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Less BLue Corn, More Corn Blues

Dec. 13th, 2009 | 09:37 pm

This poem is dedicated to Tommy Briggs, the most inspiring pessimist I've ever had the pleasure to meet, to my childhood friend Rebecca who can't be here to hear it because she's working in Mexico on agriculture's connection to public health and to Doug, because he's corny.

It's like sugar's so famous it needs a stunt double
call in the plant that grew strong in South West desert rubble.
Now out of America's heartland comes gasoline's supporting actress.
She's also currently guest starring in plastics...
So you can have your cake and eat it too.

Got corn?
I've got corn in my food
got corn in my fuel
Got corn?
I've got corn in my bread
Though it's not corn bread
it's been bred to
be big and be bold
with strong sheathes of gold
swaying, swaying in the early October breeze...

Fields hold
my eyes
as I
drive by
And as I
slow I've
realeased burnt corn
into the sky...
Got corn?
It's the wax on your grocery store apple,
the sweet in your Snapple
It's part of why we all must grapple
with what to eat, and
what to question.

: haha. Laura, you KNOW we can't DO anything about it. Right? (copyright Tommy Briggs)

What can I do but put 10% in my emissions
Ethanol's on a mission
Up go fields to fuel engines
Plowed through forests of oxygen
And so grain prices rise
As food is commodified
Around the world are food riots
So fill the trains
To carry the grains
To gain money don't take thoughtful brains
Or caring about bays.

Crowded factory farms don't need bays, right?
So take silos to new heights
Silos to Perdue overnight
And what to do
With deathly strands of ecoli?
Some turn a blind eye.
And a 3 year old dies
And a young woman eats and is paralyzed
So packers must buy more, buy more, buy
More, to bleach the meat and don't ask why
More cows aren't fed grass
Or why more
children can't pass
On more
than one burger per time
To be satisfied
Or why
The bun is corn. The oil is ocrn. The ketchup is corn.
The non-reusable compostable cup in the trash at your local hipster coffee shop is

Question: If a landfill is filled with coffee cups and Odwalla juice bottles from Williamsburg Brooklyn- or Takoma Park, Maryland, does that make it an organic, fair-trade trash heap?

And while I spit these contemplations
Spreading in all compass directions
is Monsant's transgenic mutation.
This coroporation
has altered in one generation
10,000 yeas of natual selection
With the Onceler's ignorant sigh
And the consumer's blind eye
Our U.S. American hands push and reach
and preach
to Africans and South Americans
The ways of our overburdened urban-farm separations
Replaced Jesuit Priests describing the heaves
The blessed host is the flesh
Eat corn for a taste of the holy bloodof the Western economy.
The give your tithes to the state with the earliest primary.
But corn... your make made Agent Orange, not Adam
And it's rib now stirs the pots of Sudan's food lines' porridge.
That tempting waxy apple is helping end Mexoco's Eden
And 463 varieties of Mexican corn being felled faster even
than were the Aztecs
For the have no tongues, nor weapons
There is no protection
From unnatural selection, like small pox spreadin'
through air borne corn pollen

Question: What happens 15 minutes after an 11-year old child eats chicken feed destined corn kernels off the ground of a Worton, MD's feritlizer company's parking lot, then gets right into a 15-passenger van? Hint- it both rhymes with and matches the color of Comet.

Bob Willard told me 40,000 a day die from hunger
And that corn's the future savior.
What's in a number?
I'll paint you a picture,
One that may differ
from makers
of ferilizer:
12 million are hungry
Each year just in our country
Yet we toss out 3,750,000 lbs of food on the daily.
Tim, try eating THAT SLOP!
Add in the run-off
Adding to bay job losos
And the poor nutrition
Of this corn/soy/fast food system
Then tell me again
That GMO corn shall be the holy grail
of Food production
for overgrown population.
I'll say I can't accept that religion.
So until I find answers which can lead to more actions
I continue to question more, question more, question more
For now as my tongue tastes less blue corn
It will simply spit more of these corn blues.

