is it irony that my healing place is a space torn asunder?
my insides are my outsides here
from time to time explosions rip like thunder.
KGB RPG USA MIG M16 AK47
love conquers all
you were like the mountains here: dry in summer frozen in winter
but you don’t know how the roses smell here in November
and you’ve never seen an almond blossom
never tasted a mango, ripe and fresh
or spent time standing breast to breast
not understanding a word but knowing completely what was said.
dawn and dusk, the light and the dark
eternal gray where most of us lurk
caught in that suspended moment
my chest expands, lips spread wide
graciousness for simply being among the lucky
This is going to be very hard for me to write.
too honest. too raw. too recent. too scary.
But I will do it for you, for your feline kin.
Because I feel the vomit rise in my throat
and see the hairs raise on my skin
when I think of you dying alone
in a chamber filled with gases
a cruel man and woman standing, watching, smiling at your death.
Because you are why I am still alive.
Too many nights your paws came under a closed door
razor paused above my wrists
body wracked by violent sobs
just wanting the pain of living to end.
But you insisted I continue.
You were hungry. 20 pounds.
My extra large feline Angel of Mercy.
You demanded my attention and here you sit now, guarding my heart, licking my tears.
You know we saved each other.
So here I sit baring my darkest, scariest suicidal hopes to the world so that you won’t ever end up trapped like I was.
Wishing for death because the pain is just to great. Trapped in a cage. Heart beat winging, eye vessels bursting. Air burning in your tiny lungs as sadistic men gleefully watch you pass.
I can’t imagine losing you that way.
So I’m laying this down for you.
Reliving my pain for you.
Baring my heart and soul for you.
Because no animal should die alone, scared, trapped, caged, fearful, tearful, desperate painful last moments with no hope to survive.
You knew that. Your inferior, wild, outdoorsy feline brain knew that.
And you saved me.
So I promise you, When it comes to what is between me and death, I will pay him what is owed. And it won’t be you, and it won’t be me. It will be the demons, each and every one that I see.
I will seek you out and hunt you.
How have these tables turned?
I am a warrior now, forged in Death’s own fires. Unafraid of what lies beyond the curtain.
But you, Death. I know you’re afraid; you curl into yourself. Lying.
You know those souls weren’t for you.
Cruel. Inhumane. Despicable.
I will haunt you in life.
I promise my Angels that.
Because when you killed them
you attacked the very friends who protected me
and who still protect me
from the most destructive nature of myself.
I owe them my life.
Because animals and me, we share a special bond.
I care for them. Them for me.
You’ve debased that. Made it grotesque.
A disgusting way to try and one up us.
You did your best.
But you failed.
You can’t kill me, you see
I am every loved one’s memory.
This poem is written for the thousands of animals who have been gassed in the University of Idaho’s home-made gas chamber after being trapped without permission from the City of Moscow and Idaho Fish and Game. It is the least I can do for the cats, birds, and other animals who have saved me from the darkest parts of myself over these past three years. By destroying this animal life, the employees of University of Idaho facilities department and the campus veterinarians were waging an intentional war on those of us with deep emotional bonds to the animal world. Their continued use of the gas chamber is causing emotional damages to the broader Moscow Community, of which I am a ten year member.
The first part of this poem is about my own very distressing experience with depression and suicidal desires and my cat’s insistence on saving me from the worst and darkest part of myself. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have her be caught and killed in a gas chamber. Afraid. Alone. Desperate.
There is a community of people who have cared for campus cats for decades. Losing these feline communities for them in this manner has been indescribably painful. The fact that this gassing campaign was carried out to intentionally damage the emotional well being of these University of Idaho employees is disgustingly sadistic behavior that should be appropriately reprimanded. Intentionally causing emotional harm to another human being through violent destruction of innocent life is immoral and despicable behavior. The administration’s protection of these individuals is puzzling and an affront to basic principles of integrity. Humans and animals share complex and close bonds and have for thousands of years. Institutional protection of torturous behavior like this shows a departure from basic morals and highlights the University of Idaho’s inability to properly govern itself. Though I love this school, I would never consider sending any future children of mine there unless it were to prove that these breaks have been mended.
