This body a shelter

This body a shelter; a site
of memory. Intergenerational inheritance is
the beauty and the pain of displaced peoples—they say
you can write
stories from bone memory.
Back when we came to Canada
I thought I learned this place quick.
It was all cute spanish girl
and assimilation. My brown family
sitting in the veranda or outside discussing
the weekly grocery store flyers
and where to get the best
tomatoes and lemons on Friday.
High maintenance bratty
femme in the making, I craved
a place inside. Always cold. Mosquitoes
taste me so good.
Blanket haven.
Bamos a la casa.

They say you can know stories
from bone memory but I’ve been digging
for a few years now. My family tells me
to eat, visit, gossip.
The writers tell me
to read. The artists tell
me it is in me.

Jaime Black says the body
is a shelter, a site of memory
just as land is. Performance and improvisational process
are ways to access memory
because embodiment is an intimate grounding
process, connecting us to place and ancestors. [1]
I know this is true. I know every flicker
of genius is thanks to something deep inside
myself, before me. I have to let it.

White bones white-passing girl,
mama tells
her she tans pink.
Yet this body knows
it is an arab
body, drenched in bitter
zaatar trauma displacement
sweet rose water intergenerational knowledge
Fiery crunch baklava freedom-fighting
Relentless knotting weaving grapevines forever
resilient remember survival.

Learning the language of diasporic daughters

If we could, in fact, go back where we came from, as some would like us to do, we would still not find ourselves, for those places are changed or destroyed or occupied or part of the same industrial grid we find ourselves in here. And also, some of us, many of us, would have to cut ourselves up in twos and threes and ship pieces of ourselves all over the globe. And surely that wouldn’t help our sense of fragmentation. So we stay where we are, at least for now, and we know it as home. [2]

–– Marilynn Rashid

Hyphenated-Canadian EAL, only
the first one wasn’t Arabic.
Not like mama’s tongue either
with the colonial french first.
The Lebs have dispersed, the women
are supposed to follow. Except when they don’t
or when they leave like
we did Summer 1997.
They didn’t know who they’d married off.
My had-enough mom.
My make-sacrifices-everyday-but-with-solid-boundaries mom.
My makes-dreams-into-goals mom.
My escape-route mom.

Dad’s dad who I won’t call grandpa
brought us to Venezuela
but the conscious memories are buried
until I was 6—until so-called
immigrant haven
said my mom it truly was, though.

English second language.
Spanish first.
Monica opened
her constellation, extended
showed me artist smarts and friend compassion.

At spanish lessons,
me, Roewan, and Monica
with eager strangers together
repeating a, b-larga, ce, de, efe, ge, hache, i, jota…

A choir of broken spanish
A song about how displacement and exile take
language away and how visiting homeland
becomes a tourist destination.

Harmonies of new and lost
language. The teacher said I have
good pronunciation. I grin
all the way home. After spanish
lessons, singing a, b-larga, ce, de, efe, ge, hache, i, jota…

Before I knew what diaspora meant
I questioned what home meant.

How do the migratory, displaced, exiled make
home? How do non-Indigenous people form
more ethical relationships with stolen land?
Is home where you grow
up or is home in the blood line?

Monica felt jarred in Chile, her last
memories from a visit years back. I know
this disconnection will gape wide open for me
the first time I visit

To be in diaspora
is longing for something that cannot exist.
Nationalism and militarism
do not go away
they just transform
but we still miss
homeland, flaws and all.
And we would miss it here
just the same.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “to be
in diaspora maybe you are always
a ghost. Always missing
something.” [3]

Sometimes a home is left
on purpose. Sometimes it’s not.
Buried stories and memories yearning
to see the light of day before star-body fades.
Even when new roots are made, the importance
and aliveness of homeland is ever-present.

Diaspora daughters who wish
they could speak
their language better, have
a familiar sense of place better
trying to do right by their families
for their immense sacrifices
trying to balance curiosity with not probing too much
trying to balance curiosity with not romanticizing the past
trying to do right by their elders and ancestors and all
the other artists and activists and community-workers and writers
illuminating the possibilities
of liberation, showing us new
ways of being.

This work
to contextualize and self-theorize, make
sense of this world.
Make magic
Make home
Make queerness
and transform.

Epistemology of constellations

What does it mean to belong to a constellation? Is it a taken-for-granted birthright? Part of being gravitationally tethered to this spinning orbiting home called earth? Imagine being violently untethered. Cast out, or forced to flee. Set adrift into a universe lacking the familiarities of face, language, season, landscape, rhythm. Compelled to seek out new constellations, or suffer the alternative—solitude. In a world of violent displacements and forced migrations, the formation of new social constellations becomes a necessary labour of survival and alliance. [4]

––Helene Vosters

In the days
of the Arlington studio, deep winter
big windows seeping sun and potential
sharing tea and mandarins.
A container for this process
prepping for Chile
that year
a crash course on performance and the coup.

Every time Monica imagined the performance,
she said she could
hear the wind.
Ever-present driest desert
buried bones and pieces, lives
fragmented split-open by dictatorship and a diaspora
daughter big open arms humming wind
melody, like when Sweet Honey in the Rock reminded us
to Listen more often to things than to beings. [5]

The vastness of cyclicality
our star bodies, the dead, the missing, home
And the simultaneity of a night sky

Re-watching Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light
Holding on to testimonials from survivors and survivors’ children.
Valentina Rodríguez, a daughter of detainees, grappling
with absence she finds
hope through astronomy, a freeing
force from great suffering, she says,
“I feel that nothing really comes to an end.” [6]

Through the Arlington windows
Gestures of memory and connection
Gestures toward

A golden glimmer
of home built up
on fun, commitment, trust, and the hard
shit tasks that had to get done in between.