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*More* Stories from of the Lake (Imagine: Dulac, LA)

Feb. 18th, 2009 | 12:30 pm

What We Have
    This Shabbat morning, we created blessings, considering what we needed to be thankful as we celebrated the day of rest and reflection on the Gulf Coast and in the context of service and learning and contemplating privilege and melding communities. We began from a place of comfort and heart for may Jewish people with the traditional Jewish blessing refrain: Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam (Blessed be <insert preferred God/Creator term here> sovereign of the universe... ). Then we added.
  Those who shared their blessing aloud spoke of hom, family, stability, and other somewhat immaterial "things" for which they were grateful. What of the things we have which were not said? The littler material things in life... My iPod to listen to music for entertainment or solace at will, my cool sneakers (there were some very cool sneakers in attendance at services that morning) which are so comfortable and fly... my laptop and internet for work, resources, staying in touch.
    Later in the kitchen a youg person washes lunch utensils at the request of her good friend who dragged along. Their turn. She hated it, the knives covered in hummus, jam and peanut butter. the forks were slimy with salad dressing, the spoons spotted with bits of hard-boiled egg yolk and chunks of tuna. Gross! This is why I live in NY. Where we have dishwashers! She washed them. I hope she grateful for her dishwasher.
    I also hope that I may learn in my work to help make more of these connections, between not only the material and the non-material, but between material and waste and practices that show a disconnect between our desire to help and lack of awareness of the consequences of human's interaction with nature. Climate change may be part of the problems on the Gulf Coast, but more so is the engineering of the river direction change and digging of channels without thought of how the land taken away affects the land's and the people's sustainability into the 21st century.

    If we, the staff, weren't here to say wash the spoon it would be thrown away. And then... what oil must be found lying beneath Louisiana marsh grasses for new plastic, and what canal dredged to transport it to New Orleans, and what coal-powered manufacturing plant powered up for spoon-making, and what trees cut down for the packaging, and what truck using gas to transport the goods to the store and what car from the store... to get us another spoon? And what piece of Louisiana earth will the old spoon then inhabit so that living things may no longer? The spoon IS our work here. The spoon matters as much as our work clearing storm debris, tearing down flooded homes, and painting new ones. The spoon matters.


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Stories from of the lake

Feb. 4th, 2009 | 08:32 pm

Imagine: Dulac, Louisianna

Stories from of the Lake: A compilation of stories reflecting on my experience leading a group of introspective,  learned 13-15 year olds on a trip from the synagogue, B'nai Jeshrun, in NYC to Dulac Louisianna. Trip's purpose: Learn about different approaches to social justice through one hands-on experience. Learn of social injustices. Connect Jewish Values with the call to social justice in American life. Get new facebook friends.

Why Sit Still? 

Rabbi Marcelo shares a story for shabbat. A true parable. Once he went to a coffeee shop in NY- You know. To get a cappucino. The ex-pat rabbi from South America thought he'd be very New Yorker that day. When he ordered and was done, the coffee shop clerk called "Next!" He continued calling: "next!, next! next! next! next! next! next! next! next!"... but it was just him and Marcelo in the shop. Marcelo turned to him: "What are you calling? There's no one there." So they had a moment.

But is this not a metaphor for- too often- how life can be or how we may go through it? Always so focused on what is coming next that we do no see what happening around us.

Mayim B'Rabim. And So We Bear Witness.
In our Shabbat eve service, in hebrew, we bless this mayim b'rabim- this water in abundance- so important to our ancestors in the desert. Yet we are here in Dulac, on the gulf coast where it's no blessing. Perspective. In a day we've learned of much we didnt' think to contemplate before arriving. Salt water fish caught in fresh water bayous as oil tankers replace shrimp boats washed into marshes from the last storm: hardly compelling from a TV screen in a rowhouse on a city street 1,160 miles away. Or further. And so no one knows. And so we bear witness.

For the Sake of Peace

We look at a text from the Talmud which calls on us to take care of, to help the non-jew alongside the Jew "for the sake of peace." Many of our students focused in on this line throughout their chevrutot, paired studying: We like that we're called to create peace between ourselves and other communities. But we did not come here to make peace. we came beacuse we wanted to, because we wanted to do good work, to help others...

We must keep in mind the time in which these words were written and then perhaps think of it as the least reason: If for no other reason, then we are called to do it for the sake of peace. So that tragedy as in Israel and Gaza never starts in the first place. For it's hard to stop the rolling ball once it rolls. Newton said so... So that communities like the Houma do not become devastated because they were kept away from resources and schools so purposefully for so long. They have not taken up arms as they are a peaceful culture, or so I'm told. But they wage an ongoing battle for federal recognition that must tire both sides after 30 long years.

And if we hadn't come here to learn of the people and circumstances, we may inadvertently have sown the seeds of future tragedy through ignorant acts.

So while we help all people because... we just want to, or because we have a sense it is right and loving, we come also for the sake of peace.

