Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Stelae 06-04-03

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2011 at 12:46 am

to my youngest brother on the occasion of his birthday

by erin sharkey


brother, today you are ten

one day you came on an airplane

not quite ten years ago

to rescue

my unbound-

aried youth and

i waited with our brother, too skinny,

me in pants



and eyes too close to tears, more nervous than i’d ever been

to meet the gift of line



we took inventory of short man “not dad”

tall woman “not mom”

brown hair “not her”

bald head “not him”

baby “not you”

family “not ours”


until they walked last out of the

gift bird’s belly

down the quetzal’s tall

and she carefully spilled you into my arms like wax into a mold

to forever make that your place

and this family ours


definition: place, role in


once at a dinner party, i was too young for, archeologists talked about the Kinich Ahan and IX Chel digs,

the sun god and the moon goddess

a professor of sociology listened carefully as i told the story of adoption day, and she



and said loudly and with firm tone and direct stare,

“that’s the definition”, like she looked it up in some

contemporary text and found us there.


kid, with a line down the middle, wanting grey

kid, white with limp wrists

kid, brown with a pink juvenile green card



arithmetic and probability

now you’re ten

which in roman is x

which is the number of possibility


zero to forever

jorge ubico to juan jose arevalo


so go anywhere but stay within the span

and reach of arm

and remember that the only thing that defines

us is the great possibility of math, multiply . . .


devotion and





the word family

is about knowing ones place in relation to others

knowing how far the walls are and if they shrink




the mayans used a tall stone called a stelae

to record important dates




Caster Runs for Me

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2011 at 12:40 am

By Erin Sharkey

There is a video circulating the internet, a video of people emerging from the darkness– some with bright smiles, others more somber, each holding a hand written sign that reads– Caster Runs for Me. It is a moving 3 minute video of solidarity, images of men and women standing in community with world class runner, Caster Semenya, who now has her most private life on very public display. Shot is Brooklyn, the video’s soundtrack is the haunting harmony of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Beatrice Johnson Reagon singing the beatitudes– blessed are . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they shall see God, they are the children of God.

There is also a video produced by the Associated Press, a video that is narrated by the reporter Diane Kepley. It begins with a challenge—“Quick man or woman? She, and yes, she claims to be a woman.” Her flippant tone speaks over the images of a young woman, 18 years old, smiling from ear to ear, celebrating a victory. Diane Kepley then issues another test– “Some say how she looks and sounds is proof enough.” This is then followed by that athletic young woman, nervously explaining that she did not expect to win the 800 meter race at all. This was not proof enough.

Caster Semenya is awaiting the results of a gender verification test, or maybe its more accurate to say gender verification tests. Not simply a chromosomal test or a brief physical evaluation, she was subjected to a series of invasive tests by a gynecologist, a geneticist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist and an internal medicine physician. These tests were the result of her hard work, suspicion arising from an 8 second faster time. These tests were the result of the ignorance of reality that binary definitions of gender don’t work for everyone. These tests are only performed on female athletes.

South Africa, Caster’s home, has come out in support of their champion daughter. She was received with celebration and the defense of state officials and the public. After a makeover, She appeared on the cover of South Africa’s YOU Magazine, looking very feminine. This is international news as well, ask Diane Kepley.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), amateur sport’s governing body, has said that Caster has committed no crime and is not suspected of cheating in the 800 meter race at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics. She won with the time of 1:55.45. IAAF has said it was “obliged to investigate” her gender based upon this improvement. The Sydney Daily Telegraph has printed claims that Caster is a hermaphrodite. The IAAF is yet to confirm this statement, instead saying that it is premature to say.

Hermaphrodite is an outdated term, intersex is more appropriate. Other athletics have lost their medals because they were found to intersex– the Indian runner, Santhi Soundarajan, lost the Asia Game’s silver metal in 2006 and was diagnosed with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome or AIS, a genetic disorder where an person is born with XY chromosomes but is insensitive to androgens, or male hormones. This causes the body to develop testes internally and for the rest of the body to develop as female. There are over 100 steps in gender development in the fetus and there are possibilities at every step for gender abnormalities or disorders. Between 1 and 2 in 100 babies born have some sort of sexual ambiguity, which means that something like 67,000,000 people in the world are intersex. Some of these people are discovered when they are newborns and then they are subjected to years of painful surgeries, others discover at puberty, some when they try to conceive, some may never know.

An athlete competing in the 1936 Olympics, and finishing fourth in the high jump, was later discovered to be a Jewish man in disguise. This was viewed as an act of self preservation as he was hiding from the Nazis. And there is Spanish hurdler Maria Martinez Patino, who was disqualified from a 1985 competition by genetic tests and striped of her medals, she had passed the tests before. She medals were reinstated after she protested the results. Or there is the story of Stella Walsh, whose gender was only uncovered in an autopsy, 48 years after her world record time in the 100m at the 1932 Olympics.

Female Olympic athletes have been examined since the 1930s and the Olympics started using the more invasive gender verification at the Grenoble Games in 1966. Prior to 1966, the gender examination was an all female nude parade in front of the Olympic committee. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that “gender verification tests are difficult, expensive, and potentially inaccurate. Furthermore, these tests fail to exclude all potential impostors, are discriminatory against women with disorders of sexual development, and may have shattering consequences for athletes who ‘fail’ a test.” Because of questions about the tests accuracy, the International Olympic Committee discontinued the practice in 1999. New Olympic rules allow transsexual athletes that undergo gender reassignment surgery and complete 2 years of hormone treatments to compete under their new gender designation.

Caster’s excellence challenges the borders we have placed around race, around gender, around sexuality. What do we suffer then we try to maintain a two-sex system, or keep the races “pure” or teach that sexuality is not a spectrum. Many of us come out from the darkness and hold her name like a banner because we ride the fence or we push the borders.

But Caster ran like the wind, and when she threw her hands in the air and wore that South African flag as a cape, she was a champion. If the IAAF chooses to strip her of that golden medallion, she will still be a champion. Caster Semenya runs for me.

Adams, Cecil. “If a man has a sex change, can he compete in the Olympics as a woman?” The Straight Dope. Web. 08 Oct. 2009.

Caster Runs for Me. Http:// Web. 20 Sept. 2009.

“Dora Ratjen.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Web. 09 Oct. 2009.

“Gender Verification in Sports.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Web. 09 Oct. 2009.

Kepley, Diane. “She? or He? Is Woman’s World Champion.” AP Video: Plus. Sept. 2009. She? or He? Is Woman’s World Champion. AP Video: Plus, 24 Sept. 2009. Web. .

Peel, Robert. “Maria’s Story.” Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (AISSG). Web. 08 Oct. 2009.

“Stanislawa Walasiewicz.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Web. 09 Oct. 2009.


In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm

The first time I met the ocean I was 16. My mother had moved my sisters and I from Minnesota to Florida. I was not happy about the move. I had a lot that I felt I was leaving. Friends mostly and I liked my high school. I liked my life. Months prior to the actual move, while we were preparing our home to be sold and I was crying over her moving us so far away, my mother in a very clear and certain voice, looked deep into my eyes, and said “if I do not leave here, I will die.”

In my heart I knew my mother was near some sort of break. I have always been tuned into my mother, I can even smell it when she cries. I was feeling her sadness in my own limbs these days. She is a severe woman, born in Trinidad, her skin is black, and she wears her hair shaved low (like a warrior) and carries a wrist of silver bangles, whose jingling sound we would use to locate her throughout the world. She had four daughters and was raising them in the coldest, most whitest of places. She and our father had moved up there together and divorced when he had my younger brother and sister with a white lady. This broke something deep. She was the center of our world, and her world was crumbling. I was feeling it.

At that time she was working at a hotel as a cook. She would have to be at work by 6 a.m. She would awake at four, make coffee and get herself ready. I remember these mornings in the dead of winter. Minnesota in the winter feels like everything is underground and unmoving. Darkness and stillness. I remember hearing her stir in this unlikely world, I would smell her coffee, hear her bracelets while she bathed. She would then go outside to heat up the car, to prepare it 20 minutes before her actual departure. Eventually she taught me how to turn on the car and it would be my job to heat it up for her. She would then drive to the hotel where she would go into the windowless dungeon of a kitchen and make food for hundreds of hotel guests. She hated it.

When I was fifteen, she visited a friend of hers in Florida to escape and take some time away. Upon returning she announced that my sisters, her and I would be moving there. When a real estate agent showed up shortly thereafter to help her sell our house, I realized she wasn’t talking shit. We were moving. To Florida. Initially she did try to entice us, showing us pictures of the beach and reminding us that we would not have to deal with the snow, but it was pretty clear that we were moving whether she convinced us or not.

It took many months to sell the house, but it was sold. Keys to our home were given to someone else with new dreams. My mother cried uncontrollably as we drove from the house. She had bought it with our father so they could raise their children in it. It was a reminder of something that did not happen the way it was supposed to. She desperately wanted to be rid of it, but was sad anyway. It was done and we were moving to Florida.

I remember I noticed the air first. It was hot, sweet and wet. I had flown down in December, two months after my mother and two younger sisters had come down. I was taking college courses at the university and begged my mom to let me finish the semester and she agreed. The drive from the airport to our new home was lush and alive in comparison to the snow and ice of Minneapolis I had just left. We were renting a condominium with a man-made lake in the back. The condo also had huge windows and tile floors. There were little lizards running around outside and our neighbors had orange, lime, grapefruit and avocado trees.

The next morning I woke up and felt different. I was getting used to the air and brightness of this place, but it did not feel like home yet. I smelled my mother’s coffee and heard her bangles and found her on the back patio looking at the lake. Her still and dark. She did not have to work right away since she had some money from the sale of the house for us to live on for a while. I sat in the chair next to her and was happy to be in her silence. Today she planned for us to go to the beach.

Seeing the ocean for the firs t time to me was like a miracle. A goddess, I felt her presence before I saw her, and when I saw her I knew she was alive. I grew up in the “land of 10,000 lakes” and as a small child I would refer to them individually as the ocean since that was the body of water I often heard my parents discuss. They would correct me and say, no, that is not ocean. Right. The ocean is the ocean and when I stood in front of it, I was shy. She was so beautiful and loud and welcoming, like a long lost Caribbean aunt. She would come close to touch me and then recede back into herself to get a good look at me and then lunge at me to embrace me. She was so clear that when I swam in her I had my eyes open like I did when I swam in lakes. I burned my eyes quickly learning the differences between fresh and salt water. I was 16 and felt like a child having to learn water again, a water that could move and steal you and bring you back and leave you shells as gifts, and keep secrets.

The first month before my mother got a job and I started school, she and I would wake up early and drive to the beach and pick up shells. It was her favorite thing to do. She would pick up shells and analyze and celebrate each one. We had jars and jars of shells at our house that we had collected.

Because I did not have to go to school, I began staying up until 6 a.m. reading library books and writing poems, stories and letters to my friends. In the letters I described Florida as a paradise, where I was becoming spiritually enlightened and more attractive. Where there were dope-ass boys who were cute as well as exotically hailing from Cuba, Peru and Jamaica. I wanted my friends to be jealous and convince myself that this uprooting was benefitting me in some way, too.

Eventually my mother found a job cooking for another hotel and was paid even less and hated it more. I was finally enrolled into Hollywood Hills High School. My sister Oniika had already started classes there and was underwhelmed. She found herself in detention frequently. In those days we both wore skater, grunge clothing, and listened to alternative music. I had also begun wrapping my head like an African Princess of Zamunda. We stood out. We did start to make friends. Oniika was befriended by a lesbian, Goth, white girl who was on the chunky side, and gave her someone to sit by during lunch. I became friends with the nerdy poetry writing kids and a Swiss foreign exchange student, named Barbara. Barbara’s host family was trying to lure their teenage son out of homosexuality by having her live with them for a year. She and him had to share a room and a bed. Fortunately for her he was in fact irreversibly gay and a beautiful friend to her. Life for us there was starting to crystallize. The academics of the school were mediocre, our grades were excellent and we had friends!

On weekends our mom would take us to the beach, to be with the ocean, The Goddess. My mom would grill vegetables and fry chicken and make potato salad and buy orange soda and pack it up. We would drive to the beach and eat the food and lay by the water and pose for pictures and collect shells and look at people and look at cruise ships and tease one another and be too shy to swim and read books quietly and think of Minneapolis and not think of Minneapolis and decide to walk into the water to our ankles and then swim and smile and wait for the sun to set and look at the stars and pack it all up and take it home. The salt and sand following us into the house.

Our dad came to visit us once while we were there. My mother, sisters and I treated him like a king out of habit and customary to our West Indian-ness. I was also able to however make room in my heart to resent him. I was mad that he was being allowed in our Florida world after he betrayed us.

We lived in Florida for less then a year before my mother decided to move us back to Minneapolis. My sisters and I were devastated by this, Florida had become home to us and we did not want to leave it. My mother was starting to feel the pressure of providing for us on child-support and a minimum-wage paycheck. She was with us alone and that was becoming harder. Although she had found the need to leave Minneapolis, it was our home. She had known it longer then Trinidad. She had also started to feel guilty that we did not have anyone but her down there. Not our father, aunts, uncles nobody. She needed them too.

My mother and I have talked about the experience of Florida years later. She shared with me how much hurt she would feel being in a grocery store and see a woman walking around with children fathered by her husband. To have to wake up in darkness work all day and then return in darkness. To her my father seemed free and to be living the life that he wanted. She was dying.

I think initially when we moved back, she felt like a failure. While she got back on her feet looking for work and a place for us to live, she slept on her sister’s and friend’s couches, while we had to live with our father whose house I was literally allergic to. We were back in Minneapolis, homeless and dependent after such a grandiose adventure.

The whole experience had taught me a lot. To know when to escape in order to save yourself, the tender piece of you that belongs to you and only you. It was like an extended vacation where you got to reinvent yourself and be free from outdated pain. My mother got to be a beach-dwelling shell collecting queen for a couple of months. We got to be cool new kids and bask in the sunshine and have our mother’s undivided attention in away we never experienced before. We got to meet the ocean and fall in love.

by junauda petrus