Saturday, November 22, 2008

I lay down at her feet and listened

It's a very good sign, coming out of a volunteer group effort, to be talking already about the next volunteer group project. And so I count it a very good sign that even last night, in the midst of the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, and then again this morning, during cleanup operations, that people were talking about the next thing.

The next thing will be devoted to the memory of Marcella Sali Grace, beloved daughter of Poetry Scores board member (and chef de cuisine) John Eiler. It's always hard to believe that these are the facts, but Sali was raped and killed in Oaxaca, Mexico, back in September.

Among many other worldwide tributes to Sali, K. Curtis Lyle has crafted a poem about Sali, The Girl Who Opens Doors, that has already had a large impact on our inner circle. That impact continues to widen and is also evolving into a suite of poems about this irreplaceable young woman that Curtis is calling, in his head, Sali's Ark.

It is not only Sali's sudden and horrible death that has left such an impact on so many people. As Catherine Eiler said so well at the St. Louis memorial service, Sali was many people in her short life (she died at twenty), and all of those people were fiercely active. She promoted recycling, defended old-growth forests with her body, taught women self-defense (and belly dancing), worked with Food Not Bombs, ministered to migrants crossing from Mexico into the United States and - leaving out much, even in this long list - bore witness to the indigenous rights struggle in Oaxaca.

Our thought is to organize an art invitational around Curtis' poem about Sali and try to enlist every arts space up and down Cherokee Street to host part of it. We would provide the model of a Poetry Scores art invitational and share Curtis' poem with all of the curators, and leave them to make their own invitations, as would Poetry Scores proper (hopefully claiming Snowflake as our home space). Curtis would perform his poem in our space (accompanied by fellow traveler musicians), and we would encourage the other curators also to arrange a performance of the poem in their space.

The working title for the event is "Prayer for Oaxaca," and the idea is to raise funds for work in Oaxaca that furthers what Sali was doing down there. All of this remains to be discussed and finalized as a board, but it seems certain that we will turn our minds to some version of this project and produce it, hopefully, in early spring.

I would want to make art for this invitational. Already tonight, my daughter Leyla and I have started drawing pictures of Sali. (For Leyla, this is not be her first portrait of Sali. When we first heard news of Sali's death, Leyla drew a picture of Sali holding hands with Sali's sister, Claire, who is Leyla's dear friend. Her drawing said, simple as only a child can be simple, "Claire, I am sorry that your sister died.")

But I want to do more than draw pictures of Sali. I also want to make my first foray into conceptual art, in imitation of Sali herself. When she was ministering to Mexican migrants, in addition to providing food and water to people making the border crossing, she also washed and tended to the blistered, aching feet of people.

That's what I will do at our invitational. I will set up two stools and a bucket, and wash and tend to people's feet. I'll do what Sali would never have done - I'll charge $5 per person - but the money will go to the people's work in Oaxaca, so Sali would approve, I'm sure. And I'll let everyone have a free drawing of Sali with their ablution, while supplies last.

I plan to title my conceptual piece - after a line in Curtis' poem, according to the rules of a Poetry Scores art invitational - as:

Lay down at her feet
And listened.

As I sit at people's feet and care for them, I will also listen to them - and talk about Sali.

Here is a snapshot of Sali doing this humble people's work. It is from a letter written to her father:


My name is Sarah Roberts, and I want to tell you how sorry I am to hear about Sali. I have cherished memories of Sali, since I had the privilege of getting to know her this past spring when she worked as a No More Deaths volunteer in Tucson.

She went to the Mariposa, Nogales No More Death border aid station with my partner, Jim, and me several times, to give first aid, food, and water to the migrants who had attempted to cross the desert and were being returned to Mexico, most of whom have gone without food and needed medical attention for several days in the desert, and then for up to three days while in custody.

She treated each migrant she spoke with and served with such dignity and respect; she was always so intentional, energetic, and focused in her work. And she always put the needs of the migrants first.I remember in particular one afternoon when the aid station tent quickly filled with migrants (there must have been 100 or so), newly arrived, hungry and hurting. She immediately grabbed the basin for water and began washing the feet of migrants, checking for and treating blisters, moving from one to the next, always completely present with the person she was treating.

I was in conversation with one of the Mexican "supervisors" of the project when she came to me and requested I examine a young pregnant woman (I'm a nurse) who had just arrived. I stayed to finish my conversation and then went to look for the young woman who needed help ... and, sadly, could not find her.

Sali challenged me to really be present with the migrants and to put their needs first (and not those of the "bosses"!), and I am so grateful for that. For Sali, I could tell there were no class distinctions ... the poorest of the poor were the most important to her.

Blessings for peace,

Sarah Roberts
No More Deaths volunteer


Picture of Sali doing the people's work by Sarah Roberts.

No comments: