Monday, August 24, 2009

Astor Place

Yesterday, we did what we always do--
wander and walk, her with her happy
pigeon-toed gait, me with my heavy feet,
the words between our bumping beats
as fine as a strand of her hair.
We talked books and boyfriends
and avoided the subject of falling.
When we could use taro cold
and coconut warm ceramic cups
of bubble tea as props,
our conversation thickened heavy
as my pony-tailed hair, the space between
filled with sips of thought, swallows before talk.

Copyright 2009 Xiomara A. Maldonado

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tragedy of Errors: A Story of Rape and Consent

I lost all hope. I couldn't defend myself. I had been helpless. I had decided long ago that no one would ever rape me again; he or they or I would die. But this rape was necrophiliac: they wanted to fuck a dead woman. Why? I was scared. I thought that being forced and being conscious was better, because then you knew; even if no one ever believed you, you knew. Most rape experts agree: how can you face what you can't remember? I tried to hammer through the amnesia, but nothing broke. I was so hurt.
--Andrea Dworkin, feminist author


In bed almost naked. She wears white-trimmed orange panties, with an ember hole in its cotton side; and a bare panty-liner under her abnormally dry opening. Glasses too, glasses without which she would be blind, glasses that survived, albeit loose and crooked, the yellow Yonkers motel room.

An aroused nipple, the hard tip of her tongue left-shifts, pushes between two teeth. The present emptiness swells belly deep. Between thumb and index finger, a large, flat gray-gold earring.

The television belches rudely, buoying words and colorful flashes into the hot air of the studio apartment. The words are words she could comprehend elsewhere. Not stuffed behind closed blinds, between dark walls.

It takes so much energy to think about all the ways she could have stayed conscious that night.
Less Henny. More No. Pushing the pointed earring hook into the palm of her hand, she ponders absent Shakespearean muses, beautifiers of tragedies, and dries her blood with the bed sheet.
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Photo by Xiomara A. Maldonado
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When she awoke that morning (the one that followed its drugged night lover like a stalker) her carpeted steps were shaky and lazy. She wondered at the surprising, loopy trail of LifeStyles and Trojans and NYCs ripped open around her clothing. First, her childhood lime green panties decorated with small and large blue stars. Second, her black bra and v-neck blouse. Third, her tight light blue jeans fighting the pull over her ass; her worn out shoes. At the end of the trail, the mirror, the bathroom light reflecting her eyes, the dark bags like shit-filled pampers under them.

She almost didn’t remember him fucking her in the shower. But he had left the gold holed ovals there, her 99-cent earrings fading in the flood of bathroom floor. A flash feeling of him beneath her beauty-marked back, lifting her by her ass, pulling her, pushing her. up and down. as if she were. free weights, heavy and dumb.

So much energy to try to remember more before, the moments after the amnesiac shot: the leaving, the cab ride, her wrapped-up-in-a-white-sheet No. He left her with nothing more than these bits and pieces of story; his biblical name; and pelvis-punching gonorrhea.

Her remains-- cheap earrings and washed blue-starred panties-- brief memories of Grievous Bodily Harm shoved into a messy, unlit closet. She remains--undressed thighs tightening, tongue-tip sucking, infecting the open wound.

Copyright 2009 Xiomara A. Maldonado
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I'd love to hear ways to improve the story. I appreciate your comments!
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"Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent - i.e., uttered a clear 'yes' - to the action" (Sexual Assault 18-3-402 CRS).


According to Feminist.com, of the 18% of women who have reported surviving a completed or attempted rape, 54% were under the age of 17 at the time of sexual assault. With the U.S. Justice Department's estimation that 74% of all rapes or attempted rapes in America go unreported to law enforcement officials, one can estimate that the actual number of women who have survived sexual assault is much higher.