During the week in the studio
when we were a five,
dust bodies dancing
and moving, learning to be
together and apart
as we had been and would be again.
Learning to be together and apart
always in each others’ peripheries

We took turns
leading each other through movement
giving each other
moments from our repertoires like when
Roewan set up layers
of paper and forms on a table,
Called it
discovery exercise.

We had to know the forms
before we could let them go
We had to know
what Monica made them to be
and create new meanings
together, learning them
through every sense
and their shatter, their blood-shed,
their jarring aliveness

Then there was when we were all around
the pile working on the score generating
resources and being
in fluidity, a somewhat brainstorming strategy.
Doris in frantic mourning, calling upon
the missing of the Atacama Desert, a fragmentation
of the forms. But the forms were right
in front of us.
Her anxious repetitions, ¿Dónde estás?
They spoke through me, I spoke for them

Movement cultivates

Are we weakened by the ever-present feeling of not belonging in the west or the east, of having a foot in both worlds but no solid roots in either? Or are we stronger, more innovative and creative, able to make home in odd sites, able to survive in small hard places, plants growing out of rocks? Perhaps this is our advantage, perhaps this is what we bring to the world. Find home wherever you can make it. Make home so you can find it wherever. [7]

––Joanna Kadi

I didn’t know I needed movement
in my life. But surely
it was already in it. Anna Halprin,
dance genius, reminds us everything
is always in motion.
Dance is simply the breath made
visible and we all have the birthright
to be a dancer. [8]

Performance, movement,
mindfulness, art-making
Keeping the dead alive
Cultivating the fullest present version of
a body is community-building.

Guzmán says memory has a gravitational force.
“Those who have a memory are able to live
in the fragile present moment.” [9]

The immense honour
of walking the Atacama Desert
Beads of sweat swallowed
by world’s driest desert.
Leaving imprints and monument
Crunch of rocks and sand
The sharp dryness marking us
My heart beat
and the wide open landscape
The sun on our backs
filling every pore.
That sun which made
Monica; fed her through the womb
until exile.
Not my sun
but the sun which I labour for

I’m always in another climate
mapping blood lines
and recipes
But the flavours of homeland
are not land knowledge enough
“We taste
the spices of Arabia yet never feel
the scorching sun
which brings them forth.” [10]

After days of driving through
the shifting terrain. That land,
the chosen performance site.

Return Atacama, an honouring of the women
of Calama who search.
Return Atacama
an honouring of the missing and murdered under
the sands
Pinochet’s regime
and those who continue to be impacted by it. Return
Atacama, the wind is alive.

Monica brought the forms
home. We did it with her.
In a mound,
they keep vigil. Remember. H o l d s p a c e.
The shards we’ve each kept to cultivate memory.
Small pieces of longing and grief and celebration.

A slippery porous
danced alive
A q u í.


[1] Jaime Black, “Jaime Black: Artist Talk,” presentation at WGS-3500-001, Special Topics: Art and
Resistance, University of Winnipeg, MB, January 23, 2017.
[2] Marilynn Rashid, “What’s not in a name,” in Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, edited by Joanna Kadi (Boston: South End Press, 1991), 197.
[3] Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Bodymap (Toronto: Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd., 2015), 2.
[4] Helene Vosters, “Shifting the Gaze from Performance to Process: The R.S.V.P. Cycles as a Method for Transnational Creative Collaboration,” this collection.
[5] Sweet Honey in the Rock, “Breaths,” Good News (Universal Music News, 1988).
[6] Patricio Guzmán, dir., Nostalgia for the Light (Icarus Films, 2011).
[7] Joanna Kadi, “Introduction,” in Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and
Arab-Canadian Feminists, edited by Joanna Kadi (Boston: South End Press, 1991), xv.
[8] Ruedi Gerber, Breath Made Visible: Anna Halprin (Argot Films, 2010).
[9] See Guzmán.
[10] Katinka Wijsman, Food and Feminism: How the Feminist Tradition helped to shape the
Academic Study of Food, Master’s Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2010,
Vosters, Helene ".." Accessed 26 Jan 2016. Wijsman, Katinka. Food and Feminism: How the Feminist Tradition helped to shape the Academic Study of Food.. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2010.

Ruedi Gerber, Breath Made Visible: Anna Halprin, performed by Anna Halprin, Lawrence Halprin, Merce Cunningham (2009; USA: Argot Films, 2010), Documentary.

Kadi, Joanna. Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings y Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists. Boston: South End Press, 1991.

Guzmán, Patricio. Nostalgia for the Light. Performed by Gaspar Galaz, Lautaro Núñez, Luís Henríquez. 2010. USA: Icarus Films, 2011. Documentary.

Sweet Honey in the Rock. “Breaths.” Recorded 1988. Track 1 on Good News. Universal Music News. Compact disk.

Piepzna-Samarasinha,, Leah Lakshmi. Bodymap. Toronto: Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd., 2015. Rashid, Marilynn. "What’s not in a name" Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists. ed. Joanna Kadi. 197-203. Boston: South End Press, 1991.

[1] Jaime Black, “Jaime Black: Artist Talk,” presentation at WGS-3500-001, Special Topics: Art and

Resistance, University of Winnipeg, MB, January 23, 2017.