**As we are getting vaccinated, and hoping to return to communal life, I have been reflecting on how public spaces have never been truly equal for the marginalized. The past year has shown a lot of people what it is to live without the privilege of easy access. What could we do in this moment so that we acknowledge the lack of welcome, safety, and love which so many LGBTQ, disabled, BIPOC, fat, and other folks regularly deal with?
I also thought of things like how, for us to have an intelligently curated online experience, Amazon workers are forced to wear diapers and work without bathroom breaks
We are so good at asking people to dislocate and relocate so that we can be embraced by normalcy. Live without agency so we can be free. And our greatest fear then becomes that the marginalized will turn their reality into a revolution.
I have used the metaphor of halls of worship and ritual purity to lend weight to these ideas.
Thank you to my sister Shobha for sparking this creative process by giving me the idea of “evacuated spaces.”**
What if our fear of the evacuated public square
Is actually another way of drawing the boundaries of purity?
We are experts at crafting endurable realities,
And a sham of community is an acceptable compromise,
Preferable to admitting that shared air, like shared values,
Has always been in rarefied supply.
We have always excelled at stealing words,
The very air is tainted with our fear
Of the disembodied regrouping,
Growing strong on the offal we heaped
On pyres we decline to acknowledge.
What if the offal held the piety,
And we, with our zeal for the ineffable,
Excommunicated the very thing we claimed to revere?
And what is excommunication, anyway?
It is more subtle than a dashing of water,
Less fleeting than words of shunning.
And it presumes that the outcaste won’t learn
That self love can grow from the voluptuous freedoms
Which the ritually pure will never dare to taste.
And why do we demand these tests of fealty,
When all we were ever going to say was
How might this crisis affect me, and
How can I immunize myself against its worst symptoms?
Can we admit that our public squares are temples
Which we never designed to admit the wretched?
Can we face how the only thing that separates us from them
Is that we consent to our disembodiment?
Would it help or hurt to know that the ashes we left outside
Are shaping into molten, gorgeous forms
And that they will no longer exist in pieces
To satisfy our ideas of wholeness,
Or agree that their presence defiles us,
Or acquiesce to dislocation, isolation,
That we may celebrate our own peripheral grasp on belonging?
The way we have been fighting to breathe shared air
Has created this moment when we might admit
That we still intend to restore separate realities,
And at least then we might be able to embody our shame
In something other than continued dissociation.