Written by Hoang Luu
Narrow roads, yellow blurs and dreamy heat. Chickens fight and toads leap—all of such a noisy abode where people breathe on each other’s breaths. Poet Zubair Ahmed illustrates a copy of our world in his collection City of Rivers.
Dhaka, of Bangladesh, is one of the densest nationalist capitals in the world. As I read Ahmed's compilation of poems, I cannot help but bear witness to a foreign country that is so strikingly similar to my homeland where the same monsoon rain becomes the earth that shares our twin living grounds.
Both of our homelands are brightest when warmed. The sun rises early to dazzle heat upon the crowded walkways, while little shadows are provided by the enclosing rooftops that seem to shake heads with each other like canopies. Chickens flock frightfully and angrily and grotesquely on the battleground as people pitch each against the other. Their wings flap and pound while their beaks bite and grapple at the other’s throat. Laughter and shrills gather round, Dogs bark insanely. The laughs are taunting barks. The smell of lime and herbs, as well as spices and curry, fill the dazzling air. The steamed rice, the fried rice, and the cracked eggs rumble against the town’s yanking sirens and yelling overthrows.
Vietnam and Bangladesh are both politically unstable. Law enforcers are weak-willed, corrupted, or go mindfully astray. Drugs and assaults roam along with the yelling of the populace, while taxi drivers secretly leer at which ways the fare can jump highest. Townsmen gamble; women gamble; the children sleep when the sun is bright yellow.
Ahmed’s, “A Road to the Sky”, beautifully depicts the two countries’ similarities: although the rich and dense populace yell and sing to their neighbors’ ear-walls, there is yet a silent need of deliverance or companionship of love, of kindness, of security. It is interesting that Ahmed uses dark and contrasting diction that evokes an atmosphere of silence, sadness, and madness. All-in-one of the already honest, crowded but energetic dwellers of our two homelands. The images are alluring to the insane frightfulness of reality, such that reality is so sad and deep, as well as remorseful, helpless, hopeless, and dead. It is as though not only the chickens are under water but the people of the land that have been stained by corruption, deception, and poverty are under water too -- so often like a passing bullet. Despite the rich, noisy texture of Vietnam and Bangladesh, Ahmed instills a deep silence with his images of loss and of hopelessness, as if the blood vessels are narrow—narrowly hopeless, hurt, and suffocating in the heart.
The most fascinating aspect of “A Road to the Sky” is the title. I wonder why Ahmed names the piece in such a way, despite the content of luxurious darkness and hopelessness? There is so much “gray” in the poem: “[a]ll the good men are buried.” While vultures eat the flesh of these men, it is as though the speaker is saying that everything is lost, sad, and beyond cure. It is to say that even new sprouts, new life, and new youth cannot even bring civilization to the place:
Children sell knives at the corner,
A raven pretends to be a crow
There is nothing helpful that can be done. I am fascinated by the writer’s jesting of sky despite the allures of darkness, gray, and hopelessness,What does it mean when the walking journey ahead will bring you to the sky? Is the sky a haven of paradise? Heavenly? Or, is it a path to escape? To run away from all this—there is a longing for a dwelling -- a longing for wonder, for a dream, and maybe for a hope that ends in safe beauty -- in safe yelling-around.
I am another river from another distant shore. We meet in that crossing place.
Hoang Luu is a learner and writer of poetry. Hoang writes poems and stories as a hobby. His dream is to contribute to the world one day through poetry, stories, and books that celebrate morality, hope, and humanity. He is a senior at Pasadena City College and is pursuing the fine arts of Creative Writing.
Written By Cassie Wilson
I’m trembling and shaking. I try to walk but the fuzzy lights in front of me dash and collide, chasing each other around the corridor. I keep treading. My steps heavy, soiling into the grey carpet spread across the hallway. Short breath and heavy treading. One foot, then the next. Eyes roll. Drop. Within the circumference of a fleeting moment, I’ve lost all control. My vision regains and I’m left with this moment. Everyone panics. I try to explain it’s nothing. I am nothing. It’s okay, I insist. Please, stop talking about it. I promise I’m fine. Breaking point. My body cannot compete with my head. 548 days ago I lost myself to the wrappers underneath my bed, to the hunger pains surging inside my stomach, to the shaking, the trembling, the relapsing. 548 days ago the relationship I had with my body was deprecating. I starved, deprived and loathed myself. I was hollow, less than. Faint, malnourished and yellow. Never allowing myself to take up the space I deserved.
