Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Tree called Sacred

Over the next few posts, I will serialize one of my tree poems. This tree poem is a puzzle, too, like my poem An Ancient Riddle Found Standing in the Backyard.

I live on the sides of mountains
in filtered sun, sheltering under the shade
of trees alive with the sound of songbirds
that visit me from the North.

Avocados, banana, jackbean, red-seeded sword bean,
earth nut and monkey nut live alongside me.

I never stray from the Equator.

I call Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Guatemala,
and Ecuador my home, and lately, Vietnam 
but my roots are Ethiopian and Yemeni.

Arab traders carried me to their homelands
With me, created rituals for well-being,
prosperity and the nourishment of friendship.

Imams tended me carefully in their gardens,
guarding me like a secret.
In return, I danced through their veins,
keeping them awake for night prayers.

In Mecca, the Sultan declared me sacred,
but in Turkey, I was grounds for divorce
if a husband failed to offer me daily
to his wife.

Friday, December 23, 2011

trees have rights, too

Olive tree within a traffic circle within an illegal Israeli settlement within the Occupied West Bank.

Regardless where you stand on the question of Palestine, watching the destruction of olive trees as shown in the video clip above calls into question the tactics Israeli settlers have taken up. Uprooting and burning olive trees? All to claim their rights to, what they call using the Old Testament names, Judea and Samaria, but since the creation of Israel in '48 became known as the West Bank; otherwise known as Palestine. Speaking to the further compartmentalizing of land for political and ecocide purposes yet masked in the rhetoric of claims to "my home," the West Bank has been divided further into Areas A, B, and C:
The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three geographic areas. In Area A, in which most Palestinian urban centres fall, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for security (although the Israelis routinely enter Area A at will) but in Areas B and C, which comprise over 80 per cent of the territory, it is the Israelis which are responsible for security. This means Palestinian police are not permitted to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli settlers in most of the West Bank. The problem is, of course, that the Israelis are not doing this job either and so it should come as no surprise that 95 per cent of settler violence occurs in Areas B and C.
Whether the Palestinian land is categorized as A, B, or C, it seems there will be more uprooting of its trees and destruction of its natural environment to build more homes for Israeli settlers. The Israeli Housing Ministry announced last Sunday that it will build 1028 new homes in ...where? Well, here are more terms to obfuscate the question of where these homes are going to be built: 
According to a statement by the ministry, 500 homes will be built in Har Homa in south Jerusalem, on land occupied during the 1967 Six Day War; 348 in the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit; and 180 in Givat Ze'ev, which lies between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
According to official Israeli terms, lands south of Jerusalem are known as Judea, and lands north of Jerusalem, Samaria. In other words, the homes are for Israeli settlers and will be illegally built on Palestinian land that has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

I invite the uprooters of trees and their supporters to watch a short video from System Change. In this clip, Canadian Maude Barlow argues for the movement towards making laws to encode the rights of protecting the trees, forests, oceans, rivers, streams, wetlands, and ecosystems, those interconnected systems of life. She argues for a sacred relationship with Nature, a  reclaiming and honouring of these beings / systems of the Commons, protecting ecosystems from marketization, resource extraction, and privatization.  I wonder how --and hope that-- the question of Palestine can move forward when the rights of Olive trees are enacted. And let's not forget water as praise for the River Jordan is sung reverently over the holidays. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Canada is not a religion; it's a country

Rick Salutin on weaing a niqab while taking the oath to become a Canadian citizen. If the clip above doesn't work, look here.

