peace and protection

credit - susan arnsten-russell

credit – susan arnsten-russell

I was so struck by this powerful TouchDrawing™ image that I asked the creator, Susan Arnsten-Russell, for permission to use it as a writing prompt.

Two things struck me right away. First, the sense of division, that hand help up in clear indication of ‘enough,’ ‘stop now,’ and ‘do not come closer.’ The sense that there is something out there from which those back here want protection. A clear we-them sense of fear and danger so present as to be terminal.

Second, I noticed that the person doing the ‘stop now’ gesture is curiously androgynous. At first I thought female, because of the veiled face and covered head. On closer look, however, what I truly see is one human pair of eyes holding depths of unspeakable anguish. They are neither male nor female. They are not clearly any nationality or denomination. They are, simply, human. And, more than all of that . . . the ambiguity of the veil causes the greatest pause. Just who is threatened?

In the end, of course, it is all of us. It is our fear of difference, our knee-jerk response to fear itself, that divides us. Each ‘side’ has more and more vocal and visceral things to express against the other. More hands raised in ‘stop’ but also in ‘attack,’ in ‘divide-and-conquer.’ But this same raised hand could be the hand of peace, of hands-across-the-divide.

Within small communities, when disaster strikes, it is apparent that it strikes everyone equally. Why must this be so wildly different on a larger scale? We are all residents of one single planet, this poor Earth we have abused, in some places and ways to the point of non-recognition. Must we destroy one another, too, out of fear and greed and distrust? Why can we not see that we all want to be heard, to be seen, to be respected? That we all have the same needs for connection and understanding? Behind the veil or in front of it, we are all first and foremost human beings.  We human people have been given the unique ability to feel (and act on) compassion, empathy, understanding. Why do we persist in refusing to do so? No one said it would be easy. But the longer we allow violence and aggression, fear- and hate-mongering to guide us, the further we move from our shared humanity.

What most draws me to this image is that the figure seeking peace and protection might just be the Muslim woman asking the rest of us to stop, think and feel. On behalf of us all.

a blooming possibility

One truly wonderful thing about writing with incarcerated women is that it keeps me writing. Another is that their words humble me. A third is that I generate something to post here even when I seem too busy writing everywhere else to do so.

Last week we offered our ‘inside’ writers some art materials and suggested they create something inspired by our opening poem by Ethel Pochocki,  “The Star at the Heart of Things.” The variety of artwork produced was both widely varied and deeply personal. In fact, I’m creating notecards from them to use in our upcoming fund drive for the program. Mine won’t be used that way, however; so I’m offering it here along with the few words that arose from it after the fact. The medium: string-and-ink with pastel.


My heart is aflame in shades of red, orange, fuschia, pink
blooming in the space of what is
to come, a slow blossoming

in which to unfold
absent the confines of ‘ought,’
follow the greening flow leafing outward, circling back

one single stem buoyant with light and desire
to explore its path risen from the remembered cradle

of a natural home, nestled among the meadows of then
reaching forward, this burning star at the heart of me.