In honor of this year's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and inspired by last week's YouTube video, INSTAGRAM X NEDA #ComeAsYouAre, I feel moved to share another party of my story. The video shares 5 stories of real life warriors. These stories move to prove a point: ANYBODY, no matter the weight, size, skin color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or nationality can struggle. A survivor isn’t always a small-framed, delicate ballerina. So, let’s talk about it. Let’s begin to break this norm and stop beautifying this disorder. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t sweet.
This is another part of my story. I am a Thick, Lesbian, Irish and Ecuadorian Woman, coming as I am. No remorse. No apologies.
Nobody talks about the relapse. About the second time coming and how much harder it is to overcome. I knew what I was doing. I was aware. It was a choice - I am going to relapse. I did not have a distinct moment of clarity. Realization. I did not have an inspirational awakening this time - knowing I had gone too far. In fact, I had multiple breaking points. Each different. Each one in some twisted way reassuring me to keep going. But this isn’t a story about how I robbed myself, this is a story about how I learned to love myself - again. About how I begin to blossom - widening like wild ivory scaling a red bricked wall. Vibrant, alive and whole.
Looking back I can’t pinpoint a certain decision I made to get better, but I can remember changing. Growing. Maturing. I think it started when I moved back home - the relationship with my family serving as the backbone to my recovery. Watching movies, attending dinners, and finally becoming the little sister I once was. Then, the relationship with my friends strengthening, reassuring and lifting me. Saying “yes” instead of “no” to spending nights driving up Angeles Crest, laughing, smiling and blasting music, not afraid to wake the residents of homes we didn’t know. Creating lasting memories that I still hold onto today as apart of "my happy place". I finally began to go back to therapy - reminding myself that it's okay to take up the space I deserve. Dedicating 60 minutes a week to talking about me and not apologizing for it. I allowed love into my life, making its course through my veins like cinnamon sweet cream. I began to write again - salvaging my soul through ink stained paper. I allowed myself to love and be loved.
Looking in the mirror today I can recognize myself again. The freckled stars that dash and divide my face. The forest that encompasses my body - my legs like tree trunks, strong, sturdy, holding me afloat through winters, summers, springs and falls. My arms like a widening rose in bloom, allowing me to reach, hold, touch. My stomach like a cactus flower - absorbing nutrients, keeping me whole. I refuse to waste my life withering on a battleground of my body. War is gruesome, tiresome, the casualties vast. Though the victory - powerful, wholesome, filling. I will not pretend that I have fully conquered the warfare of my recovery. But I am trying - every day, every moment, and every second. Learning to take up the space that I deserve - laughing, loving, and stumbling in this body - my body.
The more we talk about our journey through mental health, the stronger we become. The safer we feel and the bigger our warrior community reaches. Recovery isn’t always a rainbow walk in the park, there is no path due North. But once you reach your sunflower field of blossoming buds, your steps become lighter. Your feet sink into mossy green grass, your arms extend into the warmth of your journey. It's takes time, patience, resilience. Most importantly - it takes you dedicating time to yourself.
So, Let’s keep this discussion going.
The bigger our community is, the easier it is to find hope.
Let’s keep reaching, urging and helping others to come as they are. No Remorses. No apologies.
Cassie Wilson is a student at Pasadena City College majoring in English. She says, "I will never stop sharing the story of my recovery. I want to show the realness of my struggle, while exemplifying the outcomes of recovery and why it is worth it to keep fighting. I want to inspire hope, inspiration and strength to those in need of the help".