 Here are some thoughts he shares, worth thinking about: 

  • people say the niqab doesn't reflect Canadian values but citizenship isn't about sharing particular values, it's about sharing the country.
  • his grandfather, Himan Salutin, couldn't have been a citizen if he had to share Canadian values of his time; he was an anarchist, He came here from Russia in 1910 and went on strike immediately. That's way he was seen as unCanadian.
  • Women who wanted the vote were out of step with Canadian values, too.
  • Today's ultimate Canadian value, medicare, was denounced as unCanadian when it was  introduced.
  • Canadian values are always going through change. If they weren't, Canada would be a religion, not a country.
  • People who don't share majority values, play an important part, even if they never ask to. Sometimes they help change those values; other times, they help cement them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let's all wear niqabs and high heels to protest Kenney's state racism

 Last Monday, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kenney issued a public decree that women wearing a niqab or burka will have to remove them to say the oath of Canadian citizenship. That in Canada this is targeted at what is less than a handful of women clearly exposes the fears of said minister and the Conservative government he represents and not the impediment to clearly hear the oath, as is his so-called reason. It's only fair and open, says Kenney, if the women want to "join the Canadian family." Our open family. Oops. He just made it clear we are close-minded. He forgot to clarify, too, what type of family he's talking about, which from all the other narrow-minded regressive positions he supports, is clearly not only patriarchal and heterosexual, but also white and Christian -- Evangelical Zionism preferred.

Tabatha Southey has written up a response in the Globe and Mail about Kenney's legal meddling in what women can and cannot wear. Her article, part of which I've excerpted below, chastises Kenney for constricting women's choices. (Meanwhile, in the comments section of Canadian newspapers, one is accosted by the rabid racism and xenophobia that is surfacing in defending Kenney). In her piece, she compares her apparel choices with other women and suggests that whether the choice is high heels or a niqab, what business does the government have in restricting women's choices? Are we a democracy or are we not? I'm reminded of the phrase many years ago when a Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau (Liberal), asserted that "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation"....Those days of inclusive federal thinking are, sadly, gone. As dead as the tailing ponds of the Alberta Tar Sands and our government's Kyoto commitment.

Many people consider high heels and miniskirts to be degrading to women. High heels can restrict a woman's movements. Fitted clothes objectify women, which is intrinsically demeaning to them and prevents them from achieving equality with men – so the theory goes.
Yet women have never worn less and achieved more in the public sphere than they do now, and so – arguably – there goes the theory.
My own feeling is that if it were the men in our society who wore the four-inch Louboutins, we might well theorize that this reflects their privileged position in society: Men know they'll never have to stand all night, or chase after a bus, it would be said of the men in pencil skirts.
Mr. Kenney feels that veils are fundamentally at odds with 'Canada's commitment to openness, equality and social cohesion.' Many Muslim women have told him so, he claimed. But surely neither Mr. Kenney nor an unidentified lobby of concerned Muslim women should be making wardrobe choices for adult women, for any occasion – because that is at odds with Canadian values. He's the Minister of Immigration, not Anna Wintour.
Veils are spooky and challenging to many people. You might feel cut off from a woman if you can't see her face, and thus disadvantaged. I'm not sure why people feel they have a right to see a woman's face any more than another part of her body. When my eyes meet the eyes of a veiled woman at my No Frills when her child is yelling about breakfast cereal, they speak volumes, as does her body posture, as quite often does she.
If there's a barrier between a veiled woman and me, it's on my side. It's made of any preconceived notions I might have about why she's wearing what she's wearing, and what it says about her ambitions, education, self-esteem and status in her own household.
I refuse to make those assumptions and I regret any rule that enshrines them. Just as I ask those assumptions not be made about me, based on my shoes. Click, click, click.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

on the other side of blue

If you are feeling blue, here is sound and eye therapy to lift you up, but not in that saccharine way that just makes you feel hopeless--hence, more depressed about the state of the world. The song is "Meadows of Heaven"; it is 7 m. long, but be sure to listen and watch the whole thing.

Written by Finnish musician Tuomas Holopainen (lyrics below) for his band, Nightwish, the song is from from their album Dark Passion Play (2007). Nightwish's music has been called "symphonic metal." Now, do not let that categorization stop you from listening! You will fall in love with this song; it is very captivating. The person who put together the visual clips for youTube has done an amazing job visually mapping the rise and fall, the hopes and despairs, encoded in the song's musical story.