As an alumna I care very deeply about the university’s future and I genuinely hope that this incident sheds light on the broken chain of policies and procedures that allowed such shockingly disgusting behavior to occur in a publicly funded space. I also hope it leads the University to address the missteps in response to the community’s concerns about misappropriation of funds, time, and general accountability. The University repeatedly LIED about HOW many animals had been killed, WHAT animals had been targeted, WHAT permissions had been granted. These numerous egregious errors frankly display the overall lack of positive administrative guidance that has depressingly become the norm for this institution. I want to see the gas chamber dismantled. I want to see the University of Idaho adopt a primary No Kill Policy for all wildlife on campus in favor of other more ecologically sound management practices like Trap, Neuter, and Release programs. I also hope that this incident leads the University’s top administration to self-reflect and ask itself some really tough questions. If employees are allowed to abuse one another in such a manner, what is stopping them from carrying out a truly heinous crime that would result in loss of human life? Especially if they get away with the torture and murder of thousands of animal lives.
This is not to say the entire administration is rotten. I personally know of many Directors, Chairs, Deans, and other top administrators who take this kind of behavior very seriously. They have dedicated their careers to the University of Idaho and are continuously fighting to protect their programs and faculty from the larger administrative failures of piss poor governance. I salute all of you. You know who you are. And the broader community needs you now. We can all use this as a moment to learn to work together, to respect one another, and to grow.
Or the University’s top administration can continue to turn a blind eye to this and try to cover it up. In which case, I can say that I will wait for another blunder in history. And then the next. And then the next. I will be forced, along with the rest of this amazingly brilliant and vibrant community, to watch the school I love slowly bleed out because of cowardice and hubris as more and more parents become reluctant to send their children to a school that protects such inhumane behavior.
Whether you are an animal lover or not, the University of Idaho’s administration and the facilities personnel directly involved along with Dr. Autenried and his assistant Mrs. Harris have bungled this situation. They have lied, they have abused tax payer dollars by building and using an un-tested, un-approved gas chamber in support of trap and kill programs that are taking place in a public space within city limits, and they have neglected to safe guard the emotional and mental well being of their own students, employees, and community members who are uniformly horrified and disgusted by these practices. These kinds of errors must stop if the school I love is ever going to be a top university to work for, and study at, again.
Does this upset you? You can express you opinions directly to:
Chuck Staben, President of the University of Idaho
(so called Dr.) Peter Autenried, the gas chamber building vet:
Audrey Harris, Assistant to the gas chamber building vet:
There’s a viper in me.
Black and strong.
I cry so hard everytime it rears its ugly head.
The cold hard earth’s embrace is what most I dread.
I’ve run from you on 3 continents. Is that not enough space?
But still your shadow stalks me.
For me there is no safe space.
Gravel crunches under the leather soles of my red shoes. I can smell hints of mint mingled with the gentle scent of rose petals. As I move along the gravel pathway, small groups of finches take flight, only to alight again in the next plot. Butterflies glide and dance in the breeze, oblivious and undisturbed by my presence. Like ripples in an ocean when the sun sets, ponds of marigolds cast their orange glow around the varying verdant crops: cabbage, broccoli, tomato, beans, cucumber, onions, garlic, corn, bitter gourd. It changes with each couple of steps. I look up and see parliament’s shiny dome, to the right the haunting, blown-out Darulaman Palace. Off to the side are tangles of mulberry bushes, and further around to the left a larger field with some small plots being worked, but largely just a wide expanse of pale compacted soil, the kind of image most Americans bring to mind when they think of Afghanistan. The kind of view that evokes thirst.
My reverie ends abruptly as Lailuma continues to explain how she planted the beans using a small scale hand-propelled seeder. She explains how she and the other female cooperative members also decided to plant sweet peppers along a diagonal in the center to help dissuade enterprising pests from attacking their beans. I ask to take her picture, she raises the lower part of her hijab to leave only her eyes visible, her straw hat still settled comfortably over top of her scarf. As soon as the picture is snapped she is talking again, leaving me completely in her dust as my Dari is abysmal. Next to the beans is a plot of corn. I ask her if they planted the three sisters there. She laughs, grabs my hand, explains that “It is the two sisters only”. Beans and Corn. She and the other women have continued to experiment, pushing the knowledge of agroecology and organic agriculture they learned through their farmer field school trainings over the past years and blending it with their observations of their piece of the Darulaman Farm. At precisely this moment, as if it were scripted, a younger woman approaches. Lailuma’s open and smiling face beams even brighter. She gives a hearty laugh as she starts rapidly chatting again. In the woman’s hands are used IV bags with the lines still attached. Her daughter works in a hospital and she brings the used IV bags home for her mother and the other women to use on the farm. They are cucumber specific drip irrigators that deliver smaller doses of water to the plants.