Written by Cassie Wilson
Husnaa Hashim. Honey Sequence. Poems. 33pp. Free Library of Philadelphia; The Head & The Hand. $10. theheadandthehand.com
The first time I was asked to locate and identify “the lesbian girls of grade 12” I was 14 years old. I was dressed in dark blue Dickie shorts that read: I am conformed. I was dressed in a black V neck sweater with a label on the right that read: I am invisible. I was dressed in a white collared shirt up to my neck that read: I am only straight. I was 14 years old when I was asked to guide my English Literature teacher to the exact location of “the lesbian girls of grade 12” so that she could hand them a red-inked slip for the detention of loving a woman while being a woman. I guided her to the small gym structure in the front of the school where “the lesbian girls of grade 12” stood. She thanked me for my cooperation.
Three and a half months later my same English Literature teacher found me in the front of the school in the small gym structure where now “the lesbian girls of grade 9” stood. She handed me a red-inked slip for the detention of me, a girl, confessing my love for another girl. The same echoes of gratitude for my "cooperation" muffled around me as I stood before her. Being a Catholic and identifying as gay in a private school, a school devoted to shrinking the idea of individuality amongst the students, was challenging. My sexuality was constantly punished with red ink. Similarly, Husnaa Hashim illustrates her own struggle for the duality in her identity as a “Black-idiosyncratic-Muslim-girlchild” in her new chapbook, Honey Sequence out this month from The Head & The Hand press as part of the Free Library of Philadelphia project.
Husnaa Hashim is the former Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. She is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and has been writing for over 8 years. She has placed 1st in the Free Library Teen Poetry Slam, received the American Voices Medal award, 4 Gold Keys, 6 Silver Keys, A National Gold Medal, and various Honorable Mentions from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In her free time she finds joy in creating flower crowns and relaxing with her feline friend, Maya (Angelou) Luna.
In her poem "Identity", Hashim’s expresses the challenges she faces as a young, Black, Muslim, Woman. She writes:
I cannot escape the
veil on my head
Fabric I draped at the age of nine when I was taught to
wrap myself in expectation
She was taught from a young age to wrap herself in a Hijab, a veil used to cover the head, which represents in Islamic culture, female modesty in the presence of a male. Hashim feels trapped in the expectations set by her religion when she expresses "I cannot escape the veil on my head". She struggles with accepting this sacred tradition as apart of her identity as an individual or as apart of her religion and culture.
Reading this poem, I felt an immediate kinship. I was brought up Catholic all my life. I was enrolled in Catholic private schools. I was an active member of the church. I served as a rosary reader, lecturer, and altar server, yet, none of that seemed to matter because of my sexuality. In the Catholic religion, being gay is a sin. I believed in my Catholic faith, but I also knew I was a Lesbian. I grew up being gay, this was not a choice, but a part of the fabric of who I am. The expectations that my religion forced onto me was difficult to escape from, just as Hashim struggles to escape from the expectation set by her own religion.
Four months into my freshman year of High School, after being found in the small gym structure and punished with red ink for who I am as an individual, I transferred out of the Catholic school system. I became ashamed of my sexuality. The experiences with my English Literature teacher scalped my pride like knife against skin, shedding the "sins" my sexuality held in Catholicism. I used to proudly profess my lesbianism - but I became motionless, silent, stagnant. I allowed the identification of “straight” to course through my veins and out of my mouth. I began to lose myself before I began to become myself. Similarly, Hashim describes losing herself in the battle of being Black and being Muslim:
the coffee of my skin
bitterness of flesh when I
try to scratch pain away/
I do not know who I am
the longer I allow the sadness to sink in
the more I lose myself/
Hashim eloquently uses consonance throughout her poem with the "ssss" sound: "Skin" "Scratch" "Sadness" Sink". This emphasizes her attempts to "scratch pain away" as if she is trying to scratch away the "coffee" of her skin. She feels ashamed and embarrassed by the duality in her identity. Hashim cannot fit into a singular box of "Muslim" or "Black". Her sense of identity fades away as the sadness floods her body. She begins to lose herself as she is stigmatized into a specific label, none of them reading: “Black-idiosyncratic-Muslim-girlchild”.