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NewOrleans2009 OR Federal-Levee-Failure+3.5

Feb. 4th, 2009 | 07:49 pm

French Quarter

Decatur Street is remade just as I remember it from Disneyland.
Complete with haunted-looking houses,
Cheap masks and beads and lights over brass balconies,
Mississippi liner on the water's edge beckoning me.
Beckoning tourists.
Buy me. Buy me. Buy me. Buy me.
Ghosts are the only truly original things that now inhabit the French Quarter,
They cannot be bought and they don't wear human masks in haunted houses.
You need not wait in line to feel their presence.
For they walk all the streets of New Orleans.

Roots and Paperclips

So many deep, deep roots
Could not be pulled up
Or flooded out.
They remain.
And at first glance, tall trees still stand.
Some, people have re-attached with paper clips while they wait for glue.
Some are strong-looking
'Til you notice the dangling dried fruit, brittle leaves.
Yet gutted, they call back their innards- their meat, their juice,
Their souls.

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a haiku.

Jun. 8th, 2008 | 08:56 am

I see him and get
Butterflies in my stomach.
Can't drown them with beer.

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'bout time: Music Lessons

Mar. 28th, 2008 | 02:06 pm

(More sophomoric poetry inspired by some spoken word I've heard...)

You know how music takes you places.
Places you in a past
when you're caught off guard
by a song's rhythm
makes you think of a someone...
damn if it always will
I hate to love those songs that remind me of boys I didn't even love, and
love to love those songs that remind me of friends I miss. Together we
missed the boat on
high school
high drama
between boys and girls
My girls were my friends and
my boys were my friends and
boyfriends were something other teenagers had that seemed more normal than us, than me.
normality's illusory.
I was born with a maturity,
an ingrained sense of careful responsibility.
My mom said I was born 30-
I guess I'm waiting till
catch up to

Except now
girls are women and boys are men
and I was a careful perfectionist who with love, didn't make mistakes. Takes
courage to make mistakes, risk heart breaks.
I have the wisdom to know there are risks I need to take,
but that doesn't make'em easy to embrace,
and now I'm taller so the fall will be harder to break.
Like on ice skates,
          you're better off learning young.
And hell, I took ice skating lessons when I was six and seven.
I'm a good student, but the school of life- it doesn't give you warm gloves for protection
Or booklists, practice quizzes, syllabi and term defintions.

But I love learning, so
I'm slowly moving past the creek by my parents' house, where I walked safe a child,
to catch my lessons from the rivers, wild
seas and oceans of a world complicated by multi-cultures, multi-economies...
Hopefully I won't get sick from the motion,
and will emerge wiser, with new rhtyhms in my heart, and hips.
New words in my mind and lips.
No longer tongue tied, except when it's tied to another tongue...
And will emerge still willing to learn more,
when I'm no longer fearing memories from songs that rotate on my computer at random.
For they are memories of living with the fear of living,
little to do with the boys that trigger'em.

And well, if I was truly born 30, I guess it's about time I grew up.

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Story #4: Well, I'M here.

Mar. 28th, 2008 | 01:50 pm

*Self-editor's comments: Yes, it's been two years. It's hard for me to believe. I've had more story ideas, but mostly I've been a bit stagnant in certain aspects of my growth.  I've allowed time for my social life and networks to flourish... such that now it's time to see if I can combine a life of reflection, introspection with an outer life of social action. It's the next step. And I'm taking it, like the careful baby learning to climb the stairs I was 23 some years ago. I won't fall back, but I'll move REAL slow*

October 2006: I'm sitting in literacy class with 4 disheartened 3rd graders, too conscious of the fact that they do not read as well as their classmates, but unwilling to admit it, unmotivated to learn, or at least unmotivated to do the hard work that learning requires of them.

The most fluent reader of the group, an accomplished memorizer of words who couldn't sound one out for the life of him, makes a face in the corner, formulating an excuse, an escape, if subconscious, to avoid reading with me today: "I can't read!" he finally spews when probed. So indicative of the fact that it's my first year, first month really, of teaching here and I've yet to have the right words to respond to such children's cries, I retort: "What?! Who told you that?" It was meant to be a rhetorical question.

Yet it got a reply: "My dad."
"But he's in jail."
"Well, then he's not here next to you seeing you read like I am."

I make no claims that what I said was right or wrong. It's just a short story for which you can draw your own conclusions.

