Friday, October 26, 2007

TaSin writes of her friend...

be happy that you got to share your life with an amazing friend!!

I respond: I am so good at writing obituaries.

She found the above saying somewhere. She misses Smokey's physical presence as much as I do.

Smokey Zakat Sabir 1996-2007

Today Smokey died. Lying on her side under the house where she’d been hanging out lately, she wasn't moving when TaSin pointed the flashlight her way this morning and came inside to tell me the sad news. I last saw Smokey yesterday afternoon when she was sleeping in the bathroom stretched out on a towel. She was so still....Her breath shallow. When she stood up she scared me--her hair was sticking up along her spin like she'd been shocked.

I went into the kitchen and saw that she hadn't eaten, so I opened some chicken flavored dinner, heated it, chopped it up so she didn't have to do more than lap it up and put it in a low dish by her face. She refused it, and walked slowly to the back door lay down to rest on the hem of the patio door curtain. She then mustered her energy and walked slowly to her hideout where we found her unconscious the next day.

This had been her MO for the past few months as she grew thinner and thinner. We got a really nice homeopathic doctor to give her relief from any pain she might have had from a growth near her liver. Daphne gave her acupuncture treatments and we began to give her Pedialyte for the dehydration.

I remember the fiery feline who ran away from our neighbor's dogs as they chased her through holes they chewed in our fence repeatedly. It was just this March, then April and May that she stood her ground and was ready to fight for her right to occupy her land, her yard, her patio, her house without their interference. They didn't frighten her at all. She was so fast, whipping by their noses into the cat-sized opening in the door. She also snarled at other cats and they ran for their lives too.

Nobody messed with "Za Cat!" as we called her. Proud of her fearlessness.

Smokey liked sitting on my lap and I tried to accommodate her. She could no longer leap into my lap, so I'd pick her up. She and I were night owls. We also liked late night snacks and she joined me often as I snacked to stay awake as I wrote.

I remember Tuesday as I tried to type and hold her at the same time. She rested her head on the keyboard. I missed my deadline once again. Oh well, I thought. I wish I had held her a little longer when she walked over and looked like she wanted to sit on my lap Wednesday and I told her I had to work and she left the room, the house and our lives.

Smokey is gone. Smokey is gone. Smokey is gone.

Gray and white, she was classy, elegant, a really beautiful feline. She was even-tempered and when she was younger very playful—nipping at TaSin’s toes when she hid under her bed. She never scratched us or tore up the furniture or swung from curtains—she was the perfect indoor cat. She was quiet so our landlord never knew we had her –this is for years.

I used to call her a cat/dog. She came when TaSin whistled. She even ran to the window when TaSin was approaching the door and then waited for her to enter. When TaSin traveled Smokey warmed the bed until she returned. I heard Smokey sat in my office chair while I was in New Orleans this spring. Her favorite pastime was to chase a laser light, and to box with my brother. She also liked to catch flies and eat them, moths too.

When she got older, she didn't like children who were noisy and liked to scream in fright when she'd poke her head out at them. So we spared her their idiosyncrasies by limiting their visits and keeping them away from her. This was her home and she had rights.

We gave her the best food, fresh air and took her into see the doctor when she was ill. We even insured her last year when she began to get sick more often. The insurance company has yet to reimburse me.

The vets couldn’t tell us why she threw up so much. Perhaps the mass which was causing her pain in the end was a smaller tumor then? The carpeted apartments probably didn’t add to her longevity—the fibers toxic I hear to human beings and animals. She was eleven human years, about 61 cat years. Her demise reminded me
of my dad’s passing at 59. He stopped eating too.

She is under the house and I have calls out to animal control and the fire department to see who can help us get her from under there. We want to bury her under the tree in the yard she loved to hang out in.

I wanted to give her a funeral but TaSin said people would not take it seriously so I deferred to her. Smokey was family and I will never forget her as long as I have breath to call her name. I am even hopeful that there is a heaven so I can see her again, but even if there isn't such a place, I know like other energy, she is with us still—her breath my breath, TaSin’s breath, our breath.

Energy doesn't disappear, it only changes.

I always wanted to get a house so my children could play in the yard, swing, run around. My children are grown, so I guess Smokey was the beneficiary of this dream. TaSin and I got the house just in time for her to live out her old age free—unbothered, a queen.

PS The exterminator pulled her from under the house, Sara came over and we buried her under the tree. We put her favorite toy in the hole with her. Sara pulled rose petals off the flowers and sprinkled them on her grave, I added lavender. I then pulled all the weeds, mowed the lawn and tidied up. I felt tired and a little better as I walked through the cat door, with Smokey's heart-shaped ID collar on the door knob.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Day at Two California Women's Prisons last Saturday, October 20

All that separated us from each other was bobbed wire which grabbed my coat and a litany of reasons why some of us are locked up and others remain outside. As Loco Bloco drummed we spread out along the fence and sang and chanted and yelled and waved at the women who were waving to us. Next time I’ll have to bring my binoculars so I can see their faces.

The longer we stayed the more pissed off the highway patrol officers in cars trailing us got. They blocked the entrance to some road and kept driving up and down the road barking at women who were pushing babies in strollers to move over. Safety monitors and mediators acknowledged them while the rest of us yelled louder: We’re the people too….”