Lailuma bustles off and I follow. We stop in front of an area designed to showcase how organic agriculture can be adapted to urban environments. Out of a small raised bed skirted by cement blocks and brick vine cucumbers, with, sure enough, IV drip lines running straight to their root zones! The green patients seem to be thriving. Lailuma excitedly shows me how they devised a splitter to deliver water from 1 IV bag to two plants uses a small piece of hollow stock, maybe from corn, or sorghum. She is laughing the entire time, as am I, amused by the juxtaposition of IV bags at a farm. Rehydrating cucumbers. Our tour of the farm continues. Not all is sun-shine, birds, butterflies, and IV bags. Wild dogs from the open fields next door wreak havoc on the greenhouse nightly. The saffron plot has been descended upon by rats the size of house cats. Dodder is present in the fringes of the farm and is a weed that the women vigilantly and constantly fight. Mites threatened the greenhouse crop, but with daily application of organic garlic and hot pepper spray designed to deter them, they were removed but not before damaging the vines. New leaves are growing, and the plants seem to be recovering well. No IVs are in sight here, but the small, neat piles of compost around the base of each vine and the gentle way Lailuma’s fingers help new tendrils thread into the trellis string speak volumes about the attention and management the plants on the farm receive.
Today’s problems seem small and solvable compared to the struggles the Darulaman farm has faced in the past and faces on other days. Threats from the Home Economics Department to kick the women off, many of whom are widowed, occur frequently. This is despite the fact that the HED is supposed to be working with and supporting these women in doing exactly what they are doing now: running a productive, profitable farm to provide themselves and their families with healthy food and income. Transitioning from a group of farmer field school leaders who were learning together and from one another and into a cooperative group was as rocky as the soil in the vacant lot. Lailuma and the other women have so far been able to learn to trust one another, to decide how to divide labor responsibilities, to ensure that productivity is good enough to be profitable, to overcome arguments like who works which days and how members are compensated, to come to an agreement over what happens when someone falls ill, and to make the million other small but necessary decisions that keep groups functioning. This growth on the part of the individual women is remarkable given the context and history within which it has occurred.
We stop at the sales stall as we leave. I ask how much the honey is, “500 AFS” replies Lailuma without skipping a beat. I slip a blue note from my wallet, place the jar full of creamy, soft yellow honey in my bag. Sophia asks after the goats. How much milk they are producing each day, how they are doing? “1 liter between the two of them” is they reply. We take off as the heat of the noon sun drives the women to seek shade under the grape trellis near the stall. As we drive away the sea of green and golden orange breaks abruptly into the dusty leaves of mulberry trees. Our car navigates around a corner through the barricades to enter the Livestock department buildings. I wonder what part of this story I can tell to keep this small farm, a pond of green and golden hope, from being swallowed into a department that will leave it to languish and fade back to the fatigue-colored khaki concrete soil of the vacant lot. So here I sit, writing.
On the dock stood you four
I stood casting from the shore
Soft sod between my toes
Breeze quietly rippling willow boughs
River reflecting nectarine clouds
Rainbows sprung up from a false dawn
As the sun faded beyond, beyond
We were so bathed in that golden light
In bliss, though river rainbows refused to bite.
how strong your light is tonight
breaking apart clouds
birds sing to the plum hued sky
not its usual bright blue
paintbrush clouds illuminated glowing along with you
Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter join the revelry
a chorus of voices accompany your celestial tango.
only quiet and still.
reflecting your light from within me, i join along too.
i had a dream the other night
for the first time in my life
there i was, white dress and all
a field of indigo and violet wild flowers blooming
dark hair over my shoulder,
loose pieces catching in the wind
i’m off to live my vision
to keep my fire burning bright as Evening Star or setting Sun
Redwing has seen it too.
she knows how to fly
the secrets of how to heal
if it can’t be you
we have each other
we will fly high
remember to play
remember to laugh
our wings in the Wind
voices in the air