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Decolonization of the Imagination

Apr. 8th, 2006 | 02:18 pm

My sophomoric poem, always in the works...
Now falling out of wonderland. Book in hand.
Please note that (psycho-emotional) Turbulence may occur throughout the flight.

Ignorance is bliss.
SometimesI'd rather die
                than live in this world I know is replete with suffering,

In this world where it's so hard to
                    express.... myself
(And have people listen),
(And understand).

I want to scream... to explain:
        Outside your box!!

Outisde your mainstream, your daily... way of life.
    because it's not the only way of life.
"Realities" You thoughtlessly, subconsciously, unconscientiously accept
        views that surrounded you since the day you struggled to leave the womb...
That you've weaved into the new (insulated)box that protects you in its place.
A box of weak planks of hypocrisy,
               like layered toothpicks- they lie in strength,
            create a shield of ignorance out of false rationalization
    about others
    the Others
    so incomprehensively different from yourself.
     Unconsciounsly boxed in your mind as less than

Sometimes i am selfish
 i thoughtlessly dawdle in the corner of my (insulated)box. 
                                                                                              At it's border. At it's edges.
Occasionally I wander
And end up far             outside it...
But More often, i awake
    and look outside
    and cannot bear what I see,
                (and hear),
                        (and feel)
i creep back in
to MY box
wishing i could crawl further
(back into the womb).

Ignorance hides pain that too often it creates;
Ignorance. is... bliss.

(Click some links and perhaps you can attempt it too... to decolonize what lies between your eyes, that is)

In light of current attempted US legislation that would further criminalize and dehumanize humans who are undocumented immigrants, or permanent residents, and all those who provide any service to them and the ongoing genocide in Darfur...
I finally update an entry... A DC story that is truly a story with so many origins in DC the capital (vs. DC the city I live in), if unconventionally told through the voices of others and an attempt at expressing myself poetically
"The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit."

"I don't believe this is some kind of situation where powerful liars sit around and decide how best to kill people of color in the world. I believe that most of these folks are moneyed white people, and they inherited a worldview fom their parents and grandparents just like the rest of us. What, exactly, compels them to be racist fucks is open to conjecture, but there is no denying the fact that the moneyed class, which has such a huge influence on the worldview of everyone else in my country, are, indeed, racist fucks." ~Inga Muscio (Autobiography of a blue-eyed devil)

"Not since the early days of the civil rights movement has America been given an opportunity as great as the opportunity we have now. It's one things for us to avenge our pain, our anger, and our rage by targeting bin Laden and a handful of men who have wrought this villainy. But one should be wise enough to ask, What fueled all this? What continues to sustain the possibility that this will not go away? I think the answer is poverty.

Dr. King once said that when we reach this kind of crisis, this kind of terror experience, that we should stop long enough to look at ourselves through the eys of our detractors and find what wisom we can glean from understanding how we have directly contributed to that tyranny. What have we done to humanity that brings us to this place of inhumanity? Terrorism is in many, many was the final utterance of voices unheard.

Americans can longer afford to be as arrogant as we've been. we can no longer exmpt ourselves from the global family of concern. We can no longer exempt ourselves from conferences on racism like the conference in Durban that we walked out on, or concerns about trade, or global warming.

So this is a great opportunity to take a good hard look at theese things. Because now we're more vulnerable that we've ever been. The only thing that can put that to rest forever is to abolish poverty. To eradicate precetable diseases. first and foremost to get rid of ignorance." ~Harry Belafonte

"In the 'free' market, free speech has become a commodity like everything else- justice, human rights, drinking water, clean air.  It's available only to those who can afford it.  And naturally, those who can afford it use free speech to manufacture the kind of product, public opinion, that best suits their purpose. ~Dr. Arundhati Roy

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Pizza pick-ups: All great ideas are found by accident....

Dec. 9th, 2005 | 02:38 am

We walked down Columbia Road from 16th St. Passing the dimly lit hole in the wall of the Mambo Room, quiet apartment buildings with neatly manicured lawns, and store fronts baring the names Ritmo Latino, The Mexican bakery, and MixTec. The locals are still shopping at Safeway, the homeless are dispersing, though some people still stand around chatting in Spanish- it hasn’t started getting too cold at night yet. We get the occasional check-out, "eh, mamasita!!" and pretend to ignore it.

We hit the corner of 18th and Columbia, with it’s brightly lit McDonald’s acting as a light-house beacon for the main strip in Adam’s Morgan. We encounter a familiar breed of people, so different from the one we just left. The loud, well-dressed, preppy young professionals crowd waits at the corner to cross the street.

