Posts Tagged ‘society’

“…he had built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his own room.” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

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“He was not sure he wanted to see the Countess Olenska again; but ever since he had looked at her from the path above the bay he had wanted, irrationally and indescribably, to see the place she was living in, to follow the movements of her imagined figure as he had watched the real one in the summer-house. The longing was with him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving, like a sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink once tasted and long since forgotten.” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence 

 

“He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

 

 

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My mother and I used to have tea parties. Sometimes they were casual, but other times she would dress me up in a pretty frock and I would invite my stuffed animals to join us. I would pour tea from my ceramic teapot with the flowers on it into the tiny little matching cups. I was very precise, waiting and tilting my head down for a second after each cup was filled. Then I’d put exactly three raisins on everyone’s plate. There was a bunny, a cat, a duck, my mother and me sitting on our red carpet.  And we would pretend to sip the tea making it last, until my father came home at which point we would drink the tea and pack up.

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958

Sometimes, when I find myself in the company of city friends I remember the Brooklyn house. It wasn’t a house really, but that’s what we used to call it, five people crammed into our tiny one bedroom apartment atop a flight of stairs. There was a luxury to it then because we weren’t yet accustomed to more. We had mice and cockroaches that co-habited our digs, but we made it work. I would hunt down the mice with my mother till they were trapped in a corner looking up at their deaths, with shoes and hammers I would smash them. This is what my mother and I did for the most part of the day. She would cook before my father came home and I would practice my letters. On laundry days she would dress me up and take me with her to the Laundromat, but sometimes I got lucky and she would give me a big pile of clothes to wash with me in the shower. I would throw them on the floor of the tub and stomp with my tiny little feet watching the colors mixing their way down the drain. She would always set aside an hour or two for later when she would pick a library book and make me follow the words till I understood what it meant. It was difficult to concentrate over the noise of the TV but I seem to have managed. We had thin red carpets spread across two rooms, tiles in the kitchen, a full sized mattress, a sofa bed, a dresser, a TV and a fridge. The bedroom had two closets, one right next to the other. I remember my father putting in a plank of wood above the clothing rack so we’d have a shelf to store our winter things when the weather picked up. I used to climb up there and hide amongst the tiny stacks of clothing my mother gathered thrift store hunting and rummaging through thrown out bins of garment factory clothing. This was before old, used clothing was in style.

The garment factories were around the back of my house, between second and third avenue on thirty-sixth street. My mom found a job in one when I was in elementary school. There’s a stereotype in the United States of Asian women working in garment factories, created by the capitalist first world and the convenience of sweatshops and secondary human beings in the third world, but my mother was far from just another statistic. Emigrating from Bangladesh to a country where the language was foreign and the skills needed were not ones she had known, she got a job at the only place she could, the first world sweatshop down the block. She would come home sometimes and say the Spanish women who go into the manager’s office get paid more than she does. I didn’t know then what she meant. I didn’t know of the world yet, or things.

Ms. Varotte

My brother used to walk me to school then, P.S 172, our very own beacon of excellence. I was his pet dog and he would wrap his fingers tightly around my neck, arm outstretched, squeezing harder if I wasn’t walking fast enough. Sometimes we would pass other kids from my class and I would find it difficult to smile so I would look down and pretend I didn’t see them, but they always saw me and they always knew better than to ask about the red marks on my neck between our intervals of work.

There was that one day when I was in the first grade and my brother had left without me so my mother reluctantly allowed me to walk myself. Determined at heart but I walked with caution and fear, always looking back to see if there was anyone around but making sure they were far enough from me that they couldn’t do me any harm. When I was about a block away from school, a police car on the street turned on its siren. I didn’t trust cops, not even then so I kept walking trying not to walk faster but definitely not slowing down. One of the officers stepped out and called to me, told me to get into their car. I froze. I was not going to get into a car with two strange men; it didn’t matter to me that they had badges and a uniform because underneath it all I knew they still had cocks and fingers. There was a mother on the sidewalk walking her daughter to school and she told the officers she would walk me the rest of the block to the school. They reluctantly agreed and followed closely in their vehicle. At the entrance I thanked the brown haired Hispanic woman, more with my eyes than my mouth, signed my name in the late book and raced up the stairs to my classroom.

