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Introduction to Blog

“I originally wanted to write about the mind and thinking:
but more than write about thinking, I wanted actually to think it, do it,
while writing, to the extent that that was possible”
—Alice Notley

I want to start everything in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is not where I lived nor where I was born, but it is where I remember most things. Ann Arbor, Michigan was the place I fell in love with a girl for the first time and the place where I decided it was okay to buy chocolates and eat them and the place where I learned how to read a poem with voice. I want to start everything in a place where it is summer, two summers ago exactly, and then I want to start everything now. I want to rebuild the layers that helped found me because there is something so beautiful in seeing the structures you have made of yourself. So I could start in Toluca, Mexico, where I was born, or I could start at Harvard, where I am living, but I want to start in Ann Arbor, Michigan, because this is a story of becoming a lover.
When you taste your first poem, there is nothing more blue-fuzzy-naked in the world. There is nothing more concrete or vague or sparkled and dusted and float. When you taste your first poem, you taste the poem saying to you that she knows nothing and everything about you. When you taste your first pome, you taste the way she laughs and the way she will peel an orange and the way the orange will crush in her mouth like a foreign fruit. When you taste your first poem everything will be foreign; she will be foreign, you will be a stranger within a line that eats another line. But the poem will not worry that you are a stranger, and if you listen, she will tell you with her hands that she would like to let you be her lover. And that is how it all begins. In Ann Arbor, Michigan.
And now we are sitting again in a circle, one familiar to the one I learned to know so well, and we are reading and discussing and learning and loving all over again. We, as students knowing nothing until we have first felt everything, will go home and draw or write or sculpt, and we will wonder what exactly this finality is. Until we have felt everything. The process of creation is the felt-everything; the finality of creation is to understand. From early September, I learned that Ann Arbor Michigan was really just a name for a place where I would learn to listen. I want to start in Ann Arbor Michigan because Ann Arbor Michigan happened again to me, and this time I learned to use my first piece of charcoal and listen to my first verses of a Quran and eat my first sweet piece of candy from Iran. It happened just as the tasting of the poem happened— with the peeling of the orange fruit, the crush, the hands of the narratives telling us that we could be their lovers. I am in a place, I am starting in a place, that is all, I will read this story again, all the hands in the world will lock together from far away, and I will taste this story again.

“Since we do not succeed in fleeing it, let us therefore try to look
the truth in the face. Let us try to assume our fundamental ambiguity”
—Simone de Beauvoir

An important part of creating an art portfolio is keeping it— I think that though time is scarce, it is always a matter of allowing oneself to feel inspired. I think that the main object of “keeping” an art portfolio is to constantly search every surrounding and narrative for another piece, and whatever that piece should be, or wherever that piece should fit into, it means allowing yourself to be aware that these pieces are important. What I absolutely loved about keeping an art portfolio was that I felt like I was constantly on the lookout for clues to something I did not completely understand, but it felt so wonderful to explore and gain small bits of knowledge and input. What started happening was that I started searching for the truth in every narrative, but rather than becoming disappointed when the truth of one narrative clashed with the truth of another, I realized that this was part of the “fundamental ambiguity” that makes up our reality: narrative layered on top of narrative, story unfinished after the end, past told through the present, lives relived. Only through truly understanding the narratives that we read in class in raw light was I able to extrapolate from them — they were not my truth at this moment, but they were somebody’s truth at some moment. For example, the narrator of Persepolis had a completely different experience living in Iran than did the narrator of Jasmine and the Stars, but at the same time, that made neither experience more important than the other. It only made the reader’s understand and interpretation of Iran a multi-lateral one; an understanding which is grounded by two narratives and by the over-arching concept that even these two narratives have not done a whole country justice. And for that reason, they make up the collaborative truth of all our people, our people being those who have lived on this Earth and those who will live on this Earth. I do not think our collective truth should exclude anyone, not based on gender or race or culture or religion.
I was proud to be a woman in a class of women reading stories by women because the woman’s voice has often been the minority, the forgotten, the underrepresented. But it was equally as important for me to be a woman in a class with two males reading works by male authors because these voices also make up the societies we live in, and they are voices that are conscious and aware of their surroundings. The consciousness of the narrator only further provokes the consciousness of the reader who must understand that each story is another piece, another fragment of something worth noting.
We make up this collective truth, and we are keeping it, through art, through re-tellings. All we are is Ann Arbor relocated in the middle of somebody else’s heart, an orange peel turned yellow turned fluorescent, circling around this earth so someone will pick us up and take what we have to say as valid. And I think that every single story we read in this class, regardless of its literary merit or contextual expertise, was worth all the validity in the world. For this reason it is so crucial to “keep” the portfolio, to constantly give justice to that which has found the strength to share its voice with us.

“I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do
and as they have to do”
— Gertrude Stein

Creating these art pieces was an experience that reminded me of my poetry workshops two summers ago, but this was a much more independent experience, one where I was fully responsible for finding the time and materials to complete my art pieces. I was at first very alarmed because I knew no form of artwork besides written work; though I admired paintings and sculptures, I had never ventured to pick up a paintbrush, much less more complex materials. I thought that I could portray everything through words because I found it truly fascinating to see what words could do, I liked to let them take control, to say what I wanted to say their way. Words do things, and I knew this before I entered this class.
What I did not know when I entered this class was that my hands can do things, too, that a story told through words can be told again through charcoal lines and that both stories, if told with importance, will be just as important. What I did not know when I entered this class was how amazing it could feel to say something without words. I want to talk about my experience with creating two of my favorite non-prosaic pieces.
The first of these pieces is a series of brown tiles sketched with charcoal. I chose here to focus not so much on the role of a woman, but the role of the body in forms of a woman, which I find to be completely different. When laws are put in place to restrict the clothes a woman wears or the actions she is allowed to take, these laws are not enforced to restrict the woman, but to restrict the body; and the manifestation of the body takes its form from the idealization of what the body should be in the eyes of those making rules. Hence, the body becomes the body of the woman. In this piece, I began with a line, the first part of a body, and progressed until I had a person fully concealed. The objective of creating this piece would not have been clear to me if I would have chosen to write. The objective of creating this piece was to show how easily it is to find differences between bodies, to say what is normal and what is abnormal, to ostracize and to include. In this piece, the persons I created did not have eyes and could thus not be identified— but they had bodies, and could thus be universalized. This gave me as an artist an incredible amount of power. At the same time, it also allowed me, with some political motive, to give power back to those bodies that are stripped of agency.
The second piece that was important for me was my final piece, a collage based on photographs and posters of activist movements and activist women who truly motivate me. I suppose that this could be considered a “feminist” collage of some sorts, but I truly created it in response to the novel Madras on Rainy Days, where so many relevant topics truly motivated me to create a piece of art that could show the importance of these themes. I did not so much want to say “I believe that gay rights are important” or “I believe that women should have the right to choose,” but I wanted to say “look at all these people, these bodies, coming together to protect each other’s rights to solidarity.” To me, this is love.

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country.
As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
― Virginia Woolf

