by Gloria Dawson
(September-October-November 2016, February-March-April 2017)
1. Here is something I say. I say it in the kitchen, in the street, and here. I begin in a library. It’s the 3rd of October. This library is a harbour. Here we’re anchored to thoughts and words, rolling and creaking on the tides of breath. My work is dedicated to my friends and so part of my life is not. Today, again, the presidential candidate promises to build a beautiful wall. I seek a lover that I do not find. Words contain and explode one another. Words contain the beautiful fence that is already built. I begin in a library. I say even in a library I can begin. Even in a library, to piece it back together, to start to say something.
2. On the 3rd of October, on the streets of Poland, women gather, dressed in black. Today in Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, they are standing against the proposed law banning all abortion. They come out and stand together against the separation of themselves against themselves, as vessels of a life that is not theirs. Polish people and others around the world post pictures to support the strike. I see the Poland that stretches over England. The boundary dissolves in the women’s demand. Justice stretches and is torn again over those photos on the screen, and the parliament sucks it in again to say we’ll give you a worse law. The women strike again.
3. On the 21st of October, the UK Border Agency raided workplaces of sex workers in Holbeck in Leeds, just south of the city centre. They came at night, without warning, supposedly looking for women who had been trafficked. All the non-UK citizens were detained and interviewed. Six women were detained and taken to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedfordshire. Others were told they had just 30 days to prove they were working here legally. As far as I know, all these women are from Romania and Hungary.
4. Yarl’s Wood is a place where the sexual abuse of women has been allowed to happen. Yarl’s Wood is a place where you wait. Last time my friends went there to protest, I sent seeds with them.
5. Everyone can return. I am against separation. I am against the separation of everything that feels to belong together or to be a property of myself. To speak of politics and art as separate is also to act against liberation of any kind. I am against borders because I am against separation. The heart has boundaries which are made by justice more than border force. Borders separate friends, families, lovers. They lock the doors of houses and the stomach and the heart. The heart of my home is the territory. I noted this on the equinox as I crossed the M62 at its highest point, moorland on either side, this great separation of the road, heather going brown swamping and belittling the golf course. Everyone can return, or no-one can.
6. Separations help understand ourselves like breaking a word where it is sutured; mean time. Alien nation. Poets do this. To overcome separation is something that I need to do in order to breathe. It is hard. It is hard because it is in us. The Prime Minister says: if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. We take it up into our mouths to say this. I say, back, I’m a citizen of the world, I say I’m not a citizen, back. And I lie. And I lie here and I say it. On the 20th of September it began. On the 13th of December it was completed. It was completed, the wall that is in Calais, though it has not yet been described as beautiful. No Borders, say it a hundred times and more, is not simply a demand but also a fact. In those who jump, who fly, who walk, who are carried by water. Who hide, who slip, who keep quiet. It is hard because in a very little breath they must say what makes it hard to breathe. As if one could separate the lungs; one lung to breathe, and one to speak. The truth of no borders exists in a unity that it’s easy to miss.
7. I am a poet. I wanted to begin with this. Living to write closes the gap between myself and myself, torn I thought beyond repair to be political as I ought in the world. The gap is closing, the separation is sometimes not there. The project of reconciling myself to myself is a fight to my inevitable death, unfulfilled, of course, for how can I be myself if not also not myself? What my living to write does between myself and others is a mystery the words obscure. Politics is perhaps the opposite. In politics separations are called upon, called into existence, rarely dissolved, enforced with violence. Sometimes I go after separation. Sometimes I go after separation. The separations move. Many things determine the territory of separation.
8. What you are, you are not. My friend is a dual citizen of the UK and the USA. She couldn’t find her US passport, so she went across there with the British one. When she got off the plane she was put in a room and a man she couldn’t see stood behind her head, shouting. Where is your US passport? Who are you staying with? What relation are they to you? Where were you born? And she in turn said:
- I can travel on my British one.
- My parents.
9. What you are, you are not. My other friend was stopped at Heathrow, my friend with an American passport, and he was put into the waiting pen. He started telling the others about their rights, and the man next to him shrank away, said Don’t touch me, he said, don’t talk to me, don’t touch me. What you are, you are not. I am a citizen. In they go, my white friends, to the grudging nation, which tells itself – from many, one. What you are, you are not. I’m not a citizen.
10. June Jordan speaks out loud, a poet in a public place, the truth of a time as a writer, a woman, a woman of colour, a queer woman of colour, working alone in a cabin in the wilderness. Her nearest neighbour was a painter, an older, white man spoken of as having greatness. He being reclusive and single-minded, she admired him and followed him in the same silence separated by five miles of forest. It was a certain kind of wholeness, a writerly existence of the kind I fantasise about. Into the narrative, she drops, quietly, that a man came into her cabin in the wilderness and raped her. Jordan does not make it like this to say even in the wilderness you can be raped. She does not make it like this to say a woman or writer can never be solitary without being in danger. She tells us, in a speech, that she was raped in order to say maybe I, June Jordan, wasn’t so different from the painter, wasn’t so different from the rapist. She says it because she identifies in all three the desire to exist alone and to desire alone. She names this desire as the violence, the misery, the untruth, of the American Dream, that rigged rugged nightmare from which most do not, cannot lucidly dream themselves awake. I welcome this because it shocks me. We cannot be a part of that dream. And it is hard to be apart from that dream, even when nearly everyone is apart from its promise in supposed waking. Knowing this closes one separation and opens another.