Aside from statistics, my personal interactions with adult and young women throughout my life has taught me that instances of sexual assault occur far too often to be talked about so little.
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Sexual Violence Statistics

Photo by Xiomara A. Maldonado
  • Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) calculation based on 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • 17.6% of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 21.6% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4% were between the ages of 12 and 17. (Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, November, 2000).
  • Between 4% and 30% of rape victims contract sexually transmitted diseases as a result of the victimization (Resnick 1997).
  • A number of long-lasting symptoms and illnesses have been associated with sexual victimization including chronic pelvic pain; premenstrual syndrome; gastrointestinal disorders; and a variety of chronic pain disorders, including headache, back pain, and facial pain (Koss 1992).
  • Sexual violence victims exhibit a variety of psychological symptoms that are similar to those of victims of other types of trauma, such as war and natural disaster (National Research Council 1996).
  • Rape victims often experience anxiety, guilt, nervousness, phobias, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, depression, alienation, sexual dysfunction, and aggression. They often distrust others and replay the assault in their minds, and they are at increased risk of future victimization (DeLahunta 1997).
  • The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.
http://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html
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With the knowledge that, throughout our nation, a person is sexually assaulted every two minutes, I believe that it is the human responsibility of Americans to address the issue of sexual violence through educational and artistic methods .

Consent Education to Prevent & Acknowledge Rape
Firstly, all young people ought to be educated about the importance of receiving clear consent for and during sexual activities. In order to prevent the rape of women and assure women that they are not crazy, or in the wrong, or dirty because they were raped, both adult and young men and women must be better educated about consent and emotionally and physically safe sexual practices. I am unsure what is taught in Health class in New York City public schools, but I have seen that this knowledge needs to be an important component of one's life education.

In the meantime, there are great educational resources about consent online.
The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, for example, uses its website WhyNotAsk.org to provide consent education and stimulate conversation about non-consensual sex. The CCASA shares the following basic guidelines about consent:
  • If the other person says no, take no as the answer no matter how badly you want to have sex. Even if you think s/he is saying one thing but really means another, or you thought s/he was giving you the green light earlier.
  • If the other person says nothing, take that as a no too, and don't go any further unless s/he says it's okay. Silence can easily mean something other than "yes," and bad judgments in this area are no excuse.
  • Never guess at consent. It's not worth guessing about, for either of you. Even if you're not used to talking about sex, or asking if it's okay, or being asked. Even if it seems like everyone else is hooking up and no one is checking in along the way.
Knowledge about consent is essential to rectifying the unbalanced power dynamic between men and women, or rapist and victim. In addition to the preventative benefits of education, such knowledge helps women to deal with the guilt and shame they feel after an incident of sexual assault. Through education, women can heal and build a healthy, supportive community that works to end the cycle of violence.

Community Education - Sharing Stories of Rape and Consent
Secondly, sharing stories of sexual assault is an important method of education for oneself and one's community. Many women have a story to tell. Some have multiple stories. But how many of these women have never told their stories because they feel ashamed? How many have told their stories but feel shut down and muted because their listeners judged them and blamed them for their victimization? Telling a story of sexual assault is not easy and may incite blame or judgment from third parties, but storytelling helps survivors to cope with the trauma and fear they feel.

By fearlessly sharing stories, particularly through artistic forms, survivors of sexual violence will learn that they can experience personal healing and spread awareness of rape's prevalence and traumatic life consequences. Through the arts, women can re-find their voices and strengthen the community of voices that already speak with power to the issue of sexual violence.

I wrote Tragedy of Errors, the vignette above, in an attempt to depict the burden that survivors bear when unable to share their stories of fear and stagnancy, cheap memories. In my own small way, I am trying to spread awareness of the issue of sexual assault and the concept of consent in order to end the cycle of violence. With the spread of such knowledge, how many women will be less likely to face rape?

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to be a Photographer

As a poetry workshop facilitator for Voices UnBroken, I conducted an exercise from the curriculum that asks us to write a "How To" poem from the perspective of an expert. My resulting poem, which is still in need of revision, is below:

How to Be a Photographer


up-close,
down below,
up top, maybe
cropped—


streets and bees,
drying flowers—
your Muse inspires

you
lift your elbow, tilt it so,
scale brick buildings,
capture home.


press lens against a diamond gate
to keep the bubbled black and pink
graffiti in your pocket.


kneel or zoom in on
black basalt, limestone–
the nipple’s grit, abandoned
blue and orange bobo.


zoom out:
and silence the sweep of the sea;
or still the rafting nebulae.


sky clutter! shutter snap!
in leaves, catch falling memory.


Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Queer

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“…Queer is very much a category in the process of formation. It is not simply that queer has yet to solidify and take on a more consistent profile, but rather that its definitional indeterminacy, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics.”

–Annamarie Jagose
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Photo courtesy of: Wikimedia.
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As all creative writers must be, I am aware of the power of language. Language has the power to shape world views, shift collective opinions and shelter the wounded heart. Language discriminates; it destroys.

As guided by language, groups and individuals may be discriminated against for their sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, religion, and/or race (a social construct built upon an imaginary concept related to skin color). Language can keep individuals from knowing and accepting themselves; and language can limit opportunities for diverse groups of people to know and understand one another.

Through language, though, we have the power to wage a war, wielding words as weapons that address the social injustice of discrimination. As a woman of color, I write to fight back against many personally oppressive forces. My writer friends and I often battle side by side, waging wars against the "N-word," patriarchy, and other social injustices.

Whether writing or speaking, I attempt to address injustice by continually evaluating and evolving my language. Organic language empowers. Organic language is healing.
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In this tradition, I am raving about the word queer:

  • Queer empowers.
    Queer addresses the social barriers language erects between individuals and the collective.
  • Queer is powerful.
    Queer may create a more diverse community by allowing for more comfort and confidence in one's sexual identity. Queer promises acceptance no matter what one's sexual identity is at any point during one's developing life.

More reasons I like the word queer:

  • I like that queer's meaning is inherently undefinable: an inherent characteristic of the word queer and being queer is that one's sexual identity is not restricted to a rigid definition.
  • I like that queer subverts hetero-normativity by encompassing all types of sexual identities and expressions.
  • I like the way in which the word queer has changed my frame of understanding of existing sex and gender expressions.
  • I like that I can now say, "Sexual identity is organic," without my voice or heart being drowned out by the numerous religious voices I've spent most of my life listening to.
I believe that queer can effect self- and community- transformation because it is so widely accepting. I pray that our communities, in whatever forms they take, can experience the healing and empowerment that comes with more fully understanding what it means to be queer.

I know, at the very least, that queer has had a powerful impact on my life and way of seeing.
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Why should I admit I dig girls?

So I can stare at my mama
across police barricades
at the gay pride parade?

-Anonymous
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I am interested in hearing people's opinions on this post. Do you agree? Disagree?
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Writer's Self-Identity: Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez

I am posting the following excerpt from Julia Alvarez's essay, "Family Matters," in Something to Declare (pp. 113-116) as an offering of affirmation to one of my best friends, who is forging her own path as a writer and yearns for her career to be accepted by her family. Here's to blessings and success!

Ever since I became a published writer, my family has been trying to figure out where the writing talent came from....

It's nice to have the family finally arguing over who can lay claim to me.... For so many years, I was an embarrassment that my parents had to explain to the rest of the Dominican family. Those were knockabout years of sporadic employment, failed marriages, eccentric lifestyles. ...The thing that had gone wrong with my sisters and myself, according to the extended family back home, was that we had settled in the United States of America where people got lost because they didn't have their family around to tell them who they were. Instead, they spent their lives, wandering around, doing crazy things trying 'to find themselves.'

...By twenty-five, many [of my female cousins] were leading settled lives with children, households, a battalion of maids to do their bidding. They knew who they were; Alvarez or Tavares, Bermudez or Espaillat. But in America, you didn't go by what your family had been in the past, you created yourself anew. This was part of the excitement as well as the confusing challenge of America.

Well, at long last, after almost thirty years of self-creation, I began publishing novels, which were well received. Now my family saw those endless years of struggle in an whole new light. I had shown this poetic talent from the beginning, and they had always known it. I had never let mishaps or misfortunes and unemployment get in my way.

The change in their attitude proves, if nothing else, how even our memories favor the classic Aristotelian structure of narrative--with a beginning, middle, and end. If the ending is 'happy,' then the events that precede it suddenly light up with meaningful significance.

