On Sunday, I was in the future. Six hours ahead of New York, standing under the Brandenburg Gate. I’d spent the afternoon visiting monuments along the Berlin Wall, following its line to various sites.
I was focused on how we each act twice: action in the mind then action in the body. I was thinking about how important it is to set intention, to control narrative, to account for questions and counternarratives when applying power. Maybe it starts with nuisance: determining who is a bother and how to set controls that irritate, though not enough to cause protest. It’s suspicious when we talk about history as if a long accident, something for which we apologize but don’t analyze. It’s maybe more suspect when we call change “madness” in real-time, creating the space in which we can later shrug at current events.
Assuming yearning in those applying power is a move I don’t understand. One is always seeking fascism. Do we see the distance between search and administration in museums?
Assuming disorder in events or leadership is also challenging. Not only because of ableist undertones but also in submission of logic, mind turning from analysis of what is still developing. It’s a hard thing to ask a citizen to do: hold time in your memory and body as it cries out. I think about how much of this American moment is the body and memory saying “Ouch!” and not much else in response to intensifying stimuli.
I was away from home, a politicized body in motion. I entertained inquiry about my clothes and Afro multiple times a day. I answered near-scolding questions about recent American events with pained faces and platitudes.
How could I write the distance between sites of citizens’ observation and citizens’ rebellion? A stillness compared to living waters. Silent citizens gathered in a courtyard / Citizens watering the streets with words and tears.
I stood under the gate, looking at its four horses. From that angle, there’s no chariot. You see the reins and no riders. I considered apocalypse, imagined the locations of their horsemen. Mos Def’s “Fear Not Of Man” started playing:
[Hi-hat and shallow breath intro: unh tch shh ah ah ah ah, unh tch shh ah ah ah ah]
It seemed I was doing before thinking: I’m looking, and I’m okay. And: I’m present to time. And: I honor my fellow humans’ pain. And: I am a capable citizen.
“When they tell me to try to have some fret in my heart behind the things that they do…”
I danced for my peace, and for my liberation.
Ladan Osman is the author of The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony. Her writing and photographs have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Rumpus, Transition, and Washington Square Review. Osman is a contributing culture editor for The Blueshift Journal. She lives in Brooklyn.