11. June Jordan’s understanding which she gives to me follows itself as it crosses a boundary of violence laid over another boundary of violence (towards her body, from a man, America). I want to be awake from that dream of the nation and see the Poland that stretches over England, America, the country that has a shape for those who need it to live over. The Romania, the Hungary, the Italy, the Spain, the city I am at home in. On the 17th of February, US immigrant workers went on strike. Una dia sin immigrante, since many of them are Spanish-speakers. On the 8th of March, women in the US also went on strike. And in other places too. Women in Ireland went on strike, different bodies against the same laws. The president still promises to build a beautiful wall.
12. Where will we go when we have left Europe? I don’t know but I know I can’t stay. I can’t stay with it like this. When who we won’t accommodate defines our saying yes, or no, I know I can’t. The conditions under which we stay are the conditions under which we understand and act that whoever’s picked a fight with us is on our territory. In our houses. In our contracts. In our embraces. In the schools, in the hospitals, the colleges, the universities. Landlords must check the status of their tenants’ immigration. Parents must report to schools on their children’s nationality. But sometimes they don’t. And they won’t. The heart of my home is the territory. And what will happen next. New rope. On the 17th of February, hundreds of migrants successfully crossed the fence into the Spanish enclave of Mellila in Morocco. Or is it Spain? And there they left Africa, those who jump. Or is it Spain? The tears of them, the bruises and the cuts spell Spain. Spell Europe.
13. I don’t know their names, the names of the people who sleep under the bridges in Paris, but I know they were out yesterday, speaking into the sun. One of the things they shout is ON S’EN FOUS! ON EST CHEZ NOUS! From the left and to the right and in the space that is not left or right is sky, the big cold. Down a steel roof the blue falls, onto the bare cold heads of men behind barriers, barriers that, we’re told, and we know, can be moved so easily and not with the permission of the police, no, not with their permission, not with their gracious word, no, yes, they move the barriers in an arrangement where the hands the arms the voices can be raised, we don’t care: we’re at home here! On s’en fous, on s’en fous, on est, on est, on est, chez nous.
14. I don’t know their names, or even what they look like, but I know that the six women were taken away from my city. They were taken by force from their places of work, work was taken by force from them. The pound against the projection. The projection against the project. The pound against the Euro. The force against the fence. The limit and the breach. The removal of her wages from her. The alien nation. In South Leeds on the 21st of October, no trafficked women were found. The six women were deported. The six women were deported. And we are still without.
15. On the 18th April, the general separation of election is begun by a voice act, a queasy bullet list of strategy, a rash of amateur psephology. Separation because there is nothing to do with what I say that polite request to retweet to rubberstamp the separation, rsvp the invitation to a party no-one wanted to go to but there is no alternative. There is. Disaster is the only thing that’s happening, and even speaking of it is mute.
16. In that same democracy I end up in a library. In Manchester, the Central Library has musical instruments you can play, an atrium for singing. It shelters people who need its heating and its toilets more than they need its books. In Leeds Library, if you sit at the end of the art library, you sit next to the toilet queue. The two toilets are used so much, they sometimes get blocked up. And the words contain and explode one another, words the beautiful fence, words contain separation.
17. I speak one language of languages – English – joins itself to itself, doesn’t translate. I probably won’t leave this island for long. Every day I am stepping onto ice. I am still in the library. I am against borders (because) I am against separation (because) I am a poet.
18. I can’t stay with it like this. Everyone can return. Around the seeds I sent to Yarl’s Wood was wrapped a piece of paper. On it I wrote one day this will be a meadow full of flowers. Next time, I’ll plant bulbs in the soil and my foot against the fence. I’ll plant against the separation of myself against myself, herself against herself, himself against himself, themself against themself, themselves against themselves.
19. Everything I write is separation, wanting writing wanting to overcome it and to bring it about. The writing on the wall says one day the war will be over and I can return to my poem. The writing on the wall says ON S’EN FOUS! ON EST CHEZ NOUS! The statement of the Polish women ends we want the control back. Which someone else said, perhaps, in English, last summer.
I say these words because they do. And this is the very least that I could do, and the very least that I could say.
Gloria Dawson writes poetry, essays, and work for performance, and is recently published in Zarf, Datableed and The Literateur. Her work has been shown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and anthologised in Remembering Oluwale (Valley Press, 2016). She lives in and interferes with Leeds. http://cargocollective.com/gloriadawson