A lot of my art pieces focused heavily on the narrative of a woman. This could be perhaps because I identity as a woman. Though I do not necessarily identify as a white, cis-gender woman, I am still a woman, and I still find my position as a woman one of the most powerful and vulnerable ones to exist in. For this reason I felt that it was just to explain why I chose to take a feminist perspective on some of my art pieces, and I would like to explain how it is not so much that I have created art that explains being a woman, but I have, through the voice of a muse or an artist, created a woman to explain art.
First, I would like to acknowledge that the quotes I have included in here are all by women, not to discount men of their incredible contributions to quote-giving, but to give merit to the women who have truly inspired me in my life. This is all personal bias and personal choice. I do it not with the political motive to spark distrust in men and their sayings, but to broadcast words by women who I believe are not as well-regarded or well-known as their male counterparts (for example, most everyone nows Jean Paul Sartre, but how many people read Simone de Beauvoir)?
Furthermore, I believe that I began creating more general art, but as I look back now, I realize how interestingly woven-in the feminine figure of my art-pieces truly was. For example, my first piece is a story of lovers, but in this story of lovers, I allowed the beloved to always be a female. This is how the Quran was explained to me in the first reading — as a female — and interestingly, I did not choose to challenge this view. Perhaps if I had challenged this, I would have created a different story, one of a woman trying to understand a man, and I wonder how different this would have been. Would it have been different?
I think that as my art progressed, and as I began to read more narratives, I also chose to frame my art as my story told in terms of another. I stopped attempting to mimic the idea of somebody else’s narrative, and I stopped forcing myself to summarize their ideas, but instead I took a foundational principle, one that stood out to me, and I used this principle to guide my pieces. For example, near the end, I wrote a short piece of prose about the character Zunaira and what happened to her after the end of the book, The Swallows of Kabul, wherein her fate was left ambiguous. I had truly attached myself to her character, not because she was a woman, but because she had so much agency, and I wanted to, after the end of the story, continue to give her this agency. This is when I simultaneously began to weave in my won story. I allowed Zunaira the possibility of falling in love with another woman, which is what I did in Ann Arbor, which is what I have done for two years, which has been truly the most wonderful experience of my life. I wanted Zunaira to fall in love because she is a human being, and I believe that in being somebody creating art that depicts the life of another, there is a form of love in being this artist, in using a muse. And I wanted her to be able to love without the restriction of being able to love only men. Herein is where I believe that sexuality can be fluid and that love is the most fluid of all — so why would I restrict part of my art from also experiencing the same fluidity which I so firmly believe in?

“We are amazing beings, Geryon is thinking. We are neighbors of fire.
And now time is rushing towards them where they stand side by side
with arms touching, immortality on their faces, night at their back”
—Anne Carson

In ending this reflection, I want to talk about the people in this course, who gave me the honor of listening to their narratives every Tuesday for three months. I will forever remember these people, their responses to literature, and most of all, their responses to every day life and occurrences. I have learned through this class to listen, and I am so grateful that learning to listen has brought me so much closer to these wonderful people. Thank you for a wonderful experience.
I will return to Ann Arbor again in December, though I have been there all along. I have been there and back, and I can taste the oranges following me. It’s funny how things work. How the body of the poem follows the body of the artist follows the body of the reader. How the body takes its power in the narrative, and how the narrative takes its power in the collective truth. “We are amazing beings, Geryon is thinking.” We are amazing stories. They are the first poem you’ll ever taste. All over again. In the summer two years ago, they are the first girl you fall in love with, and the love you learn to see in everything else after that. We are amazing stories, and I am thankful for the story and for the we. I am thankful that place can follow place, but I am mostly thankful that it does not have to.
I want to finish with Anne Carson because I started somewhere else: “And now time is rushing towards them where they stand side by side with arms touching, immortality on their faces, night at their back.” After the tasting, after the hands, after the immortality of the narrative told-shaped-retold ten thousand times, I want to start everything again.

Media Collage

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After reading Madras on Rainy Days, I was really touched by the way the body was restricted in several ways, both of men and of women. I believe that the body in itself is an outlet for control because it is physical. What is most interesting about the body, though, is that sometimes its physical manifestations arise from outside factors, those that may not be thoroughly explicit. I created this collage to show several activist movements, from the AIDS Act Up movement to the current feminist waves. I believe that in activism, though several different groups have different asks and different motives, we must all unite as one to push for basic human rights. One of my favorite feminists is Simone de Beauvoir. At first, she refused the title of feminism because she believed that over time, socialism would provide for full freedoms and equalities; she realized later that no system, regardless of its socioeconomic intents, will ever provide for people in the way that people will provide for people. And so she became a feminist because she realized that it was something to fight for. I think that we still need to fight for so many people, men, women, children, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, those who do not have proper healthcare, those who are disabled etc. Although each group has a different specific “ask,” we are still humans together, and I believe that if one activist group is calling for help, we should all step up to the plate and not put one social movement over the other. I think that the book really outlines a lot of social problems from the impurity that is often related to a woman’s menstruation, a very normal human cycle, to the control of sexuality and the ultimate shame that is cast when sexuality does not follow the “cultural norms.” I think that was must always challenge these cultural norms, especially when they unintentionally restrict people from expressing freedom of their body or their heart. I think that Simone was right; people need to fight for people because who else is going to do it?

