would not recover. My brother kindly offered to pay my airfare to Portland and back so that I could be with the family and see my father. He had been extremely ill on the days before I flew in, but was in good form and spirits when we all showed up at his house near the Oregon coast. He had arranged for us to have an oyster fest and had a whole bunch of fresh oysters, beer, salad, all the things you would want (except sunshine). We talked about how things were in Stockholm, how my wife was, she was home, and my job, etc. We talked about his health problems. The others arrived and he was in a great mood. As I left, we shook hands, and I gave him a kiss on the forehead and told him I loved him. I hadn’t said those words to him in I don’t know how long. I called him a few times in the months after, and the conversations were glad, albeit short. He always hated the telephone.

On his birthday this year, Jan. 5th, I called him again, and wished him a happy birthday.

That was the last time I talked to him.

I’m writing this not to be sad, quite the contrary. To be happy that he had the life he had. To be happy that he and I made the peace we made. And to let him know that I love him and will miss him very much. There was a gaping hole that wasn’t filled and it was both of our faults, his and mine. Fortunately it got filled, at least partially, before it was too late. My family and closest friends always tried to tell me to find a way to mend it, that I’d regret if I didn’t. I would, for the most part, shake my head. I’m glad I finally listened.

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The hardest part of a poem is always

The start.

The saddest part of a journey is often

The journey itself.
A woman in a hijab waits in the subway

The whoosh of air as a train passes by,

Rustling the edge of her scarf on her soft face.

Posters on the windows of the train mere colors as they pass

Blues and greens and lots of yellow and white, and red

Red, the color she left behind,

Not red like a sunset, but Red.

Red like the lights of an ambulance,

Red like the cheeks of a wailing child.

Red like the blood-streets and sidewalks. Red.
The lights of another passing train flicker by.

Her hijab offers no protection, no barrier is formed between the soft fabric and

Faces lit and then hidden

Eyes shine momentarily and then retreat to dark.

Eyes she’s afraid to meet.

Faces she has learned not to look back at.

The color of her skin disallows contact.

The happiest part of a journey is quite often the arrival.

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Yes!!! Isn’t it time that men own their violence, prejudices, misconceptions, and sexist attitudes towards women and let them make their own decisions? Isn’t it time for men to stop blaming women for their own violence, perversions and lack of control? Rape, for example, has NOTHING WHAT SO EVER to do with what a woman wears, rather it is PURELY the result of a mans violence and hatred towards women. Such laws, or constructs, as a requirement to wear a burka, stem in reality from mens mistrust of themselves and a psychotic need to deny any responsibility for their own hateful attitudes. We can never have gender equality while such antiquated attitudes prevail. Until that fact is burned into our global conscience, we will continue to have such demeaning laws. I don’t like a burka but as long as they exist, i will support women’s right to choose. If a woman chooses OF HER OWN FREE WILL to wear one, or a birkini on a french beach, SHE HAS THAT RIGHT!!! And to assume that just because she makes that choice she has to be a terrorist is just bloody stupid and you need to buy an clue.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/27/nytnow/top-10-comments-isnt-it-also-against-her-freedom-of-choice.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur

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