...It gratifies me that whatever talent I do have might have come from somewhere else. For on thing, it clears me of blame for upsetting some of those same members of my family when they actually sit down and read what I've written. But also it reminds me that I am just one more embodiment of that force for expression and clarity and comprehension which has nothing specifically to do with me, or just with me. As Jean Rhys, another writer with a strong connection to the Caribbean, once said to a young writer wanting some advice, 'Feed the sea, feed the sea. The little rivers dry up, but the sea continues.' All that we write and achieve as individuals means finally very little compared to the great body of work--books, music, dance, art, inventions, ideas--that forms the culture and context of our human family.

But as we droplets head for the sea, the tributary that forms the channel in which we travel, the current that thrusts us forward, the very composition of the water that makes up our droplets are our history, our families and neighborhoods and countries of origin, all of the forces that have shaped us and continue to shape us as persons and, therefore, as writers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Heeding the Voices of Women of Color

Memoirs and fictional creative writing stories written by female authors of color who ethnically and personally identify with the characters are invaluable ones. Many such authors produce stories of fear and oppression and the strength of women of color to overcome individual life and societal challenges, such as ethnic, sexual orientation and gender discrimination. Their important stories represent voices that are typically under-heard and under-valued by the American ear.

Whether written by Iranian, African-American, Korean-American, Haitian-American, various Latina, or other non-White authors, these stories detail the lives of women of color of all ages who face difficulties related to a history of ethnic and gender oppression and/or a history of colonization, trauma, and family migration.

I have listed nine writers who are women of color* who have made and continue to make important contributions to the existing sea of literature with their memoirs and works of historical fiction. I have read all of the novels, story collections, novellas, graphic memoirs and memoirs listed below and highly recommend them.

*I would like to note that it is possible that I mis-identified one or more of the authors' ethnicities in spite of my google searches. One's ethnic identity is often subjective and representative of a personal journey to find and define the self, particularly in situations of migration and immigration; the authors, therefore, may define themselves differently than I have here.
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1) The graphic memoirs of Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi:

The complete Persepolis (Volumes I and II)
Embroiderieshttp://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/satrapi.html

"It's only natural! When we're afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators' repression" (Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi, 148).
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2) Dominican author, Julia Alvarez's critical and reflective writing:

Something to Declare (Essays)
In the Time of the Butterflies (Novel)
En El Tiempo de Las Mariposas
(Spanish Translation of In the Time of the Butterflies)
Yo! (Novel)
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Novel)
"By writing powerfully about our Latino culture, we are forging a tradition and creating a literature that will widen and enrich the existing canon. So much depends on our feeling that we have a right and responsibility to do this" (Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez, 170).
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3) Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat's heart-wrenching stories:

Krik? Krak! (Collection of Stories)
The Dew Breaker (Novel)
Breath, Eyes, Memory (Novel)
"His [the preacher's] own personal creed, that life was neither something you defended by hiding nor surrendered calmly on other people's terms, but something you lived bravely, out in the open, and that if you had to lose it, you should also lose it on your own terms" (The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat, 201).
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4) Mexican-American author, Sandra Cisneros' compelling writing:

Woman Hollering Creek (Short Stories)
The House On Mango Street (Coming-of-age Novella)
http://www.sandracisneros.com/

What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only its today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are-- underneath the year that makes you eleven. ("Eleven," Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros, 7).
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5) Esmeralda Santiago, Puerto Rican author of the following powerful memoirs:

When I was Puerto Rican
Almost A Woman
The Turkish Lover
“No one, I thought, could get beat down so many times and still come up smiling” (Esmeralda Santiago about her mother in When I Was Puerto Rican.
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6. Novels by Iranian author Marsha Mehran, including:

Rosewater and Soda Bread
www.marshamehran.com/

Dervla sniffed the air outside her bedroom window. Yes, a nasty reek of foreignness was definitely in the air. It was a different smell than what she remembered coming from Papa's Pastries all those years ago. She recognized the same unyielding yeasty scent of rising bread and perky almond intonations, but there was also a vast and unexpected array of under and overtones she could not name. The wicked, tingling sensation taunted Dervla's sense of decency, laughing at her as if it knew her deep, dark secrets; as though it had heard all about her dead husband's wanton ways. (Marsha Mehran, Pomegranate Soup).
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7. The novels of African-American author, Toni Morrison, including:

The Bluest Eye
Beloved
www.tonimorrisonsociety.org/

Each night Pecola prayed for blue eyes. In her eleven years, no one had ever noticed Pecola. But with blue eyes, she thought, everything would be different. She would be so pretty that her parents would stop fighting. Her father would stop drinking. Her brother would stop running away. If only she could be beautiful. If only people would look at her (Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye).
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8. The memoir of Korean author, Kim Sunee:

Trail of Crumbs:
hunger, love, and the search for home

"Somehow, I thought, he'll never realize that the everything he wants to give me will never take away the nothing that I've always had" (Kim Sunee, Trail of Crumbs, 66).

**Please note that Sunee's ethnic identity is an important theme in her memoir about her journey towards finding and defining herself. Sunee was born in South Korea, abandoned in a marketplace by her mother at the age of three, adopted and raised in New Orleans, and lived in Europe for ten years. She now resides in Birmingham, Alabama.
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9. Jamaica-born Nalo Hopkinson's psychically and physically titillating speculative/historical fiction novels, including:

The Salt Roads (Historical Fantasy)http://nalohopkinson.com/

'The gendarmes [French policemen] beat them out of the bushes in the gardens of the Tuileries palace, and before they could take them into custody, the mob set upon them. Stones, caning, blows. The gendarmes had to run for their lives. I saw it from where I was sitting, on a bench by the water. I had gone to watch them, those men. I sought them out in the dark, to see their bodies as they came together, to...' (Charles in The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson).

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If you want to feel these stories out before purchasing them, check the books out of your local library for free!

New Yorkers, you can search for, reserve and renew books online
here. It is quick and easy to register if you do not have a library account: find more information at www.nypl.org.

Also,
eBooks, iPod compatible audiobooks, and films are available for free Internet download through the New York Public Library’s new, user-friendly site: ebooks.nypl.org.

I just downloaded Toni Morrison's most recent novel, A Mercy, a few minutes ago for a lending period of 21 days. To read this eBook on my computer, I downloaded Adobe Digital Editions for free. How exciting!

Only one of the above-recommended titles (The Bluest Eye) is available as an eBook. I did the research so you don't have to! Get your hands on their tangible versions or check out other eBooks or audiobooks by the same authors online. See more details below:
  • Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is the only above-recommended tile available as an eBook.
  • Searches for Edwidge Danticat, Marsha Mehran and Marjane Satrapi yield no or inaccurate results.
  • Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads is not available as an eBook. Hopkinson titles that are available as eBooks include: Brown Girl in the Ring; Midnight Robber; The New Moon's Arms; Skin Folk; and Under Glass.
  • Kim Sunee's Trail of Crumbs is only available as an audiobook.
  • Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman/Woman Hollering Creek, Caramelo, and La Casa en Mango Street are audiobooks.
  • A Mercy, Toni Morrison's newest novel, is available as an eBook. Morrison's Tar Baby, Sula, A Mercy, Love, and Beloved are available as audiobooks.
  • Before We Were Free, the only Julia Alvarez title made available, is an audiobook.
  • Suenos de America is the only Esmeralda Santiago title made available; it is an eBook.
Please forgive the missing accents on author's names. Photo cover of Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat is courtesy of www.amazon.com. All other photos in this article are courtesy of www.nypl.org.

The Universe from Exeter Road

For Christina Ashley Mendez


Though the park’s grass is triangled and squared,

and the sidewalk trees are metal-grated,
tonight I see— stars with both eyes open.


In respect of midnight sky, the city houses hunker low,

While, across the Eridanus, Orion shepherds clouds.

From these darkened doorsteps, between Newark and me, tidal
Hudson twists unseen; there, life also feels the brisas blow.


Like my inner wrists, these branches:
in lamplit skin, veins are kissed
with chapsticked lips, small fingertips;
scaled bark is raindropped.


Copyright 2009 Xiomara A. Maldonado

My Photographs of Flowers

Traveled-to Flower Collection:


Governor's Island Rose Perspectives:



All photos Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009