What Could Have Happened to Zunaira

What Could Have Happened to Zunaira

Zunaira could have put on her burka, ran home, chopped her hair, put on her husbands clothes, and walked back into the city. Zunaira could have walked all the way to the rail track in the capital of Kabul and hopped on a train and gone somewhere or wherever the train was taking her, as a man on a train, as a man going somewhere, with sort hair chopped and uncovered.

Zunaira could have fled to France somehow. First to Marseille and then to Paris. Zunaira could have learned French. Zunaira could have married a Parisian poet and kissed her in a salon. Zunaira could have had a lesbian love affair. Zunaira could have grown out her hair. Zunaira could have gone to the market holding hands. Zunaira could have been the middle of two love affairs or she could have been the middle of no love affairs.

Zunaira could have opened up a bakery and sold baguettes or she could have learned the highest arithmetic until she could teach the highest level arithmetic, and then Zunaira could have been the most beautiful professor. Zunaira could have chopped her hair again. Zunaira could have had the most beautiful trousers as a woman or a man or as whoever Zunaira wanted to be. Zunaira could have wanted to be back home, but Zunaira could have wanted to stay.

Zunaira could have made another friend named Zunaira in Paris and Zunaira and Zunaira could have fought in the French Algerian war. Or they could have met Simone de Beavouire and been part of the family. Zunaira and Zunaira could have traveled by foot to the ocean. Wherever the ocean is Zunaira and Zunaira could have left no traces in the sand. Zunaira could have told Zunaira this is where my home is.

Zunaira could have had no home. Zunaira could have had all the homes. Zunaira could be missing her husband, or she could be missing the prison, or she could be missing the Zunaira behind the burka. Regardless, Zunaira could be not behind the anything now. Zunaira could be only behind Zunaira until the moon and the tides switch names. Until Zunaira switches names. Until Zunaira doesn’t have a name to go by. Until she doesn’t have hair to cut. Until she cannot walk to the train station anymore. Until there was nothing but a future to rid a past. Until the voices come again. Until love comes again. Until the voices go. Until the wind takes hold of her hands and makes them old. Until she is old. Until she could be old. Until she could be winded. Until she could be nothing but the hands. Until she could be nothing but the nameless thing. Until she could be everything but the fingers which clutch to their finger-hearts the story of Kabul.

Response: I created this piece of prose as a response to the book The Swallows of Kabul. I was really drawn to both of the female characters in the story, and I think the end of the novel was one of the most riveting parts. At the end, a woman sacrifices herself for another woman because she believes that this other woman can bring her husband love and happiness. This other woman is Zunaira, but Zunaira does not stay around for the end of the novel. Instead of waiting for a man, she leaves, and it is never revealed truly where she has gone to. I found her actions to be so strong and so determined, and because I had formed some form of attachment to her character as a reader, I wanted her to live on. With prose, I could create a plethora of different hypothetical situations, and knowing that none of them were probably the reality of her fate, I allowed the prose to become experimental until it completely unraveled itself. For me, this was also a new path to find my own character development and the real connection that I had with Zunaira. Ultimately, I think that it was really interesting that I saw so much power in her because I think that in writing about her, I wanted to give her even more and more strength. I wanted Zunaira to conquer anything and everything. I wanted her to be bold and wild and free and relentless. I wanted her to fall in love. To breathe air only for herself. To cherish the nature around her. I want to give Zunaira everything that she felt she could not have in Kabul, but mostly I wanted to also give her the freedom to return if she wanted to. Ultimately, what happened to Zunaira is unknown, perhaps even to the author of the novel himself, but I think that the reflection of her future was important for me because it allowed me to see the extent of admiration and connection that a reader can have with a character.