We’d assembled at MacArthur BART at 10 a.m. At about 11ish people piled in cars and boarded a chartered bus. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years like Judy from Catholic Charities. I remember her organizing of the early marches and protest rallies at the women’s prisons. I never went, but I recall the push for compassionate release and Charisse Shumate’s death. I also recall the film festival at the Roxie Cinema where films that focused on women inside were shown. It hadn’t been years since I’d seen Ida McCray, but I recall hearing her speak just after her release at a Black August event Kiilu Nyasha organized. The next time was at a holiday party for children whose parents are incarcerated on the ArtShip in Jack London Square. The last time I saw Ms.Ida was at an event I hosted at the College of Alameda for Women's History Month on California's Incarcerated Women: Who Are They and Why Should We Care?

The Families with a Future event on the Artship was great. I enjoyed watching the children of incarcerated parents having so much fun making art, playing games and receiving presents. I don’t know where Families with a Future throws its holiday parties now that the Artship is gone.

McCray was there at the rally snapping photos of young mothers with their kids—most of the ladies employees of the same organization, the one Lateefah Simon started at the Center for Young Women’s Development. POV did a film called "Girl Trouble" that documents the wonderful work of these women, most formerly "troublesome" themselves for a variety of reasons, many beyond their control, at CYWD.

It’s criminal the ease with which mothers are losing their children to the foster care and adoption system. The risk is even higher for immigrant women. It was nice seeing the children playing in the fields among the trees, running along to road and smelling the flowers.

The contingent from Fresno and Southern California was awesome. There were lots of black and brown youth, the theme for the afternoon was umoja—unity, together we achieve more.

The incarceration of youth in CYA in Los Angeles and throughout the state is at a crisis level—the foster care system the conveyor belt for children aging out of one system into another. It was refreshing Friday to speak to California Assembly woman Karen Bass whose top priority is foster care reform. She is a recipient of the Sister’s of Fire Award this year. She also named October Maafa Awareness Month in the State of California, 47th Assembly District.

The most moving testimony was that of women who’d been inside the last time protesters descended on the two prisons. Both women had limited mobility, a casualty of war. On the way to the women’s prisons, one of the women in the car said, what saved her was white skin and a degenerative medical condition. she was allowed to serve her time on the outside. I wonder how one serves a 20 year sentence, a life sentence, more than one life sentence.

How does on survive when he sees no daylight for months or years, or maybe just one hour a week and that is not guaranteed.

We have a lot of work left to do.

Maafa Awareness Month1

The opening reception for Push Rewind: Maafa Art Exhibit 2007 presented by The Oakpod was a huge success despite the rain, Friday, October 12, 6-9 p.m. at Inquiry Gallery, 2865 Broadway, Unit 2, Oakland, California. Neter Aameri spoke about his altar for the ancestors—millet, rice, coconut, black beer, sage, glasses filled with water and white flowers….Nena St. Louis’ Women of War left the audience speechless. Wooden their scanty coverings, scorch marks symbolizing the rape and other sexual violence women and girls suffer. Wally Scott spoke about his dresser and how he placed the Adinkra symbols on it, specifically the Sankofa symbol.

He said the “Sankofa symbol has defined our existence in the Middle Passage and slavery.” Another symbol he uses is the drum, a “symbol,” he says, “a symbol which in many ways has defined our existence as Africans throughout the Americas. The drum is a symbol of not only our culture, but as an aspect of our that has survived centuries of repression—it’s a symbol of resistance (and defiance).”

I didn’t realize until he left that there were clothes and books inside the two op drawers. We have to place a sign telling people to open the drawers. It’s fully functional Wally laughed. I really liked the interactive nature of the piece. When one swats down she can see her reflection in the mirror African bodies lining the slaveship floor also a part of the reflection. It shows how all of us are complicit or affected by the tragedy – it’s a quiet call to action. I couldn’t help but smile as I swatted there, not because it was a pleasant image. Not I smiled because despite over 400 years of beatings, rapes, and other mutilation, none worse that the theft of our language and African ways, “we’re still here.” This is the ultimate protest movement— not leaving and claiming what is rightfully ours, a stolen legacy.

TaSin spoke about her two paintings “Muhindi” and “Whispers.” Muhindi is a Kiswahilli term that means corn. Corn during Kwanzaa represents the children, so a family places ears on the altar for each child in the family. Children were the riches. This painting was completed in 2005.

Whispers—fading into the background… is another painting completed in 2005. In both there are mothers and babies. The idea at that time, was to do a series.

Kimara spoke about his art in capturing not just the moment but the feeling or emotion inherent in the moment. It just so happens that the photographs in this years exhibit feature Neter Aameri, one of our artists who has been building altars at the ritual for the past 6 years, although when he first came to a ritual, there were only 5 of us there. Now there are hundreds.

Omar Lionel Sow’s Judgement Day sits over the fireplace, a huge work, it speaks to the room, to those present so magnificently. I am so happy his representative, Sister Jendayi Brandon of drumminSoul Art and Design. She told us about the art colonies or villages in the area where Omar lives and works. She said that he is a devote Muslim so the theme—judgement day is a spiritual reference. When one thinks about the legacy of slavery for African people, many who went through the dungeons of Goree Island, Omar’s processional – abstract figures on a black landscape, flashes of blue and silver prominent signatures, one can’t help but think about one’s own life and what will be its verdict on that Great Day.

We missed you Jason, James and Orlonda. I need artists to gallery sit, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Let me know if you are available. If everyone can take an afternoon then one person won’t feel burdened  So anyway, I’m sitting this weekend. We have a few Fridays left until Nov. 2, our closing reception. I cannot sit next Friday, Oct. 19. We have a program that evening at the Oakland Public Conservatory, AIDS in the Black Community, 6-9 p.m. then Saturday, October 20, I am going to the state rally on health care at Chowchilla Women’s Prison. That’s the intention anyway.