Step foward: we hear
That you are a good man.
You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
You are brave.
You are wise.
You do not consider personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend
Are you also a good friend of the good people?
Hear us then: we know
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall.
But in consideration of
your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.
‘I’ and ‘you’ are but the lattices,in the niches of a lamp,
through which the One Light shines.‘I’ and ‘you’ are the veil
between heaven and earth;
lift this veil and you will see
no longer the bonds of sects and creeds.
When ‘I’ and ‘you’ do not exist,
what is mosque, what is synagogue?
What is the Temple of Fire?
With gratitude to The Beauty We Love.
To have a thought, there must be an object—
the field is empty, sloshed with gold, a hayfield thick
with sunshine. There must be an object so land
a man there, solid on his feet, on solid ground, in
a field fully flooded, enough light to see him clearly,
the light on his skin and bouncing off his skin.
He’s easy to desire since there’s not much to him,
vague and smeary in his ochers, in his umbers,
burning in the open field. Forget about his insides,
his plumbing and his furnaces, put a thing in his hand
and be done with it. No one wants to know what’s
in his head. It should be enough. To make something
beautiful should be enough. It isn’t. It should be.
The smear of his head—I paint it out, I paint it in
again. I ask it what it wants. I want to be a cornerstone,
says the head. Let’s kill something. Land a man in a
landscape and he’ll try to conquer it. Make him
handsome and you’re a fascist, make him ugly and
you’re saying nothing new. The conqueror suits up
and takes the field, his horse already painted in
beneath him. What do you do with a man like that?
While you are deciding, more men ride in. The hand
sings weapon. The mind says tool. The body swerves
in the service of the mind, which is evidence of
the mind but not actual proof. More conquerors.
They swarm the field and their painted flags unfurl.
Crown yourself with leaves and stake your claim
before something smears up the paint. I turned away
from darkness to see daylight, to see what would
happen. What happened? What does a man want?
Power. The men spread, the thought extends. I paint
them out, I paint them in again. A blur of forces.
Why take more than we need? Because we can.
Deep footprint, it leaves a hole. You’d break your
heart to make it bigger, so why not crack your skull
when the mind swells. A thought bigger than your
own head. Try it. Seriously. Cover more ground.
I thought of myself as a city and I licked my lips.
I thought of myself as a nation and I wrung my hands,
I put a thing in your hand. Will you defend yourself?
From me, I mean. Let’s kill something. The mind
moves forward, the paint layers up: glop glop and
shellac. I shovel the color into our faces, I shovel our
faces into our faces. They look like me. I move them
around. I prefer to blame others, it’s easier. King me.
Mahmoud Darwish in Haifa 1963 - Taken from Asad AbuKhalil Page
He’s flying overseas early in the morning, so after the hip hop show he drives me home. We sit in the car for ages, kissing like teenagers. I live on a huge hill and he forgets to put the parking break on, because of the kissing. Always him who grounds me happily, both of us so reluctant to pull away.
After Glenn Ligon after Zora Neale Hurston
Or, I feel sharp White. Or,
Colored Against. Or, I am
thrown. Or, I am
Opposed. Or, When White.
Or, I Sharp. Or, I Color.
Make it quiet. Wash
me away. Forgetting.
I feel most colored when
I swear to god. I feel most
colored when it is too late.
My tongue is elegy.
When I am captive. I am
the color green because
green is the color of power.
I am a tree growing two fruits.
I feel most colored when I am
thrown against the sidewalk.
It is the last time I feel colored.
Stone is the name of the fruit.
I am a man I am a man I am
a woman I am a man I am a woman
I am protected and served.
I pay taxes and I am a child and
I grow into a bright fleshy fruit.
White bites: I stain the uniform.
I am thrown black type-
face in a headline with no name.
Or, no one hears me. Or, I am thrown
a language bone: unarmed.
I feel most colored when my weapon
is I feel most colored. When I get
what I deserve. When I can’t breathe.
When on television I shuffle
and widen my eyes. I feel most colored
when I am thrown against a mattress,
my tits my waist my ankles buried
in veiny White. Everyone claps.
I feel most colored when I am
the punch line. When I am the trigger.