Charcoal Forms

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I created these tiles with charcoal in response to my reading of Persepolis. As I was reading the book, I found myself connecting with the narrator on many intrinsic levels. Though I did not understand the extent of her situation, her vitality stuck out to me. She had this intense will, even wanting to be a prophet at some point, and I think that there is something very beautiful in this will. Furthermore, she lived during a period when wearing the hijab became mandatory, where even the most modern and radical women dared only show a few strands of hair. I think that the role of the narrator was detrimental; without her age and the youthful turbulence that took place during the times of revolution and islamization, the story would have carried a completely different message. For me, because I had so many connections with her, I wanted to create a piece that revealed the true similarities that we all share.
With charcoal and some brown slates, I begin to draw the progression of a person: beginning the first tile with the shoulder line and ending the last tile with a full burka. The keys were the constant black lining as well as the lack of facial distinctions. I think that regardless of what one wears on their head, if they choose to wear anything at all, there is so much more to a human being than the physical features. In removing their eyes and noses and mouths, one may say that I was restricting them of their identities. But instead, I believe that focusing so much on physical beauty and hair and the sexualization of the body is what removes identity. I believe that what matters is voice. And I could not draw voice. And a burka should not cover voice. And if a girl wants to be a prophet, who should stop her? No one. If a girl wants to show her full head of hair, or if a girl wants to keep her burka on, I don’t think it is anybody else decision. I don’t think anybody else has control of the body, and to try to assume this control is a betrayal of voices. I chose to leave ambiguity in the face to create discomfort. I don’t think we should ever allow ourselves to be comfortable, either as Westerners or non-Westerners, and assume that anything is the way it should be. We cannot say that somebody is not allowed to wear what they wish to wear; nor is anyone else allowed to force the body into hiding. There are many ways of hiding, but I don’t think that the physical manifestations of the hidden are the ones we should be paying attention to. Instead: how do we hide voices?

Two Hens, Each Clutching the Other’s Cloth

Two Hens, Each Clutching the Other’s Cloth

before dust, you will be the woman
with the large knife

unnamed, hanging, loose on a tree limb
by your toes— a light sleeper,
the first wife

you will not be bounded,
a tiger mother, child
behind the creaking she sleeps light

your body, this floor, is a wasteland
you tell time with your shadow
though it is too tall and too curved
too wild for you
until the large knife.

you will talk to her,
and she will make you know the burden of your empty belly

you will be in the desert
knowing the aching of the childlessness
which is you,
and you will hear the creaking, and you will clutch her cloth
to make the creaking stop,
toss it towards the dust

you will feel the ground with her/your tongue

(the doctrine of the world is to kiss it)

you will wonder what to name yourself
to be tiger mother, you must sacrifice all hopes of identity
Salamita, you will die unborn

and newborn

do you know what it means to be gone for a while?
the creaking does not stop until the end of the dance
when you sleep on the floor

Response: The title of this poem is a phrase I borrowed from an event in the book, The Suns of Independence. I chose to write a poem because I believed that the author’s prosaic style throughout the book was so powerful. Throughout the poem, phrases are fragmented to illicit an uncomfortable pain for the reader — a sort of pain which was provoked, I believe, though the entire novel. I chose a scene which was perhaps not as gruesome and powerful as other scenes in the novel because I believe that the small action of two women fighting over room on the bed is such a pivotal point. I could have chosen the politics of genital mutilation or the socialization of rape or marriage to encapsulate the struggles of these women, but rather I wanted to further understand the moment wherein two women choose to fight against each other instead of uniting. I focused on the body, the floor, death, rebirth, and dance, because all these images seemed to act together in this scene in the novel. Everything, at least to me, seemed magical, and the best way in which I could interpret this scene was through poetry. I hope to show the feelings of isolation which plagued each woman, but at the same time, I wish to show sings of hope and love within the body, i.e. “the doctrine of the world is to kiss it.” In writing this poem, I wanted for both the female characters to understand that they each have their own personal turmoils, but that most importantly, it is possible for them to work together. Of course, I don’t think that this happened in the novel, and so I attempted to leave a little bit of ambiguity in the poem.

