Tag Archives: Women’s rights

Allison Joseph: Taking on Both Racism and Sexism

International Women’s Day this year, galvanized by the misogyny of President Trump, showed the world a powerful presentation of the importance of women and their essential contributions, calling for both recognition and justice in so many ways.

At the same time, just last month, the shortest month of the year, was Black History Month, for which I barely found enough time to do a few posts, despite that even a 31-day month would not be sufficient time to do bring up a tenth of the poets we need to hear about. One important poet being Allison Joseph.

Allison Joseph’s poetry addresses both concerns: that of racism and its insidious dehumanization of people of color, and civil rights, and that of women’s rights and the fight to be respected and given their due. Here are two strong poems demonstrating what a strong voice she is indeed on both issues.

SUNDOWN GHAZAL

By Allison Joseph

A sundown town was a town, city or neighborhood that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns.” The highest proportion of confirmed sundown towns were in the state of Illinois — Wikipedia

Don’t show your face in a sundown town,
or forget your race in a sundown town.

What ancient shame flushes my cheeks?
Reminded of my place in a sundown town.

“How’d you get so good-looking?” said with a wink.
Old white man loves my grace in a sundown town.

Lost in a neighborhood where dogs snap chains,
my body’s a dark space in a sundown town.

Shotguns, gun racks, Dixie stickers, rusted trucks.
Should I stray, armed with mace, in a sundown town?

Crimes thrive in black, white, every grade between.
Are you just another case in a sundown town?

Kink of your hair, curl of your lip,
be careful who you embrace in a sundown town.

State police, city cops, small-town hired hands.
All give chase in a sundown town.

Burned houses, riddled with junk and meth.
Hatred creeps its petty pace in a sundown town.

Black father, white mother, coffee-colored daughter.
What can love erase in a sundown town?

Rivers, tires, bodies—a confluence that cannot hide.
Hard not to leave a trace in a sundown town.

And here, first published on the PBS website:

Kitchen

By Allison Joseph

I remember this as her kitchen,
the one room in our house where no one
questioned my mother’s authority—
her cast iron pots bubbling over
on the stove, cracked tea cups
in the sink. How I hated
the difficult oven always hanging
off its hinges, so loose a clothes hanger
rigged it shut, gas range whose flames
leapt beneath fingers when I turned
its knobs too quickly, floor tile
that never came clean no matter
how much dirt I swept from its
cracks. This was her domain—
kitchen for frying fish
and stewing chicken, for rice
and peas, plantains and yams,
for grease and hot sauce and seasoned salt.
Only she could make that faulty
oven door stay, only she could master
the fickle flames of the rangetop,
only she could make those worn dishes
and chipped plates fill a table
with food so rich and hot
my father could not complain.
And though I am her daughter, this house
no longer hers, her body deep in holy ground,
I know she’d want me to save all this—
decades of platters and saucers, plates,
glasses—every chipped cup, tarnished fork.

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Filed under African American poets, Civil Rights, Formal poets, Human Rights, Poetry, Poets, women poets, Women's poetry

New Poem on New Verse News Re Egypt’s Systematic Rape Policy

Today, this poem of mine, “Don’t Call It a Coup, Just Sing Tralala,” is up on New Verse News, a wonderful site that publishes poetry which responds to news or current events.

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A link from an article in the Telegraph reporting on the systematic use of rape by Egyptian security forces under president Al-Sisi appears over the poem.

I’ve been reading about the horrific abuses perpetrated by the Egyptian police and other “security forces” in Arabic-language news programs for some time, so it’s about time that the human rights organization’s report detailed and documented some of these atrocities, in which women and also men of all ages are routinely subjected to rape and sexual humiliation, often in front of others, including their husbands or other relatives, as a means of suppressing protest. (More articles, if interested.)

The gay community is also targeted for this sexual abuse and humiliation. Men, women, and children are also frequently tortured in other ways as well.

The courts are no longer involved in a “system of justice,” but rather take a list of completely invented and often absurd charges, a common one being terrorism and attacks on security forces, and give these charges to the judge who routinely either prolongs their stay in jail, prevents access to a lawyer, arrests the lawyer and subjects him to the same abuse, or simply gives a “guilty” verdict on the charges with no evidence, legitimate hearing or other due process. Death sentences are issued regularly on these baseless charges and then carried out within a day or two of the judgment. A young student, for example, was executed for a crime alleged to have occurred in the street at a time in which he was incarcerated.

Sisi and his government ordered these abuses to occur, evidenced by the fact that he continually praises the security forces who are never held accountable for anything, and that such widespread and almost inevitable routine abuse cannot occur on that scale without government complicity.

Although I normally post poetry and articles about poetry, this unbearable situation is beyond politics. The U.S. does not call the military takeover a coup, not even after the subsequent installation of Sisi with dictatorial powers that might make even Mubarak squirm just a little. By not calling it a coup, the US is able to continue funding Egypt’s military and security forces. Hence the title of the poem, “Don’t Call It a Coup, Just Sing Tralala.” And look the other way. So much for democracy, support for democracy movements or human rights, so much for women’s rights or gay rights or the right of students to have an education without being summarily pulled out of classes or examinations to be shot in the head, raped, or humiliated.

The repetend, “Pull down your pants!” Is taken from a report (in Arabic, on a “talk show” type program) in which several young (teenaged) men discussed their arrest and the abuse they endured, which left them psychologically traumatized as one could easily see. They reported that upon entering the police station, the first words they were greeted with were “Pull down your pants!” After which they were sexually humiliated and abused in front of others. These were young men going about heir own business. Those words were reported to be the usual “greeting” all arrested people heard at the police station.

If it happened once, it’s horrific. If it happens systematically, the entire government is guilty of crimes against their own people. In fact, my opinion is that the Sisi government, being a police state and military government, needs a war, and has started a war——against the Egyptian people, especially young people, women and gays, and people of the Islamic faith. Does he think he will please the West or the Christian world by this? As long as we look the other way and sing Tralala…

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Filed under Human Rights, Poetry, Publications, Siham Karami poetry