Throughout her book, she teaches us that there is strength in dualities -- even in multiplicities. She ends her poem on an unapologetic note:
is staying in this body for a wasteful lifetime
The poems in Hashim's new book reveal a society operating like a cage that attempts to trap individuals into a specific box. Hashim's poems offer a counterpoint to society's racism, sexism, and homophobia. She uses these last three lines to make a statement about being the problem vs. fighting the problem. Being the problem is remaining stagnant, much like I did after I transferred from the Catholic school system, but fighting the problem is enacting change. It is not as she explains, "staying in this body for a wasteful lifetime", but using this lifetime to rise up against racism or sexism or homophobia.
It took me 2 and a half more years to begin proudly identifying as a lesbian again. I had remained motionless for too long - I was wasting my life pretending to wear the blue Dickie shorts, the black V neck sweater, and the white collared shirt. I became apart of the problem: apart of the homophobia and the discrimination that I myself had experienced. Then something inside me shifted - change, growth, the evolution of self. The more I encountered proud members of the LGBTQ community, the more confidence I gained. I learned to radically accept my sexuality, no matter what anybody else had to say about it. I remained Catholic throughout my entire high school education, I remained Catholic after I began proudly identifying as a lesbian again, and I am still Catholic now. The difference is that now I know I do not need a school or a church or a priest to affirm my faith.
I am a Catholic Lesbian proud of being a Woman who loves another Woman.
Hashim is a Black Muslim Woman proud of her religion and proud of her race.
I believe you -- we -- are enough, whatever we are, and wherever we are.
You can purchase Husnaa Hashim's book and read interviews and watch spoken word videos at her website:
Cassie Wilson is the Blog Editor for PCC's Inscape Blog: Instress. She is a current student at Pasadena City College and is majoring in English. She says: "Husnaa Hashim's poetry is important. It is raw and it is real. I found my own perspective in her work, but I want to emphasis the value of her poetry bringing awareness around identifying as a Black Muslim Woman in today's society."
Written by John Genske
In 2017, I conducted an interview with Marine Cpl. Nathan Kemnitz. Kemnitz, a Texas native, who moved to Pasadena in 2011 and attended Pasadena City College through the veteran's program. This story is based on his life events and experiences as a member of the military:
I lay in the dust, broken and splintered and bent, and the sun beat down on my head. The blast picked me up and threw me on my back, knocking the air out of my lungs. The sound from the explosion continued to scream in my ear. I lay there for some time before I could finally form words on my tongue. “Huston! Huston!” I yelled. I couldn’t see anything after the explosion. “Huston!” I yelled once again. He didn’t respond. I could feel the moisture dribbling down my temple. I pressed the pads of my fingers on the warm liquid and then instinctively held my hand to the front of my face, but I still couldn’t see anything so I didn’t know whether it was blood or sweat.
I could hear the voice of the corpsman, Dexter, as he and a few others from our company approached. I heard Sergeant Taylor make the call on his radio to get a medevac ready. I sat up on my left knee and used my left arm to support my weight. The right half of my body was not responding to my efforts to move, like it had completely fallen asleep. That was the side of me facing the IED when the blast went off.
Dexter tried to talk to me but I paid no attention. I didn’t respond to him, I just kept yelling for Huston. Huston was my best friend. We grew up in the same town, went to the same Lutheran high school, and then enlisted together the day we graduated. His full name was Seth Ryan Huston. He died that day, August 21st, 2004, on a road surrounded by a flat floodplain in Fallujah.
Suddenly, I felt my head grow heavy. My neck relaxed and I reclined back into the dirt, staring into the sun. As I faded out of consciousness, I was certain that my death was greeting me. But I did not die. I was sent back to the states. I underwent 25 operations to clean out and reconstruct both my right arm and leg. My right arm was permanently paralyzed and my right leg was severely handicapped. Despite the cataracts that the blast gave me, which caused my initial loss of sight, I regained vision in my left eye. Shrapnel from the IED left my right eye permanently blind.
In the following weeks I asked the nurses and doctors about Seth. “He’s doing fine,” they responded each time. I had been in the hospital for a month before Sergeant Taylor came to visit me. I was eager to know about Seth’s whereabouts. “Sergeant, have you visited Seth yet?” I asked him. He paused for a moment, fixing his posture upright. As he drew in a deep breathe, I felt my diaphragm compress around my heart as if he had siphoned the very air from my lungs. “Nathan,” he looked up from his tan combat boots, “when the IED detonated, Seth was practically on top of it. He didn’t have a chance. Even if,” he paused, pursing his lips before resuming, “even if he’d somehow survived, I don’t know the kind of life he’d live. I’m sorry no one told you yet. I guess, no one here wanted you to have to undergo anymore strain.”