The Beggars

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In The Beggar’s Strike, I came to the confounding realization that we are all in fact a form of a beggar. This is not to undermine the struggles that an impoverished beggar must face, nor does this take away the intense privileges we all have incurred. But I believe that privilege in itself throws us into a position similar to that of a beggar because we are in privilege due to something — we are privileged over someone else — and this constant comparison of privilege vs non-privilege is what incentives us to earn, to gain, to profit. We are part of an economic system, and I believe that these incentives, though liberating for those who can achieve, are also restrictive in terms of humanity and human freedom. We are incentivized by profits, but how many of these profits are truly given to those who cannot follow incentives, to those with less ability to say participate in the market? For this reason I created a form of ambiguity and connections — there are several outlying houses connected by strips of charcoal to one main center — perhaps a city, but it shows that we are all part of a large system, and regardless of how privileged we are, we must all act as part of this. In a sense, because a beggar does not have the privilege to take part in an economic market as much as another, he has more freedom because he is not incentivized by the lures of achievement in the same way. He is incentivized by survival. And I think that we all are, at some point, similar to this.

In Passing Time as Woman

In passing time as woman

finds left femur bone to be more
corrupted than right, is
completed, starved, moored
on ledge between body and repercussion —
to be still as still can be

In passing time as woman,
finds rose bush between two thighs but
kiss self
for too long. What is this
rage, if not to be exempt
from sin, what is this sin
if not to be exempt from

In passing time as woman,
made to listen, to know color
yellow for light,
made to fake knowing as
un-knowing, as forget, as promise,
regret: your value is not a woman.
Your value is a man-made thing
handed to a woman in passing time
for keepsakes.

In passing time as woman,
do not forget you come from Adam’s rib—
In passing time as woman,
forget over and over again.
No god made you
in passing time as woman.
With rose and bush and femur bone
make eyes of face a color they do not know

In passing time as woman,
Become. Over and over again,
until all the stars crowd over head
and wait for lips
to say your name

Art Response: I wrote this poem after reading Sultana’s Dream and Feminist Urdu Poetry because I was really inspired by the strength of the voices in the authors. I was moved by their solidarity and their resistance, their independence and their strife. I was also very inspired by my best friend, Margot, who has a tattoo of a rose and the woman’s symbol on her rib to show a sort of defiance against the biblical story of Eve being made from Adam’s rib. Margot is someone who I have always admired because in the small town of Commerce Township where we grew up in, she was always proud and unashamed to call herself a feminist. She would wear a ring on her wedding finger and when prompted by her “marriage,” she would boldly proclaim that she was married to herself and that she belonged to nobody. Margot was the first person I knew the challenge ideals of virginity, to dub the words “virginity” and “pure” as social constructs contrived to constrain the body. In a small conservative place, this made Margot half-crazy and half-nuts. And she inspired me to be half-crazy and half-nuts and feminist as well because it was important. I wrote the poem “In Passing Time as Woman” as a response to their responses, and I allowed myself to echo them through the use of “time” because I believe that time is something that can be extremely restrictive but also something than can be transcended by the mind. And I wrote this poem for my friend Margot, for her rib, for our ribs, for our friendship, and for each other’s solidarities.

The Complaint Origami


The Complaint and The Answer was, although simple to read fast and skim over, a very complicated and crucial text. I wanted to create a piece that showed how simple it is to glance over the complexities of religion and faith and to bring only questioning. In the poems, those asking the questions do not understand why they are not being rewarded for being religious followers, but they do not understand that this is not the object of belief. They do not understand that in trying to be Muslim, they have forgotten to be muslim. They do not understand that in their need to sustain tradition, they have obscured themselves from progression. For this reason, the answer is so complicated to understand. I created an oragami, originally a type of flower, and then turned its edges upwards to create a more complex paper-structure. It does not have a name. Merely, there are many different drawings depicted on the paper to show how difficult it is to grasp at an “answer” when one only views the “answer” as a simple solution. One needs to view the whole work, the whole answer; one needs to flip the edges and turn the solutions inside-out until a true understanding is reached. And understanding comes with change. Therefore, I think that a piece of art that is physical and can be molded truly represents the struggle to attain an “answer”; the closer to the answer one is, the more the answer will looked different. The real answer is always more complex than what one wishes to see. To find the answer, one needs to be open to change. Surrender should come not as an institutionalized concept, but through an intrinsic struggle and motivation towards progress, towards surrender as a muslim.

