7 12 2020

We hope you have been enjoying this series, which, with each week’s Bonuses during this long, gray season, has featured about 70 stories, songs, art works, videos, photographs, radio shorts, excerpts or notes from Kopkind’s extended family across the country and the world. We hope you are safe and ready. And we ask that, if you can, please press the Donate button (above) on this site—because we’re also hoping to survive this thing, to flower again on the green grass of Vermont; and we could really use a little help from our friends. Thank you all.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 36

by Verandah Porche

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

Portraits of a moment from Great River Terrace. (Lauren Watrous)

“Thanks Forgiving,” a Poem

Guilford, Vermont

Once the Lamplighter Inn, a motel that had fallen into disrepair on the edge of Brattleboro, Great River Terrace is a permanently affordable housing community of people who have experienced homelessness. It is a “housing first” residence, the first of its kind in Vermont. There is no obligation to be “clean and sober” to live there. Senator Bernie Sanders wrote at its opening that the residence “will allow Vermonters struggling with complex challenges to live with stability and dignity.” I have been visiting and writing with residents since the spring of 2019. As an “embedded writer,” I listen, encourage, write, collaborate, and share my own poems.

Our project “Faces of Home” began spontaneously when a resident saw a portrait painted by a local artist. She invited the artist and her friends to paint at Great River Terrace. Each week, while the artists painted, a resident would sit and talk with me in the common room. I typed in a rough shorthand, and in the weeks following we edited the text together.

I got here in September. I get choked up talking about it.
I got used to losing everything, and finally, I lost my hope.
After living in other people’s houses and sleeping outside,
I had a hard time saying,
Meet at my apartment.
It seemed weird, awkward, unfamiliar.
It took practice.
Come to my place.
It was like learning a new word: HOME.
–Joe S.

Covid-19 interrupted this project. Spring and summer, we stayed away. In September, we arranged to meet, masked, outside until the cold made it impossible to paint and type. 

My friends at Green River Terrace are striving to reinvent their lives after traumas that led to homelessness and their existence in survival mode, sometimes for years. We try to stay in touch, “liking” and commenting on Facebook memes and sorrows. Below, a drawing from the courtyard by Ralph DeAnna.

In the common
room, your portraits
bloom, alive and
warm.
 
Little did we know
how long the longing
would go
on.
 
Dry wind blew.
The garden
pulled through,
giving and
forgiving.
 
I landed on your
Timeline
to ask how you
were living.
 
In autumn,
masked, on the
patio,
the artists drew,
we spoke.
 
I memorized your
faces
and stories,
wreathed by
smoke.
 
             *
 
That regal tree on
the lawn
with a name
nobody knew
 
stays rooted here,
and strong
though her gold
leaves shook and
flew.
 
Be easy now,
belong.
Let her mom-arms
shelter you.

Verandah Porche is a poet and writing partner based in Guilford, just up the hill from Kopkind Road. She and singer Patty Carpenter, both longtime supporters of the project, have performed many times at Kopkind. The two have just launched a Patreon site to share their new songs and poems.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s website on December 2, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: ‘Trump’s Worst Crime’

Kurdish kids versus Turkish military (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty)

Somehow, even some people on the left labor under the illusion that Donald Trump, terrible domestically, was not too bad a force in the world. On December 1 our friend Patrick Cockburn, the great war correspondent and author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso), published an article in CounterPunch reminding us of the horror the Trump administration visited upon the Syrian Kurds: first, in 2018, by countenancing the Turkish occupation of Afrin, where Kurds were displaced by Syrian Arab jihadis; then, in October 2019, by abandoning the US-Kurdish alliance and green-lighting Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, leading to the murder, rape and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish inhabitants. “Tragedy on this scale blurs in people’s minds because they do not comprehend atrocities beyond their personal experience,” Patrick writes in “Trump’s Worst Crime Must Not Be Forgotten.” Here, an extract, condensed.

Rohilat Hawar, a 34-year-old Kurdish woman with three children, had worked as a mathematics teacher in Afrin City before the Turkish attack. She fled in February 2018 “because there were Turkish airstrikes every day,” but she was unable to reach the Kurdish-controlled autonomous region.

She returned to Afrin, where her house had been looted, where her former neighbors had been dispossessed, and where she is now trapped. She says that Turkish-backed Syrian jihadi militias shoot anybody trying to leave: “A friend of mine was killed with her 10-year-old child last year while trying to flee.” At the same time, the Kurds who stay are preyed upon.

She does not dare speak Kurdish in the street. The Turkish army, she says, considers all Kurds to be “terrorists”; the militiamen are even more dangerous, regarding “Kurds as pagans, disbelievers who should be killed on orders from God.”

Rohilat has had to put on a hijab, which Kurdish women normally do not wear. When going to the market earlier this week, she saw two Kurdish girls walking in the same direction. Two militiamen with guns on a motorcycle cruised slowly beside them. “Suddenly the motorcycle came close to the girls and the militiamen sitting on the back grabbed the breast of one of them.” The militiamen got off their motorcycle and started kissing them and fondling their breasts, leaving only when a crowd gathered and Rohilat took the girls to her home.

In the two formerly Kurdish zones in Syria, Arab militiamen, mostly jihadis from elsewhere in Syria, are the cutting edge of the Turkish occupation. The Kurds in Afrin were largely farmers, cultivating fruit and vegetables and, above all, olives. The new settlers, Rohilat says, “cut down the olive trees and sell them as firewood.” Foodstuffs have to be imported now and are sold at a higher price.

By turning over effective control of Kurdish-populated areas to anti-Kurdish Islamist gunmen, the Turkish government ensures ethnic cleansing, but without appearing to be directly responsible. Until recently, the militiamen were paid $100 a month by Turkey. They supplemented this by looting and confiscating Kurdish property. Since August the militiamen’s pay has been reduced, and Turkish army patrols are clamping down on looting. The aim here is to persuade the militiamen to volunteer to fight as Turkish proxies in Libya and against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Many have been killed.

Since August, the coronavirus has spread rapidly in Afrin. Rohilat herself tested positive at a Turkish medical facility, but says she and many others will not go to a military hospital for treatment because few people who do go return alive. Instead, they stay at home, taking paracetamol and eating lentil and onion soup. Rohalit cannot afford to buy face masks, and can buy bread only because her children do odd jobs in the market, and relatives in Turkey send her a little money every couple of months. Grim though life is, Rohilat is one of the survivors. Other Kurds live in unsanitary camps, have been killed, held for ransom or disappeared.

On this theme of downplaying the US violence policy over the past four years, Janine Jackson of FAIR, a Kopkind mentor in 2000, recently did an interesting interview on her show “CounterSpin” with journalist Murtaza Hussain on the “trail of civilians dead in Yemen” and the siege of Iran under the Trump administration. Listen here.


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