Category Archives: Rhymes and unrhymed lines

We pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear

Light upon light
Light upon light, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[When I transferred all my weblog archives from Blogger to WordPress, I found nineteen DRAFT posts amongst the lot. NINETEEN! I'm working my way through them, trying to figure out where I had been going with each of these. Meanwhile, here's something simple I had been meaning to share last spring, but had never gotten around to elaborating on.]

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. As I commented once on Baraka’s post, his poetry collection, A Timbered Choir, is gorgeous, and I especially love the poem “To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum…” Here is a reminder for those of us who wish to live our lives in the light:

But remember
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

A few more great Berry poems may be found here. I particularly like Do Not Be Ashamed and What We Need is Here (from which comes the title of this post).

No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in

Wishing you much sunshine!
Wishing you much sunshine!, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Nearly two years ago, I visited UC Berkeley for a conference and stopped to check out a workshop entitled, “WRITE OR BE WRITTEN: Using Spoken Word to Speak the Truth.” The workshop was lead by Junichi Semitsu, then-director of June Jordan‘s Poetry for the People course at UC Berkeley. After he had captivated us – and made us laugh – with his poem, Poetry Should Hijack the Bus (two years later, I still remember the reference to sports futility vehicles), Junichi introduced a few of the Poetry for the People TAs and students and invited them up to the podium to share their writing with us.

The other thing I remember about the workshop is that one of the young men ambled up to the podium and introduced his poem with a self-deprecating disclaimer that went something like this: I’m about to read a poem that I wrote very recently, so it’s not finalized just yet; it’s not the greatest, it’s still really, really rough, but here it is…

He then performed his piece, and no matter what he thought of it, the poem was amazingly beautiful. He was amazing up there, and when his final words fell into the otherwise pin-drop silence, we all stared after his retreating back as he took his seat, thinking, Wow.

The next thing I remember is Junichi back at the podium, looking around the room intently and saying something like this: You see what he just did? DON’T DO THAT. Never, ever downplay or undermine your words. Share what you have to say with people and let them make up their minds about it, but never brush off your stuff before they’ve even heard it.

I’ve kept that piece of advice in mind over the past couple of years, whether I was sharing my own poetry in gatherings, or organizing lectures and workshops, or participating in dialogues with the University chancellor, or even as recently as October, when I had to do quite a bit of public speaking for a work-related event. That last occasion was especially nerve-wracking, considering I’d been out of school for over a year and hadn’t done any sort of public speaking in nearly as long. Looking out over the hundreds of people gathered that evening, I was tempted to make smart-ass comments like, “I know I’m short; I hope you all can see me behind the podium,” and – after I accidentally disengaged the mic from the stand while adjusting it – “There’s a reason why I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near technical equipment,” but I refrained and said only what I was up there to say. And people thought I rocked it, apparently. The end.

So, the reason why I’m spending so much time talking about disclaimers and smart-ass comments is because this here joint – that’s Sweep the Sunshine to you – has been nominated as “Best Female Blog” in the Brass Crescent Awards I mentioned recently, and I’ve put off telling you about it for so long because I’m an idiot and didn’t know what to say about it. Oh, also? Today is the deadline for voting.

Most people know I’m an idiot about compliments, namely, I don’t know how to accept them (yeah, remember the last time we went through this drama of weblog voting?). I’ve always thought of self-deprecation as an indispensable quality, so when people say, for example, “Hey, I like your shoes,” I feel the need to admit, “Oh, I bought ‘em used, for $5 from Goodwill”; and when people say, “I like your style,” I reply, “I’m wearing four layers. Pretty stupid, huh?”; and when people say, “Your headwraps are so awesome,” I smirk and reply, “Wait ’til you see my hijab tan line”; and when people say, “Nice jeans!” I frown darkly, “They’re not flared enough, dammit.” Basically, I’ve just wasted an entire paragraph talking about my clothes, but I think you get the point.

As Somayya would succinctly call me out on my protestations: “That’s BULLSHIT.”

So, I guess all I should say in response to that is, Hey! Go vote! (For whomever you want to!)

Also, I am honored and flattered and all that good stuff. Thank you so much to whoever nominated me. You are awesome.

Finally, I’ve discovered a number of rocking weblogs through the Brass Crescent Awards, so if you’re looking for new reading material, stop by their website. But you might as well vote, too. Voting is good for you. Get to it, rockstars!

[Ignore the title. And the photo. Neither of them really has anything to do with the Brass Crescent awards, but the title of the post (which is actually a song title) made me laugh, and the photo made me smile today because I just found it again while browsing through flickr, having forgotten I had taken it. If yummy orange sunshine in December isn't quite your thing, I just don't know what to do with you.]

