Sundus Shaker Saleh and her children
Hope Is a Woman Who Has Lost Her Fear
for Sundus Shaker Saleh, Iraqi Mother, with my love.
©2013 by Alice Walker
In our despair that justice is slow
we sit with heads bowed
we will ever be healed.
Perhaps it is a question
only the ravaged
And is that not now
almost all of us?
But hope is on the way.
As usual Hope is a woman
herding her children
all she retains of who
she was; as usual
except for her kids
she has lost almost everything.
Hope is a woman who has lost her fear.
Along with her home, her employment, her parents, her olive trees, her grapes. The peace of independence; the reassuring noises of ordinary
Hope rises, She always does,
did we fail to notice this in all the stories
they’ve tried to suppress?
and she puts on her same
unfashionable threadbare cloak
and, penniless, she flings herself
against the cold, polished, protective chain mail
of the very powerful
the very rich – chain mail that mimics
suspiciously silver coins
and lizard scales –
and all she has to fight with is the reality of what was done to her;
to her country; her people; her children;
All she has as armor is what she has learned
must never be done.
Not in the name of War
and especially never in the
name of Peace.
Hope is always the teacher
with the toughest homework.
Our assignment: to grasp
what has never been breathed in our stolen
on the hill:
Without justice, we will never
The organization, Iraq Witness, has filed suit against the Bush Administration on behalf of an Iraqi single mother, Sundus Shaker Saleh. Saleh alleges that the Iraq War was a premeditated war against the Iraqi people — and now she is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against six key members of the Bush administration.
For more information about this inspiring standing up of a mother of five, visit the CODEPINK website.
Recommended: Only Justice Can Stop a Curse, by the author, in IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS, Womanist Prose, 1983. In honor of the life and death of beautiful (and innocent) Herman Wallace 1941-2013, dying but still shining after nearly 42 years in solitary confinement (buried alive in a 6X9 foot cell) presided over by demons.
Only Justice Can Stop a Curse
By Alice Walker
Anti-Nuke Rally (Responding to the question of why many people of color do not gravitate toward anti-nuclear activity)
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco CA
March 16, 1982
To the Man God: 0 Great One, I have been sorely tried by my enemies and have been blasphemed and lied against. My good thoughts and my honest actions have been turned to bad actions and dishonest ideas. My home has been ill-treated. My dear ones have been backbitten and their virtue questioned. 0 Man God, I beg that this that I ask for my enemies shall come to pass:
That the South wind shall scorch their bodies and make them wither and shall not be tempered to them. That the North wind shall freeze their blood and numb their muscles and that it shall not be tempered to them. That the West wind shall blow away their life’s breath and will not leave their hair grow, and that their fingernails shall fall off and their bones shall crumble. That the East wind shall make their minds grow dark, their sight shall fall and their seed dry up so that they shall not multiply.
I ask that their fathers and mothers from their furthest generation will not intercede for them before the great throne, and that the wombs of their women shall not bear fruit except for strangers, and that they shall become extinct. I pray that the children who may come shall be weak of mind and paralyzed of limb and that they themselves shall curse them in their turn for ever turning the breath of life into their bodies. I pray that disease and death shall be forever with them and that their worldly goods shall not prosper, and that their crops shall not multiply and that their cows, their sheep, and their hogs and all the living beasts shall die of starvation and thirst. I pray that their house shall be unroofed and that the rain, the thunder and lightening shall find the innermost recesses of their home and that the foundation shall crumble and the floods tear it asunder. I pray that the sun shall not shed its rays on them in benevolence, but instead it shall beat down on them and burn them and destroy them. I pray that the moon shall not give them peace, but instead shall deride them and decry them and cause their minds to shrivel. I pray that their friends shall betray them and cause them loss of power, of gold and of silver, and that their enemies shall smite them until they beg for mercy which shall not be given them. I pray that their tongues shall forget how to speak in sweet words, and that it shall be paralyzed and that all about them shall be desolation, pestilence and death. 0 Man God, I ask you for all these things because they have dragged me in the dust and destroyed my good name; broken my heart and caused me to curse the day that I was born. So be it.
This is a curse-prayer that Zora Neale Hurston, novelist and anthropologist, collected in the 1920s. And by then it was already old. I have often marveled at it. At the precision of its anger, the absoluteness of its bitterness. Its utter hatred of the enemies it condemns. It is a curse-prayer by a person who would readily, almost happily, commit suicide, if it meant her enemies would also die. Horribly.
I am sure it was a woman who first prayed this curse. And I see her – Black, Yellow, Brown or Red, “aboriginal” as the Ancients are called in South Africa andAustralia and other lands invaded, expropriated and occupied by whites. And I think, with astonishment, that the curse-prayer of this colored woman—starved, enslaved, humiliated and carelessly trampled to death—over centuries, is coming to pass. Indeed, like ancient peoples of color the world over, who have tried to tell the white man of the destruction that would inevitably follow from the uranium mining and other plunder of their sacred lands, this woman—along with millions and billions of obliterated sisters, brothers and children—seems to have put such enormous energy into her hope for revenge, that her curse seems close to bringing it about. And it is this hope for revenge, finally, I think, that is at the heart of People of Color’s resistance to any anti-nuclear movement.
In any case, this has been my own problem.
When I have considered the enormity of the white man’s crimes against humanity. Against women. Against every living person of color. Against the poor. Against my mother and my father. Against me . . . . When I consider that at this very moment he wishes to take away what little freedom I have died to achieve., through denial of my right to vote . . . . Has already taken away education, medicine, housing and food. . . . That William Shockley is saying at this moment that he will run for the Senate of my country to push his theory that Blacks are genetically inferior and should be sterilized. . . . When I consider that he is, they are, a real and present threat to my life and the life of my daughter, my people, I think – in perfect harmony with my sisters of long ago: Let the earth marinate in poisons. Let the bombs cover the ground like rain. For nothing short of total destruction will ever teach them anything.
And it would be good, perhaps, to put an end to the species in any case, rather than let white men continue to subjugate it, continue to let their lust dominate, exploit and despoil not just our planet, but the rest of the Universe, which is their clear and oft-stated intention; leaving their arrogance and litter not just on the moon, but on everything they can reach.
If we have any true love for the stars, planets, the rest of Creation, we must do everything we can to keep the white man away from them. They who have appointed themselves our representatives to the rest of the Universe. They who have never met any new creature without exploiting, abusing and destroying it. They who say we poor and colored and female and elderly blight neighborhoods, while they blight worlds.
What they have done to the Old, they will do to the New.
Under the white man every star would become a South Africa and a Palestine, every planet a Vietnam.
Fatally irradiating ourselves may in fact be the only way to save others from what Earth has already become. And this is a consideration that I believe requires some serious thought from every one of us.
However, just as the sun shines on the godly and the ungodly alike, so does nuclear radiation. And with this knowledge it becomes increasingly difficult to embrace the thought of extinction purely for the assumed satisfaction of—from the grave—achieving revenge. Or even of accepting our demise as a planet as a simple and just preventative medicine administered to the Universe. Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it. In any case, Earth is my home—though for centuries white people have tried to convince me I have no right to exist, except in the dirtiest, darkest corners of the globe.
So let me tell you: I intend to protect my home. Praying—not a curse—only the hope that my courage will not fail my love. But if by some miracle, and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing (and everything is alive) will save humankind.
And we are not saved yet. Herman Wallace, presente!
Only justice can stop a curse.