the only art i know

the only art i know is the art
of looking deeply
and then surrendering to the work at hand.
i may dabble in parody and poster paints
but i am not an artist.
the art that grabs at my guts is
art borne of necessity.
art that resists.
art too busy to look at itself.

when i think of art i think of palestine.
of brilliant red flowers growing out of
tear gas canisters gathered from
grieving olive groves
after the day’s demonstration.

of a steadfast village shaping peace signs
out of spent silver cartridges left by
soldiers who shot sound grenades
at the little girl’s family as they
served us sweetened tea.

of weathered hands rolling dough
in an ancient taboun
while bullets fly by.

of eating and singing under palestine sky
with beloved pheel who was later killed –
a tear gas canister near the heart –
for dancing dabke in the midst of death.

sweet pheel perched on a rock
like some greek god,
black curly head wrapped in wreathes of olive,
pleading with the swarm of soldiers
to put down their guns
and come home to their humanity.

when I think of art i think of haiti.
of children in cite soleil
growing basil in rubber tires
under scorching sun.

of old men hammering
metal from discarded drums
into sharp-edged sculptures
of dancing girls and gryphons.
of the swirl-colored tap tap
named the blood of jesus
kicking up dust on a narrow road
near the market woman who lays out
her scant spread of shriveled onions
as if they were diamonds.

of a history of rebellion and liberation
encoded in the music, the murals,
the pounding of protest feet in the streets,
the defiance of poverty demanding
beauty as a birthright.

of daniel returning home to the city of
sun to teach peace to the young ones
who splash color on concrete walls and
play soccer near a sewer
where sweet potatoes grow.

when I think of art, I think of detroit.
of a place that is shaping
the shards of a smashed economy
into a mosaic of resistance at a time
when water is being shut off
while truth tellers are being shut up
and the poor are being shut out.

of a place where the garish diversions
of downtown decadence
suggest the last gasp of
a dying imperium.
the dystopic reality of displacement
and diaspora right down the street
from rails and restaurants and
real estate wolves.

when I think of detroit, I think of the artists
working on water and sometimes
walking on water who grab at my guts.
the ones whose names roll off the tongue
like soft waves smacking belle isle
shores on a warm summer night:

wayne, tawana, halima, will,
The beehive collective, kate, and ill.

jen, michelle, raiz up, james p,
bryce and bill and stephanie.

elders and youth and in between
painting and printmaking
and singing and spitting
and writing and rapping
and dancing and drawing
and tagging and tie-dying
and silk screening and storytelling
and filming and photographing
and creating kick cards and crafting poems
and throwing clay and spending days
weaving a world of water justice
into beautiful being.

babies making banners
dancing all the way to flint
while water tower prophets wage love
raising fistfuls of paint against the sin of shutoffs.

These are the ones
leading the dance of resistance,
painting oppressors into corners,
singing us into the fullness of humanity.

i am not an artist
but i practice the art of looking deeply
and this i know:
it is the water that connects us
in suffering and in struggle and in celebration.

water withheld, poisoned, denied, privatized.
used as a weapon in palestine, haiti, detroit, flint . . . beyond.
water liberated and venerated as sacred gift to share.

which side are you on?

in palestine, glazed-eyed-girls in refugee camps
protest with parched lips
as swimmers splash in clean blue
pools in settlements above.

in haiti, the dysentery babies are
lined up like little tombstones as
mothers rock and pray away the curse of dirty water.

in detroit, an eight-year old boy bathes
with bottled water,
stepping over paint lines
sprayed a mocking hue of blue.

which side are you on?

water spirit flows where she will
and calls us to this sacred work.
to become the artisans of a new social order.

the sage taught that water will always
wear away the rock.
it may take time,
but the water always wins.
there are lots of rocks
blocks in the way,
but in the end,
from the west bank of palestine
to the eastside of detroit,
the water will win.

we will win.

which side are you on?

July 14, 2016
Concert of Colors Community, Culture, and Race Forum: “Artists Speak: Water is Life” – Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.