The Overarching Eye of Gabalawi


This piece is a response to the book Children of the Alley. Throughout the novel, I was constantly asking myself along with the people in the alley, “Where is Gabalawi?” I was very moved by this constant struggle because I had asked myself this question over a hundred times when I was young, of course with a different name. “Where is God?” “Does God see me doing this?” “Does God really know if I lie just once tomorrow?” Of course, as I developed, these questions turned into doubt for me. “If God did not care enough to let me say goodbye to Tante Klara, is God really there?” “What if God is not really there?” I think that I was exactly like the characters in the book: I wanted to cast blame. If blame could be casted, then perhaps hurt and suffering could be alleviated from my hands. Of course, the hurt and suffering experienced in the alley are very different form the suffering faced by a young girl in Michigan, but pain is pain nonetheless. In my response, although the “overarching eye of Gabalawi” seems very simplistic and direct, I really wanted to address the concept that the overarching eye may or may not be there. Gabalawi may not exist; god may be just as much a concept as this fictional character, but the homes around Gabalawi’s eye are congruent. So are the pain, the suffering, the corruption, and the small shreds of hope. I think that ultimately, faith should not be cast in a sense that allows for suppression, but faith must be created and harnessed for growth and goodness. If one’s faith creates scapegoats and excuses, then these beliefs must be reworked. In a sense, the people allowed each other to resign to the hardships of life and blamed Gabalawi for not listening to them. Instead, they should have listened to each other. They should have stopped forgetting. Faith is complicated because of its subjectivity, but we must learn to shape faith from that which is congruent, that which is there. We must not always ask “Where is God?”, rather, we must find the strength in each and every soul on Earth to say “Here I am.”



I created this piece of art from dried flowers on a backdrop of two of Alice Notley’s poems in response to The Wedding of Zein. I incorporated two poems from Notley’s book Culture of One titled “At the Beginning Stop Suffering” and “The Mercy Moment.” As I was reading about Ni’ma and her refusal to be subjugated under the patriarhcal culture in the novel, I was reminded very much of Notley and the way she also refuses to fall under a category. She builds and rebuilds herself and takes from what is used or old or broken and creates something beautiful. But Notley’s beauty differs from the cultural standards of beauty, and it is this that makes her even more powerful. Even more interestingly, Ni’ma was drawn to the name “Mercy” because she believed that one day she must sacrifice herself for something great, and this mindset I believe truly allowed her to view herself as more than the typical ideal of a woman in her culture. She had her own picture of who she was, and she was beautiful to herself because of her values. In “At the Beginning Stop Suffering,” Notley writes:
“I am Mercy; I have no understanding of who I am;
though, with my thousand arms, I have written of my own
nature since writing began. I inhabit you and you write about me again.”
Here, there is a sense of withdrawal from a the idea of a society’s physical being. Rather than following the institutionalized form of “body,” Notley creates her own, she creates this higher self that is either her own self or another self to understand everything around her. This reminded me very much of Ni’ma and the type of thinking that could have appealed to her.
In the sequel to this poem, “The Mercy Moment,” Notley writes:
“The most outstanding characteristic of the mercy moment, the time when she comes, is
how instantly the suffering stops.”
I was reminded of suffering because Ni’ma suffers from the mere fact that she is a woman in a society that does not value women so much as men. Women are objectified and viewed from a very physical sense, and this dehumanization in my idea is a form of suffering. And to draw from suffering to create personhood is the most beautiful thing. I created Ni’ma’s face from dried flowers for this reason. To me, dried flowers a different form of beauty, one that is often regarded as “sad” or “dead” and not as “worthy” as a blooming flower. To me, these mindsets are very similar to the phrasing used to describe women in the novel: “the best girl in town” versus a “first-hand woman.” And so I took the poems about Mercy and the poems about suffering and these dried flowers and made Ni’ma in the way that I thought could relieve her from the social standards she was born into.