The hospital room was silent. He stayed standing next to my bed for a while. I stared at my distorted reflection on the rounded aluminum bars of my bed frame. My mind swam in the memories leading up to the explosion. I saw it from every angle, every point of view. I imagined the blast surge from the floor into a mushroom of dirt and debris, swallowing Huston in the blink of an eye.
For the next two and a half years I recovered in a Naval Hospital in Maryland. The doctors didn’t know how to prescribe painkillers, so they figured more were better than less. They just wanted to drown out our pain. They made sure we dealt with as little discomfort as possible. During the days we drank ourselves into a haze at the bowling alley. We quarreled with locals and were arrested as often as tracer rounds light up the Al Anbar night sky, though the police always brought us back to the hospital. At night we muddled our minds with the miscellaneous pills and prescriptions that we shared from cot to cot. We traded in our medals for morphine. We numbed our pain with naxolone. We floated in clouds made of oxycodone.
We implored these methods to escape our realities; though we all arrived at the same inexorable conclusions. War was a lie. It was no great unifier. It was not glorious. It was a pension and painkillers. The war tried to kill us, and when we were sent home on a stretcher with our loved ones in body bags, the war raised its hand with the rising sun and waved to us goodbye.
John Genske is a student at Pasadena City College majoring in Geography. John says: "I draw inspiration from authors like Kevin Powers and Tim O'brien who seek to spread awareness on the horrors of war."
Written by Andrea Vazquez
Personally, growing up I had a clear plan of what path I wanted to take: the path of having an education, success, happiness, and clarity. “All Roads Lead To You” by Donald Cauble focuses on the diverse paths people end up on. Cauble explains that one path can lead to any road wanted. The choice is theirs and it depends on where their heart and motivation is at. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, certain uncontrollable events occur and we get a bit lost sometimes. Thanks to these big plans of hopes and dreams, some people have an idea of where they will end up in life. However, some people have no clue and just play it by ear and that is okay too. Cauble says,
But for those who treasure love in their hearts,
no matter what-all roads lead to you.
Cauble’s words are the reality to our society, we are the ones who choose our paths by our actions. Sometimes we end up in places we didn’t choose, but these are, which lead us to the unknown. However, we always have a choice. It all depends on the person, their environment, and their ambition towards their passions.
My life path resonates with Cauble’s words. Growing up my parents always had my best interests at heart, while guiding me. However, as the years went by my interests began to change. Uncontrollable events occurred that affected my choices and thinking. The choices we make are influenced by the people around us, the interests we like and what we are being taught. This is why it is important to be aware of what and who we are being exposed to. I enjoy the fact Cauble mentioned the variety of people and paths in life. He states,
For some, no doubt, to fame and fortune.
For some, to drugs, taverns, a life of crime.
For many, a life serving the needs of others.
He mentions a few of the typical lives; people being famous in the entertainment industry while others end up abusing drugs and falling into alcoholism. This made me wonder and reflect on my current life in comparison to my old plans and goals. I realized I am where I am because of the people I surrounded myself with and that fear made me incapable of creating changes to my life. I always surrounded myself with people who were ambitious about their education and being successful, however, while my darkest thought consumed my soul I began to surround myself with people who were adventurous, wild, and free in being themselves. These people taught me it wasn’t just about being successful and having an identity accustomed to society.
It is up to the individual to create the change one wants to see. I have hope for my own future and I refuse to give up on the goals I have planned, even if things don’t go as planned. Life is full of unexpected possibilities and I’ll end up on the designated path created for me. Caudle's message may be perceived in different ways, some say it’s about love and others believe it’s about how our lives turn out to be.
Andrea is currently a Pasadena City College student majoring in Graphic Design. She not only enjoys designing but also enjoys fashion, photography, and music. She says, “ Our faith doesn’t determine who we are, we create ourselves.”
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.