In the dawn yellow, I know
what I am being told. I feel most
colored when I am collecting dust.
When I am impatient and sick.
When they use us to distract us.
My ears leak violet petals.
I sharpen them. I sharpen them again.
We go in search of history and find
a guillotine at a garage sale where the lady
of the house in curlers and stretch pants
sits in a lawn chair knitting, knitting.
The guillotine is ugly but has historic
value, we say, and take it home
to replace the wagon wheel in the yard,
but we can’t get the damned thing to work.
Nobody told us the lubricant of history
is blood. We thought it was money.
Is Grandma’s pickle crock historical?
How much is it worth? Could we convert
the rusted old tricycle into a fountain?
But history sings like a chain saw
in the woods, a freight train
in the night. History is the grizzled
Viet Nam veteran with his dog and sign,
begging at the intersection. History
is the yellow detritus of used condoms
at the edge of Lovers’ Lane.
History is a lottery ticket, a truck full
of cocaine approaching the border crossing,
a drunk on the wrong side of the highway.
History is hallucination, fantasy, a mirage
in the desert, as blind as justice.
Historians suffer from the fever of time
but never know what time it is.
They are mad poets making up stories.
The history of war passes a hat and we
put our children in it. Then somebody
gives us stars to put in our windows,
one star for each child.
On the streets of history there are more
guns than lovers, but who could stay
indoors on such a day when the chestnuts
have leafed out at last and lilacs
fill the air with the heartbreak of history.
karma repair kit by richard brautigan
Get enough food to eat,
and eat it.
Find a place to sleep where it is quiet,
and sleep there.
Reduce intellectual and emotional noise
until you arrive at the silence of yourself,
and listen to it.
The wars are everywhere, o even within.
Drawn in poor bee by the dance loud hum
Of some other tribe, poor bee. Even the center, even the heart,
Keeps a sting sharp: art stings thought, thought stings art.
Petty realm of the long known. Are there other ways to learn to sing?
Clash of long dead blades in the fallow fields
And the wind that blows truce for an hour whistles loud the rash
Martial tune. Some scribe handles himself. “Use it,” sings the song.
I want to talk about embodiment and how it differs by gender. Embodiment is a bit of a nebulous concept, but basically it means a deep knowing of your body and its capabilities, and a feeling of groundedness rather than disassociation. It’s that knowing that tells my brother when he looks at a rock five feet away that he can do a two-foot jump and make it safely. It’s that trust that allows baseball players to dive for a ball and trust their body knows how to land. It’s that feeling that lets you throw a punch and know how it’s going toyou’ve ever been on a rocky beach, a beach strewn with boulders to get down to the water, and seen young men stride confidently, maybe even jump from one to the next, while their female companions tentatively step, test, then shift their full weight, maybe taking the hand of their boyfriend or friend, that’s the gendered difference in embodiment. Of course, not all men are embodied and not all women are disembodied. But research shows that a lot more men are embodied than women, and that men and women talk about their bodies in very different ways. This is likely because we live in a culture that prizes men as the subjects and relegates women to object status. How do you find embodiment as an object? It is likely because boys are taught from a young age that being boisterously in their bodies is their birthright, while girls are taught to lock it down. To be sweet and quiet. To play with dolls and tea sets while their brothers run around with toy guns and throw balls and frisbees. It is likely because boys are taught to throw while girls are assumed to…throw like a girl. It is likely because the worst epithets aimed at men are those that compare them to women.
It is likely because women live under the threat of intimate violence every damn day of their lives. Because we are taught to walk in pairs. Because we are taught that the wrong skirt means we are culpable for our own violation. Because god-damnedskinny jeans mean we were “asking for it”. Because some men will not back off until another man claims ownership of us. Because we are told that taking up space puts us in danger. And so we shrink into ourselves. We shrink away from the gaze and the words and the threats and the violence. We disassemble that mind-body connection in pursuit of enough peace to get through the day.