All we are is all so far: Highfive to God, and a poem by Hafiz about how God always has the last laugh

A chessboard awaits potential players in an Oakland park
A chessboard awaits potential players in an Oakland park, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

“Are you happy, Yasminay?” asked HijabMan the other day through GMail chat [apparently the best/only way to get ahold of me these days - since I suck at returning people's phone calls and replying to their emails and I can't be bothered to sign onto instant messenger anymore - even though my GMail status is perpetually set on the red "busy" symbol; shhh, it's a lie].

“I’m always happy,” I replied blithely. “What’ve I got to complain about?” And it’s the truth. [Never mind the fact that friends calling me "Yasminay" would already be pretty high up there in terms of warm, fuzzy, happiness-inducing stuff, if there were a hierarchy of happiness.] I have a couple of thanks+giving related posts marinating in my mind, and there’s a someday-forthcoming post on happiness that I wrote years ago and never shared. But meanwhile, yes, I’m happy, and there are days when I glance around and all I want to do is give God a big ol’ highfive.

I think I already have quite a nice track record of blasphemy, so highfives to God shouldn’t disconcert all y’all too much. Anyway, there are days when I’m driving along and the sunshine slants through my windows onto my face just so and my hands on the steering wheel feel warm and I’m wearing my favorite pair of flared jeans and the music is rockingloud and the sunroof is open and I’m going to go meet friends who make me laugh until my stomach hurts, and life is just simply, perfectly good. And I think, “God, You are the rockingest rockstar ever.”

God of rock, indeed. I dream that someday when I finally meet Him face-to-Face, He will smile to hear that I always knew He had a sense of humor.

Driving back to the office from a meeting a couple of weeks ago, two songs playing in rapid succession reminded me of the psychopathic maniac/nerd child SS, which in turn reminded me of our mutual buddy, Mark, and the fact that I needed to email both of them. It had been far too long.

Back at the office, I turned on my computer and logged into my personal email. And there, at the very top of my inbox, was an email from Mark with the subject line stating simply, “Hafiz.” How could I not laugh? God, He reads my mind so well.

Here is the beautiful poem by Hafiz, sent by Mark-of-the-multiple-exclamation-points:

Chessboard (ii)
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

Can I get your hand to write on

Year-round shoes of choice
Year-round shoes of choice, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to dinner with the very few friends from high school whom I like enough to engage in such activities with. Remind me to tell you stories about why I disliked high school, and why my fifth-year reunion last December was a ludicrous waste of time.

At the end of our dinner, as we stepped outside the restaurant and began saying our goodbyes before heading in our individual directions, the topic of shoes somehow came up in conversation. I, of course, had to add my two cents to this discussion, so I remarked that I can’t stand to wear real shoes, even during winter.

N looked down at the requisite flip-flops on my feet, and said understandingly, “Yeah, but, see, it’s part of your culture.”

I wonder if my face betrayed the disgust I felt. A lifetime spent combating ignorance and explaining who I am and why I do the things I do, and yet it still came down to such inane observations from people I thought knew me. “My culture? You think I wear flip-flops because of my culture?”

“Well, yeah, don’t you?”

I laughed, because the whole exchange was so ridiculous I couldn’t even believe I was making this clarification: “Buddy, I wear flip-flops because my feet feel freakin’ claustrophobic in real shoes, alright?”


I came home and shook my head a few more times over the absurdity. The next day, after a morning spent shaking off nagging feelings of deja vu, I remembered bits of a poem I had written last year, and the part that comes back to haunt me is this:

You will stop laughing at me
For wearing flip-flops almost
When you understand that
My ancestors wore sandals
Across all seasons
Because they couldn’t afford real shoes to cover
Their brown feet
As they toiled in the fields.

And you will nod in understanding and slip off
Your name-brand
Logo’d sneakers
And we’ll sit on a sunny plot of grass,
Barefoot together,
Squinting at the sky.

Well. Never let it be said that long-lost high school friends don’t know me. But just to clarify, I really wear flip-flops only because of the claustrophobia reason mentioned above.

One thing to add: Much love and gratitude and sunshine to Fathima and Ruqayyah for their beautiful emails. I will reply, but, meanwhile, thank you both for taking the time to check in – and, of course, thank you to everyone else who’s harassed me via the tagboard and comment box, too. I’m here, I’m alive, I’ve missed Blogistan. I told blurker N, who caught me on AIM the other afternoon, that you’d all stab me if you knew the number of half-written weblog entries that I’ve let sit on my computer instead of posting them as I should have been the last couple of months. So, stay tuned for stories about why I enjoy my job, about my first time at the recent ISNA convention in Chicago (and the rockstars I met!), and for musings on Lebanon and September 11th (I do nothing if not write on topics much too late, clearly).

Did I mention I missed you all? I really did, dammit, contrary to what you may think of my periodic, flaky-flake habit of abandoning you without explanation. The next round of cranberry juice is on me. Here’s to sunshine in September, rockstars.