Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Kenya Fairley: North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

I picture your office
as a full place
pressed up unwilling
to a loud-grunting monster with barbed skin

everytime it exhales you
barely escape being crushed
and when it inhales you
breath quicky
and try to get us all to
hold hands
squeeze our eyes open
or sing at a frequenct that will
find the beast a soul

I see your desk
as an inflatable lifeboat
heavy with need
and electronic implements
and that gigantic porcupined colonist in your office
keeps popping new wholes
and you stretch to make it float

and I imagine your face
as a storybook of changes
making sound more various
than sattelite cable
responding to truths
you will never learn
to properly expect

what I am trying to say
is that I am already in awe
i am already over proud
of you for breathing
even before you say
what it is that you do all day

North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Kenya was supposed to me my first listening session, but we never actually met up. The collage I made for her remains open at the opening of my rap-book. This is probably the loudest message that I need to hear: crisis response work and pre-arranged appointments are not particularly compatible. At all. Lesson 1: there is nothing to say that wouldn’t be redundant when someone who works in crisis response calls you to cancel because of a....crisis. Lesson 2: when someone who works in crisis response calls you a week before your appointment and says she can meet then...Go!
This starcrossed exercise in listening to air, through cell phone towers and email reminds me of what a major stream of this project is about the balance between sustainable nurturing long-term poetic creation of community and IMMEDIATE RESPONSE. In other words....though I made a collage that I love for Kenya and wrote the best poem that I’d written in a while with the possibility of knowing her in mind, I completely failed to live into her context. I completely failed to make my response immediate, a fact that is amplified by the fact that may never know what her in-person response to my art towards her was or will be. (I have since emailed her both the collage and the poem because it seems that I will ultimately be meeting with a less busy representative of North Carolina Coaltion Against Domestic Violence. How mediated is that?)
So there are two things that I want to focus on here. First the ramifications of the term that stands out to me most in the NCCADV name: domestic, and second (a concern that I will come back to) what does it mean to respond immediately to a pervasive something. In a paradigmatically violent society, what does it mean to be responsible for violence?
The collage that I made features an archival photograph of a first nations person in Canada in front of a Teepee in what we are meant to understand as traditional (very heavy-looking) garb glaring into a camera, a red arrow against a black background facing down, a pair of sign language hands spelling something that I don’t know, and some visibly black people carrying their belongings in garbage bags and leaving New Orleans, maybe forever. I’m going to go through this backwards (as a process that leads from visual art to poem to “interview” and ends with questions might imply already.) What does the term domestic imply when George Bush II persists in calling New Orleans “this part of the world”, when many people (myself included) made the mistake of calling people escaping disaster in the Gulf Coast refugees, as if they were not citizens and residents of the United States, as if the violence that they experienced was not so definitively domestic? And in blocking access to goods coming from to the Gulf via it’s neighboring Caribbean Sea from Cuba to people struggling to survive, escape, breath, save each other in the Gulf Coast how does the United States government (and the story we tell that keeps us from overthrowing it) both disavow and enforce the domestic violence.
In a nation transubstantiated out of a settler colony can the domestic ever have anything to do with the indigenous? It seems, of course, that idigeneity and domesticity imply very different relationships to land, on characterized by dynamic relation and a responsibility (response-ability) to the land and the other characterized by enforced boundaries, predictable expulsions, constant policing, delayed, delinquent or with-held responses. It seems to me that the word “domestic” is continually seeking to colonize the concept of “home” while only really BEING at home when pushed up next to the word “violence”. This seems to me to be the place where the word domestic belongs. (It occurs to me tangentially that the words “public” and “housing” have a different but related relationship...something like an unhappy arranged marriage or the abusive result of another ironically compatible pair of words “shotgun wedding”.)
But what gets silenced and is not translated in this discourse of the domestic? What allows us to believe that citizenship exists? What prevents us, the literate, the literary, and those of us who are making our lives out of intersection, “those of us who live at the crossroads”, those of us in crisis (work) to be able to really speak what we mean? I mean to say what does it mean to be “against domestic violence”? I think that in one sense being “against” domestic violence very accurately describes our position, at least my position...uncomfortably close to domestic violence, like a rush-hour number train through Times Square, a relationship characterized by too much pushing, trying to get somewhere...but when do we acknowledge that if get anywhere we will be getting there together....that we might want to practice what that place might look like or feel talk honestly about what defense can ever do, how we would have to shift to embrace each other in the ways that we want to be embraced...which brings me to the red arrow. What is the direction we have in mind? Knowing that violence is never linear, but rather explosive and unpredictable in its traumatic ramifications and collateral damages means that responding cannot be a linear movement either...even in the direction that tries to be named in the word “against”. So immediate response seems to me to be relenting (i almost said relentless) invocation of now and of you and of me and of now and of you. I started out knowing that it had something to do with listening, and i definitely think it has something to do with speaking, with holding, with releasing. Immediate response seems to me to have to be as much an engagement with land(ing) or with environment as it is a matter of being present with people.
And somehow all this from the loss of missing a chance to listen....

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