While Tuomas looks like he crafts his metal persona as a cross between Johnny Depp and Keith Richards, in the lyrics for "Meadows of Heaven" he takes up the persona of the little boy inside the man.

Meadows of Heaven. Tuomas Holopainen

I close my eyes
The lantern dies
The scent of awakening
Wild honey and dew

Childhood games
Woods and lakes
Streams of silver
Toys of olden days

Meadows of heaven

The flowers of wonder
And the hidden treasures
In the meadow of life
My acre of Heaven
A five-year-old winter heart
In a place called home
Sailing the waves of old

Meadows of heaven

Rocking chair without a dreamer
A wooden swing without laughter?
Sandbox without toy soldiers
Yuletide without the Flight

Dreambound for life

Flowers wither, treasures stay hidden
Until I see the first star of fall

I fall asleep
And see it all:
Mother's care
And colour of the kites

Meadows of heaven

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grandpa said....hang on to the wind

Erkki Rankaviita singing "Pappa se sano," a traditional Finnish folk song. Rankaviita, who was born in 1927, is an award-winning folk singer known for old-style humorous working-class folksongs that carry social truths.

"Pappa se sano," which translates roughly to "Grandpa he said" is entertaining and interesting, both for its humour and its historical and social commentary on class, family, and gender roles. It is very much from the oral tradition of story-telling. The video above captures that sense of gathering in the tupa/ the kitchen/living room of the house and sharing one's stories through song.

His song tells a story about Grandpa saying let's buy a house, but then how will we eat? How will Grandpa buy those pretty earrings for daughter-in-law? Grandpa wants more riches; Grandma wants more loving..

He also sings "You, me or somebody else." More Finnish folk songs here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

snow calligraphy and a plume on the lake

I saw this snow calligraphy on the ice this morning. What message might the hand of the wind on the canvas of snow-on-ice etch?

I woke up a bit groggy and a bit later than usual, but I knew that Tassu would be waiting for me and the lamb bones, so I popped my cosy stockinged feet out of bed and booted it down to pick her up. As usual for Sunday a.m., we walked along the shore of Lake Superior. In years gone by, there would have been a solid ice cover at the shore in December, but winter is no longer as cold and as hard as it used to be. Today, the December ice and water seem to be in a shifting relationship of give-and-take. Even they don't seem to know what to make of it; what is expected of them. What is water one day will be ice the next, what is ice one day may transform into a low rolling wall of vapour, but even on the coldest days, you will see eyeholes or cracks of water and hear the susurration of water as it breathes and laps against the edge of ice.
If you stand quietly by the lake shore early in the morning, you will hear the whispers and groans of ice and water as they find space for each other in the same place. Sure, sometimes you hear a loud snap, but when you turn to look, you see harmony.
The ice is thin; last week much of the shoreline was still water. Last time I walked along the lake, I stopped to watch a big circle of clear ice float and feel its way along the shore, as if it were travelling to a place to call home. Two smaller ice circles bobbed behind it like ducklings paddling behind their mother. I saw a few ducks last week, but now all I saw was this ice bird looking out from the snow dusted ice. 
I stood looking at this clear sweep of ice ribboning its way out into the lake for quite awhile. Did someone pull a toboggan way out on the lake? Would someone be so foolish to go out on the ice now when it's so thin, unpredictable, and mortally dangerous? I noticed a thin line running along center of this plume, as if it were a tire tread. Did someone ride a bike way out on the lake ice? Impossible, I thought. The ice wouldn't hold them; they would have broken through and fallen into the lake.
The plume left its own question mark. So, I'm not sure, but I surmise that this is a natural pattern made by shifting plates of ice.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

visual poetics or poetic visitation? Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad's recent visual poetics.