By the time I got settled, put my backpack in the closet, my first grade teacher asked me to leave; “go wait for me in the auditorium,” she said. I went into the giant room full of empty seats, the sounds of my tiny feet tapping and echoing. I waited for what felt like a good half hour. When my teacher finally came she asked me in a soft voice if I knew why I was there. I shook my head. Her pupils dilated and the floor shook with the sound of her roaring voice, her plump face as red as a ripe cherry ready for picking and her crazy curls bobbed on top of her head. I didn’t understand the words spitting out of her gigantic mouth, I just saw the foam gathering by in the corners of her lips and her face as fat as a balloon getting so big and red I thought she’d explode.

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Vietnamese. I am Vietnamese.

no. American. I am American.

I speak American.

English.

Bi-lingual by birth,

my parents spoke Bangla in the house,

English in school.

You’re so lucky people would tell me, you’re so smart,

 you know so many languages.

They knew only English.

disappointing. Vietnamese.

understanding, minimal.

speech, non-existent.

writing? Fuggedabout it!

Brooklyn,

We settled in Brooklyn,

in an apartment above an adult video store.

I would pass it on my way to school,

my friends would see it when they walked me back.

 

They lived in houses that were theirs,

had rooms of their own, with beds, fitted with sheets and excess pillows to throw around merrily at each other,

not caring if they tore to tiny little pieces

scattered around the floor.

 

The floor,

that’s where I slept with my sister, with my parents,

We had a bed but it was in the other room,

the one without heat where my brother stayed alone because his head was hotter than ours and his skin much thicker.

Too many sounds.

Too many tones.

One slip

and the whole

thing

changes.

you miss your horse?

no. I haven’t got one.

Horse?

 Yes I have seen them in pictures being ridden by white people as a pastime.

I spent my pastimes in the kitchen helping my mother

On the floor scrubbing the tile,

and in my books studying.

Studying harder than my friends did because I needed to.

A scholarship, for a college education or else…

How can I expect to become anything in this land filled with strangers?

you miss your rice paddy?

what.

no.

I don’t have one. why would I need one? I’m seven.

Paddy fields,

 isn’t that where they all think we come from?

Us Asians, we are the garment factory workers, the farmers, the poor, impoverished third world coming here for a better life. Isn’t it true what they say?

Our dreams must be different than theirs,

our hopes,

our influences.

 

Are we not all the same underneath this tanned skin?

You miss your ghost?

no, I do not miss my ghost.

that doesn’t even make sense. how does that even make sense?

Yes, when I was young they said so many things

The other kids,

They would taunt me because I didn’t look like them

Because they overheard something from their parents

From their role-models

But how would they know what it meant? They are just kids

Just like we were,

But no

We weren’t, we weren’t allowed the same liberty

Were we?

Oh!

you miss your mom!

No.

well.

no, I don’t miss her.

but

Yes

that’s what I was saying.

that’s what I

was saying.

That’s

What

I

Was

Saying!

But it doesn’t matter, don’t you see?

No matter what we say we will never sound like them and to the small minds, we will never be the same.

Isn’t that the sad truth?

It’s what I’ve come so far to learn

The sadness of truth is inevitable, but hope is what we came here for,

Hope is what keeps us alive

For one more day

Isn’t that it?

– Shammy and Lucinda 11/7/12

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I went to England to die.
I wanted to jump off the white cliffs of Dover
Into the channel
Without a struggle for breath
Just a downward decline
I thought I would see the light on the water tops
Waving goodbye

.
And then a soothing black would take it all away.
.
I went to escape this prison you put me in
The uneasy mornings that I wake up and know you have been here
Creeping during the night
At the foot of my bed
Black stood up against black
Only you were blacker than any black I’d ever seen
Reaching
For my toes, for my ankles, anything to hold me down.
.
I remember the wind
.                In the middle of July
.                               My hands shaking on that familiar rock
.                                             Clear waters whispering my name
.                                                           All I had to do was let go
And so I did.

– Shammy

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Abstraction- a line that doesn’t represent anything
but filled with meaning. Juxtaposition- where it’s placed
and amongst what else. Our derivatives,
Deriving meaning, sense
Sense of vision
Sense of imagination
Sense of direction, which I find lacking…
Gone in a mist
Waiting for the fog to settle down
Down to the ground.

Clouds of smoke
Confusion
Devastation
Changing my fate
Changing the worlds fate
On that fateful day,
What rises up must always fall down.

Like me, like you
Just a part of the cycle

Like a bike through the park, segregated lanes
Amongst nature man-made, what does that mean?

This need to know, always
Think critically, ask questions
Have an opinion
That is most important.

– Shammy 10/27/12 7:48pm

* Inspired by Lawrence Joseph

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