And even in the pursuits that should embody us, like exercise (more on this later) we are taught to keep ourselves small. We are told that women lift 8-15 pounds. We are told that women can’t do pull-ups and can only do push-ups from our knees and never taught how to graduate to full push-ups because why would a woman need to be strong enough to push a person off of her? We are taught to do “the “partial pushup” because it only requires a partial amount of effort, and consequently imparts a partial amount of strength development.” (Follow the link for source material.) We are told that we should spend our time doing cardio or pilates, not throwing around iron and sandbags. We are told that strong women get bulky and that bulky women are unfeminine (both points being grade-A bullshit). We are shown fitspo that purports to be about female strength but is really just another way to highlight tits and ass and extreme leanness.
And so we learn how to cardio ourselves into oblivion, but don’t see the results we’re told we should see. We lift and lift and lift but don’t get any stronger because stalling out at 15 pounds means you’re lifting less than some people’s backpacks. And because we aren’t taught to lift heavy, we don’t actually know what working hard in the weight room feels like.
I started lifting heavy about a year and a half ago and it was a revelation. I got under the bar, faced my fears, and started to trust my body. It is empowering to squat 115 pounds after doing bodyweight squats all your life. It is empowering as hell to deadlift 135 pounds (and it makes moving a fuck of a lot easier!). And it requires a hell of a lot of trust and connection with your body to do it right. How do you activate your posterior chain if you’ve never truly felt your body before? My graduate research (forthcoming) showed that women survivors of intimate partner violence who engage in empowerment-oriented exercise (defined, for my study, as strength-training, martial arts, and yoga) had higher levels of embodiment than those who engage in aerobic-based exercise (running, walking, zumba, etc). Which makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. You can easily throw on a podcast or bumpin’ playlist, head out and suddenly realize you’ve run three kilometres without being all that present to it. But there’s no way in hell you can clean a 40 pound sandbag off the floor without being connected to your body, without being grounded in your body, without trusting your body to do what it needs to do every step of the way. There’s no way you can spar and not be in your body. There’s no way you can “find the edge” in dancer pose and not be aware of your body.
Which isn’t to denigrate cardio-based exercise. It’s great. It’s good for your heart and clears your mind and if it makes you feel good, do it. But I think we should question why women are taught to do hours of cardio and lift light and long rather than lifting heavy and increasing their capacity. I think we should also look at how much time it takes to do an hour of cardio plus three sets of 20 reps of a million stupid isolated movements (how many different tricep exercises can we do in order to combat the “batwings” every magazine shames us for?). I used to spend easily an hour and a half at the gym. Sometimes two hours. Now I’m in and out in forty minutes and I’ve worked a hell of a lot harder. Because I simply couldn’t sustain that level of intensity for two hours. Of those forty minutes I’m probably only actively lifting for about 15, because working hard needs recovery.
And I can feel the difference. I can feel it in how I walk, with confidence and ease. I can feel it in how my shoulders naturally settle back and down. I can feel it in how I no longer cower when strange men yell at me, I gut-check and then proceed in the safest way, with the confidence in my body to step-to if needed (though, like many women, I’ve never been taught how to fight or take a punch properly, though I do know how to throw a punch after taking a boxing class). I don’t think I could win in a fight at this point (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is in my future), but I trust my body to make it hard as hell for the other person to win. I trust that just having anembodied presence makes predators less likely to target me.
And I want to be clear: I am not stating that women who are less embodied, who don’t or can’t lift weights, are in any way responsible for being victimized or being vulnerable. Rather, I am calling to account a society that depends on female weakness, that valourizes it, that fetishizes it. And I am suggesting that while we do the big, society-level work, we can also do the individual, personal-level work. We can empower and embody ourselves by throwing away Self Magazine and getting under the bar.
P.S. Doing a Creative Commons search for “barbell” garners you more Prince Alberts than you’ll know what to do with. Learned that one the hard way.
Embodiment and lifting weights were such a huge (and ongoing) part of my PTSD Recovery. I was also able to finally start to address my body image and disordered eating after more than a decade, once I started lifting and knew what it was to feel _present_ in my body. Amazing what started to fall into place in my life once I picked up a barbell, and how much more mental strength I had to deal with the often destabilising process of Recovery.
Stand Your Ground
Good on Jay for standing against sexual violence in our community.
Travel Tickets by Samih al-Qasim
translated by A.Z. Foreman
The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one to the conscience of humankind.
Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.