How One Exhibit Inspired Another: Origins, Part 1

This story is the first in a series, “The Origins of Words & Afterwards,”which gives an inside look at the Greater Lansing community-arts collaboration as its project coordinator. Subscribers of my blog Dey of the Phoenix may be aware that the domain name is home to several projects, each with its own subscription. So for updates about Words & Afterwards, be sure to subscribe to <> .

Photo by Karen Hooker

In November 2010, I first encountered the exhibit Eyes Wide Open, which represents human loss due to U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Red Cedar Friends, a Quaker Meeting of Lansing, coordinates the Michigan portion for the exhibit founder American Friends Service Committee.

The gathering was an occasion to care for exhibit contents: pairs of boots for Michigan soldiers, tiles for Afghani civilians, and pairs of shoes for Iraqi civilians. While refreshing and reviewing these contents, names of fallen soldiers were read aloud in their memory. As part of the afternoon, we also sat in silent worship and people spoke as they had words to share. Visit the online album to have a look at our “Day of Caring and Reflection.”

Photo by Karen Hooker

It was during this reflection that I began writing the poem titled with the exhibit’s name, linking current wars with my family’s generational story and the U.S. legacy of militarism. This experience and subsequent poem (see below) catalyzed my exploring the impact of war across generations through poetry by my father and great aunt — both of whom were veterans — and myself as an advocate of nonviolence.

A seed was planted, and from it a vision for a new project began to grow: to bring three generations of poetry to life through an art exhibit, while inviting community members’ to express their stories through art. This step was the first of many that led to Words & Afterwards! (For some background on this generational work, read “Collage Inspirations,” Mar. 2, 2012.)

Photo by Tom Rico

Here is the poem “Eyes Wide Open,” which now is a multimedia installation programmed by Tom Schouten at (SCENE) Metrospace‘s exhibit “Words & Afterwards: Moving from Violence to Healing” through June 24. The photo on the right is from the show’s opening night.

I first performed this poem as part of 16 Days Lansing (Nov. 2010), a campaign challenging violence against women, and also at Bridges Open Mic (Nov. 2011), a HerStories program that challenged militarism and gender violence. To see my performance from Bridges, visit this video by the Peace Education Center.

Eyes Wide Open

. . . Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . .

Dad died from bone marrow transplant complications within the 1st year
The VA     Veterans Affairs
sent a letter to his 3rd wife since he was married to her the longest
to acknowledge Agent Orange use in Vietnam was at fault for vets’
CML          Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
When the letter arrived he would have been 58
already dead 7 years

Diagnosed after diagnosis of CML
PTSD          Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
hit a number of people children and wives
with a belt and words and hands
the same hands that held us with hugs

Dad’s youngest enlisted
AF               Air Force
just before the cut-off age of 28
a decade older than Dad who joined the same military branch
to escape his abusive father
dishonorably discharged from the Navy of
WWII         World War 2

Dad died 13 years ago this Thanksgiving
most of those years the
USA            United States of America
has warred on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq
as we have warred on peoples of this continent and
all over the world
steeping our nation’s story in blood

. . . for the land of the free and the home of the brave . . .

These memories spun while tending
EWO          Eyes Wide Open
an exhibit about human loss from certain US invasions
The boots     the shoes     the tiles evoke
not only the killed soldiers but
all their loved ones

The web is wide the strands are many and hope connects us
as long as
we see ourselves in one another
as long as
we remember everyone is someone’s child
as long as
we turn to the Light that holds us all

Note: I have kept current the number of years since my father’s passing, which was in 1999.

Updated May 6, 2012.

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