The following are ten short political poems with inspiration from Asian religions, edited and adapted from my Facebook feed in the two weeks following the 2016 election. Each one represents a discrete emotional reaction to the election and its immediate aftermath. Each one is centered on a particular deity or symbol from a major Asian religious tradition, which is used as a metaphor or launching-off point for a reflection on the some of the news that was circulating at that time.
The demons are loose. Rahu devours the sun and we are thrown into despair. Yes, my coffee-skinned daughters, while you were sleeping on Tuesday night, evil eclipsed the day. Yes, my proud foreign-born children, you are no longer safe in your new country (were you ever?). No, my future women, girls can’t do anything boys can do. Not today.
Having seen the festering ugliness, which has been there all along, we cannot look away. Please join me today in making a vow (or renewing your vow, as the case may be) to be a friend of the oppressed. Like Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, who does not rest until all the hells have been emptied of suffering beings: May I be a refuge for those who are tormented, a bringer of relief for those in need, an island of safety for weary travelers on stormy seas.
It appears that hatred has won the day. They say that hate is a mask for fear, hurt, and vulnerability. They say that Guanyin, with compassion as vast as the cosmos, can absorb all of humanity’s suffering, despair, and helplessness into her infinite loving embrace.
I resolve to try tomorrow to swallow their hatred up in an ocean of love. Who’s with me? Can we do this together?(I think I’m going to need some help with this one.)
One thing is already perfectly clear: The decisive factor in this election was the anger of a populace fed up with a dysfunctional, corrupt political system and the inequalities it perpetuates.
Fierce mother Kali, goddess of destruction, clears away the old to allow space for the creation of the new. She is violent and terrifying, but makes way for creative rebirth.
America: you have been utterly trampled. If you cannot sweep aside the rubble of your past incarnation and rebuild yourself in a way that helps and accepts all Americans, you will lie dead under Kali’s feet.
And deservedly so.
In the lead-up to the election and in all the post-election commentary, the split is clear: The Old Left, dedicated to progressive economic policies, vs. the New Left, inheritors of the civil rights movement and fierce defenders of the earth.
Behold the Democratic party, flirting with both but never committing. Once providing voice to the unions while propagating white supremacy, now championing black lives while lining corporate pockets.
Behold also Ardhanarishvara, half-god half-goddess, chimeric symbol of non-duality. May s/he inspire us to integrate old and new and to work together for a pathway forward.
Mañjusri’s flaming sword of wisdom slices through the veil of delusion and reveals the truth, even when the truth is hard to hear.
Now, hear this difficult truth: The popular discontent, slowly smoldering for decades, has become the fire of populist revolt. Since you gave no option for a candle to #bern on the Left, you have laid the kindling for an inferno of hate on the Right.
Establishment elites and pundits: this self-inflicted wound is no one’s fault but your own. Having stabbed yourself, you must now watch yourself bleed.
Once again, the magician pulls back the veil on his grand lie. Once again, the people have been conned. Once again, the neoliberal slight of hand was so deft that the sheep cheered wildly while being led to their slaughter.
We’ve seen this trick before. Or one just like it. The trickster’s name changes, but he’s always the same. Like the Monkey King, who can multiply himself endlessly, his mischief runs rampant across the aeons.
We really were “stronger together,” weren’t we? Of course, we weren’t strong enough to win; not strong enough to hold back the flood that was coming. But, we were strong enough to win the popular vote. And we’re strong enough now to resist. Strong enough to oppose oppression, xenophobia, corruption, profiteering, bigotry, and misogyny. Thank you for being here together.
We expressed our outrage. We marched. We signed the petitions. We wrote our representatives. But what’s next? What’s our next step? How will we carry forward this momentum? What action will we take to manifest transformation?
Great Lord Ganesh, remover of obstacles, destroyer of hindrances, we give you the ritual’s opening offerings to clear the way for our success. But we won’t stop there. Ganesh, you open the path. Now we have to walk forward with clear intention.
Fellow warriors, let us lay down our arms for a moment. Here, let’s take a seat together. Take a breath.
The meditating Buddha symbolizes the falling away of the world, the serenity of emptiness. Let us rest in that dissolution for a time. Here we can nourish and recollect ourselves. Take care. Breathe ourselves back to health in mind and body. Here we can be in peace.
But we cannot dwell here long. We must rise again from our cushions and don our war paint. May our vows be strong and our targets be true. We have a long road ahead, and the battle is just beginning.