I just learned that this week is Bisexual Awareness Week or #BiWeek; at least according to this panoply of organizations and corporate co-sponsors.
Nevertheless, learning about bi-week inspired me to read June Jordan. She was and is a brilliant poet, playwright, essayist, revolutionary activist, feminist, and out bisexual. I am so grateful to learn from her work and her powerful voice, ear, and lexicon of truth. It’s a good week to spend time with June Jordan.
These poems are, in part, powerful and moving portraits of deep experiences of violence and oppression. Especially, “Poem about Rights.” They are also a way of re-experiencing, sharing, teaching, telling hard truths. Please keep that in mind before you click play.
1 The Fool (Le Mat or Il Matto, the Italian word that appears on some earlier versions of the Tarocchi, can be translated not only as ‘the fool,’ but also as ‘the beggar,’ ‘the madman,’ or ‘the lunatic.’) is the only unnumbered card in the Tarot de Marseille (In other decks it is numbered zero.) The Fool is placeless and numberless. It is the card of beginnings and endings – a card more concerned with movement and temporality than with location and spatiality – alternately counted as the highest or the lowest of the trumps. The Fool ascends and descends the order of the Tarot.
The card itself depicts a vagabond whose torn pantaloons are playfully pawed at by an indeterminate species of animal; perhaps a companion, perhaps a vigilant guard chasing a stranger out of town. Regardless, the figure seems undisturbed. They* carry a rather thin knapsack filled with few possessions. They look ahead with a youthful freshness and naïveté. The Fool approaches the threshold of the card itself, bearing their ass to the opposite side as if to say, “I don’t need your acceptance! Onward!”
The Fool is taking the initial steps on a relational drama that unfolds across the Major Arcana, or the first twenty-one cards of the Tarot. If we understand the Tarot as a complete system of interpretation, The Fool is the figure who sets that system into motion. The Fool is the animator of archetypes. On the one hand, they are a figure of great openness to the multiplicity of encounters which will ensue on the journey and, on the other, they are a figure great stupidity, even madness. In both guises, The Fool is something like a Simmelian stranger, embodying the tense relationship between absolute fixity to a point of origin (zero-point of lowest trump, preceding The Magician I/The High Priestess II; absolute reterritorialization) and utter detachment from any spatial specificity (zero-point of highest trump, succeeding The World XXI; absolute deterritorialization).
The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana culminates in Le Monde, The World, sometimes called The Universe. This is a card of accomplishment and completion. On it, we find an androgynous human figure, dancing at the center of a yonic wreath. In the Tarot de Marseille, the wreath is surrounded by four classic elemental figures, or the tetramorph: the cherub/human figure (Aquarius/air), the eagle (Scorpio/water), the lion (Leo/fire), and the bull (Taurus/earth). Assembled together, the figures are joined in celebration of the historical accomplishment of the Fool’s journey. This is a card of human triumph in the formation of a world. The world is both an abstract and an earthly card. It is practical; a card which crowns cyclicality, renewal, and unity. It is at once emancipatory and inaugural, suggesting in the notion of completion, the inevitability of return. The World is a card of rhythms and wholeness. It suggests a freedom guided by the teacherly values of responsibility, discipline, and contemplation. The world, in a word, is totality.
The Tarot, of course, is a game of chance as much as it is a tool or system of interpretation. The act of reading Tarot generally requires the querent to focus on a particular problem – or at least the outline of a problem. The acts of shuffling, drawing, placing, and reading the cards affirm a commitment to engage a problem through both the order and the arrangement of the cards in the reading itself and in terms of the overall architecture of the Tarot. Cards from the Major Arcana suggest overarching principles of consciousness and action, so-called ‘court cards’ indicate personae and individuals, and cards from the Minor Arcana speak to transformational struggles and victories that unfold in everyday life.
A reading is spatial in that the relationship of the cards to each other must be considered in terms of the geography of generally agreed upon positions in the map of the reading itself. (The first position being that of the querent, the second of their immediate obstacle or opportunity, etc.) A reading is temporal in the sense that it takes place with respect to a situation that is ‘present’ to the querent and insofar as the order in which the cards are drawn is the singular factor in determining their position. The manner in which a reader draws connections between cards is therefore expressed in an art of spatio-temporal analysis.
I invite you to draw a card.
* While some traditions gender The Fool as a male, others portray The Fool as androgynous. Therefore, I use ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ to preserve this indeterminacy.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men [sic] are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to ad just to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
Every year, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (US), I listen to “Beyond Vietnam,” as well as several other speeches by Dr. King. His clear and powerful voice falls heavily on the jagged tyrannies of capital, war, racism, and exploitation. The recording reaches me as if I sat there in Riverside Church, my back pulled away from the hard wooden pew – too many memories of church. My bones rattle, echoing as chills on my skin, which seizes up as his succinct insights into the nature of power and domination resonate throughout the space. This speech invariably brings me to tears, tears for the unresolved nature of this particular call to action, this particular set of truths.
“Beyond Vietnam,” in my opinion, should be the speech with which Americans, and those around the world, commence their annual memorialization of Dr. King. We would do well to remember that this speech, delivered one year to the day that he was viscously assassinated in Memphis, names the United States Government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Should it not still be “incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war[s]”?
What has changed?
Who are the clear voices for justice in the world today?
What would change if we recalled not only Dr. King’s anti-racism and non-violence, but also his anti-imperial and anti-war stances? His deft ability to connect war, poverty, racism, and globalization? His pro-labor activism?
Remember him today.
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