Her new poetry project is a multimedia initiative — Hammad in her own words, with activists and artists helping her sing the visual tempo, in an exquisite short film “dreamed, directed and created,” as she says, by Waleed Zaiter. Zaiter is a New York City-based animator, designer and alchemist, according to his website

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marja Kalaniemi's ryijy

Marja Kalaniemi, renowned Finnish accordionist

The other night when the moon was new, I did a short storytelling performance for a circle of women. My sister, Katja, assisted in the performance and our sister, Della, participated through long distance mentoring and by singing a song (which we played from her CD). I performed a story that my sisters and I collectively wrote for the last issue of New World Finn; we called our story "The Old Woman and the Barefoot Maiden."  It is a Finnish Canadian women's re-visioning of pre-Christian mythic Finnish women as the changing seasons.

When the opportunity came up for me to contribute some creative energy to a women's moon circle, I offered our story, reincarnated through a storytelling performance. So, I set about collecting various props to help me bring the story to life. Some of the things I used in my performance included an upside down sheep skin that stood in for a white reindeer skin; a small deerskin medicine bag that I once bought at the Napapiiri in Finland; inside this small pouch I put small chicken bones that I cleaned and dried, which stood in for bleached ptarmigan bones; a black loopy vest with two black feather boas attached to it which represented the Black Swan who carries the corpse of the Old Woman to Tuonela; a black, white and stone grey Marimekko huivi; old red patterned wool socks knit by our mom; a ball of red yarn; a huge (abandoned) crow's nest I once found down at the waterfront; and a number of other things.

When Katja and I prepared to practise our story last Sunday, I said we need something big to put under the crow's nest; something that I could sit on behind the nest, but that we could then easily pull out of the way. I hunted around my mother's house and found her old brown ryijy rolled up on a top shelf in the laundry room.

"This is perfect!" I said to Katja.

We unrolled the old brown ryijy, put the crow's nest on top of it and began. We went through the whole performance; halfway through, our mother came back from church and came downstairs, wondering what her two daughters were up to. She sat and was our audience as we went through the story one more time. 

Of course, knowing my mom, I left out some of the more "pagan" words so that her Christian radar would not come out screaming. There were a few parts that she looked a bit perplexed or troubled by, but, all in all, she loved our story! Of course, she told us how we needed to change vanha akka to ....I said, mom, it doensn't matter, no one will know 'vanha akka' anyway as we are translating it to "Old Woman."

Our satu, our fairytale performance, passed it's first --and harshest (i.e. most important) critic-- an old Finnish woman who doesn't think she's old.


Now, today I was listening to Finnish songs on YouTube and one of the tunes I clicked on was Marja Kalaniemi (one of my favourite accordion players). I watched the clip above and could not believe it--there is the same old ryijy that my mother brought from Finland hanging on Marja's wall! The same dull brown colours (except Marja's is much brighter than my mother's, which is really muted in colour.) Maybe Marja's is a reproduction? I don't know.

On the night of my storytelling performance, the old brown ryijy onto which the crow's nest sat was first used for the centre of our circle, around which the women sat, candles flickering. So this old ryijy was reincarnated on a darkening November night in northern Ontario. Who was the woman who made it? I will have to ask my mother the story of how she got the ryijy. 

What is a ryijy?

Taika metsȁ [Forest of Magic]

I ryijy is a textile once used for multiple purposes, depending on the historical time. Made by women on a loom, it has been used throughout the years as a covering for a sleigh, for a heavy winter bed cover, for the wedding prayers -- come to think of it, I think I recall an old black and white photo in my mom's archive of photos that shows her old brown ryijy on the ground in front of an old wooden country church as the bride and groom (my mom and dad? her sister and her groom?) step down the stairs, out of the church's front doors -- and more recently, as wall hangings for decoration. 

The ryijy above, The Forest of Magic, was designed by Toini Nyström in 1941. A renowned Finnish textile artist, she designed over 400 patterns between 1918-1950, which are archived at the Friends of Finnish Handcrafts. A prolific and well-loved artist, Toini's unique patterns are visible in many Finnish homes and churches. At her summer home, she became a student of gardening, an initiate of the natural world. Inside her summer cottage, she would sit by the window and look out at the nature around her, carefully studying the natural world to forecast the coming seasons. Her Magic Forest pattern evokes the beauty of the Finnish natural world, which comes alive through her magical hands.