We notice their dress, their tones, their style. We pick a chic bar and chat and people watch. No one checking us out over here. We will never be those women in the slinky tops that are hit on left and right in this town. We wouldn’t want to be. We buy our own drinks. But the attention would be nice, I suppose.

And since one can’t leave Adam’s after having a drink without a giant slice of pizza we make a pit stop at the Pizza Boli’s as we make our way back. We pack it in a box to go and my friend carries it out the door, back toward the lighthouse before we'll push off shore to go home… but lo! What’s this? All the sudden the men are talking to us, following us, with their eyes if not their feet. Some are talking to us and as we approach we hear their calls: “Lookin’ good… Can I get a piece of that?”

They were talking about the pizza of course. So now we know the real secret- and we’re letting it out: If you ever want to pick up guys in Adam’s Morgan, just carry around pizza box (pizza not required within) and it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from ‘cause you’ll be the hottest chica on the strip!

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The Bread Line

Nov. 14th, 2005 | 11:55 pm

I was about 13 years old, and had spent the morning walking through Roosevelt Island by Georgetown with my grandparents, parents and two younger sisters on a cool November day. We then ended the day at the newly built Roosevelt memorial, lined by cherry trees with brown and yellow leaves by the Tidal Basin. The water would have been falling in a large square sheet, I would look so small next to this monument to nature’s power over Man glistening in the fall sun. I imagine I stood and listened to the constant stream of that 1st waterfall for a moment before becoming restless to wander through the rest of the cherry-tree lined, stone-walled labyrinth that is FDR's memorial park. I imagine I read the quotes, etched up high in the grey stone walls, took them in for a brief moment and forgot them as I reached to place my hand on the column where a bronze handprint was already golden smooth from so many people's placing their own fingers within. I imagine I stood in line, beside the statues of a depression era bread-line, waiting until a spot opened behind the bronze men, hungry to have my photo taken, to pose with them- also a statue, never to grow older, if only in 4x6 on glossy paper.

The FDR memorial remained a pleasant memory of a day with my family, climbing rocks, pretty waterfalls, and impressive statues. Like so many of my childhood memories, I remember it through the photos: Me, all grinning smile with my sisters, my red-checked flannel jacket wrapped around my waist, contrasting with the grey, jagged rocks and final clear waterfall. A photo I had taken and cherished with Roosevelt’s “I Hate War” etched into large rough stones on my billboard. The memorial remained as photos and pleasant memories in my mind until my first return 8 years later.

This time it is a cool spring night. The waterfall must sound the same, though like my thoughts, it scintillates with a greater complexity under the soft yellow lights. The jagged rocks and waterfalls representing Roosevelt’s struggle with the need to unify Man with Nature, his fight both in and against war. I know better than to think the ex-president a saint of any kind, but his quotes inspire me. I think how our current president would never utter such beautiful truths and notions that speak not of how great the country is now, but of how great it can be in the future. Where did that vision go?

I spent the last week on an alternative spring break, noticing the disdain in this city of the hungry and homeless. I learned the inner workings of government bureaucracy in social services. I came into my “spring break,” setting out to learn about “hunger and homelessness issues” that I was too overwhelmed with un-understanding to have the courage to face head-on before. A week later, I understood how complex the issues are. In school, I learned all about the New Deal, but I was never taught about modern reality. The Roosevelt memorial was transformed in my mind, beyond a photo to a symbol of the history the nation’s un-addressed and avoided complexities.

I come upon the bread line- it is overrun by a busload of high-schoolers on a night-monument visiting trip. They’re having fun jumping on the rocks, goofing around, running past the waterfalls, placing each finger in the handprint on the column- a pensive one here and there, perhaps noticing a quote or two. They come around to the brick wall before which stand bronze men with sad faces and droopy hats. The men are lined up at the bronze door, eternally closed, hungry for food above all else, as adolescents bounce around them, impatient, hungry only to be pixelized in the frozen bread line of the Great Depression.

Which one of them realizes bread lines didn’t end with the depression. Which teacher will point this out to them? Which one has looked beyond the many men of stone, the myths and legends that adorn their nation’s capital to its living people, its daily reality? Which one would even notice, let alone come within 50 feet of one of the 50 modern-day soup-kitchen lines the city would host by dawn the following morning?

But then, I didn’t either. Perhaps one of them will come back again in a different light.

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