Persistence Without Sovereignty

Wednesday, November 16th 2022, Rui turns 17 years old

First, a story about a famous rebel.

Cassandra is the daughter of the founders of Troy. She became a priestess in Apollo’s temple where, seeing her youth and beauty, Apollo bestowed a divine blessing upon her to try to win her favor: the divine gift of prophecy. Thinking that for this she must be his, Apollo tries to have her and is shocked and humiliated when she escapes his grasp. Enraged by failure and rejection, Apollo adds a curse to her divine attributes. She’ll retain her ability to foresee the future; but when she delivers her visions of what the future holds, she won’t be believed.

In the many and various versions of the Greek legend, Cassandra is presented as powerfully and wildly rebellious, sought after in the “enticing flower of youth”, then scorned and resented once she has become assured, critical, and asserting. The moment she is cursed by Apollo transforms her into a social pariah. Her predictions foretell Troy’s demise and destruction due to its hard, insensitive, egoistic militarism and dedication to violence. But to Trojans consumed by pride and the ambition to rule, Cassandra’s truth-telling sounds irrational and vengefully motivated. Rejecting her warning, they react with contempt, as if hers were merely absurd ravings of an unhinged Times Square preacher singing out curses and threats from an unhealed wound. Crying out and issuing condemnation as she may, no one listens. Her voice is unreliable to them because her truths are unwelcome news, thereby becoming illegible to her audience. Despite her assertions that the people of Troy must “leave the bounds of the war society”, her admonitions are squelched and ignored.

Cassandra’s is the model of truth-telling we must embrace. Lida Maxwell argues the point in the first pages of her book, Insurgent Truth. Cassandra’s example, Maxwell tells us, forces us to ask “how various forms of power function to keep different kinds of individuals outside the circle of the hearable.” What matters about this is not merely individuals, but collectivities as well in how they are represented. Maxwell finds in figures such as Chelsea Manning, Virginia Woolf, Bayard Rustin, and Audre Lord, exemplars of marginalized persons bearing anomalous truths for us to see if we knew how to hear and absorb what they tell us. These outsiders are gender, racial, or heteronormative non-conformists by virtue of the conditions in which their experiences are set. They have been saddled, she tells us, with a limited but necessary capacity to speak the truth about oppressive conditions in this society. Some of their information and messages have the potential to become transformative, were a society to come along in which information actually became free. Some become open insurgents against the hypocrisy and self-destruction at work in the political and social order. Still, others must remain anonymous in order to protect themselves from the whiplash judgments to which they would be subject were the the sources of their marginalization to be exposed. Questioning their motives in order to undermine the potency of what they show us about what goes on becomes a tactic against them; for them, survival may depend upon the adoption of a position of unwillingness or refusal to expose themselves to public scrutiny. We know that the truth-teller is vulnerable and that she ought to be protected from attack; but we also know what she risks by entering the public realm to speak. Fearful of becoming objects of scorn, ridicule, or dismissiveness as subjects of racial, gendered and other forms of discrimination and contempt, they, therefore we, must seek collective solidarities across group identifications.

At times, it is the simple persistence of continuing to live after disaster that is our principal ongoing form of testimony, seeking where we can to speak of the devastating truths we hold in our hands. We are fully aware in this mode of existence that we are “non-sovereign”; that we will and must rely on others in solidarity with us to bring the truth forward. Either occasions will be created by and for us to speak again, or we will continue to whisper from quieter spaces we occupy, and persist as witnesses despite our marginalization or the desires of officialdom that we disappear and fall mute.

I witnessed the efforts of the U.S. Department of State to see us disappear along with our young boys and girls. I carry the sting of those years in my skin, still now. At this time of year, I have to utter my whispers again. The memories come daily anyway; but they accumulate weight and sharpness. I remember the cold and ill will of my son’s abductors. I recall being held in their gaze, and them in mine. I return to their hard-faced refusal; to the betrayal of love and care so needed by me and my young, open-hearted child. I’m haunted by the memory of sitting at the cold, heavy, hardwood conference table in the Department of State where officialdom’s brutality was manifest; where indifference and rationalization was presented to me and to fellow parents of the abducted, a prolonged killing declared like judgment from a judicial bench behind which sits the nightmare of the law, imposing, controlling, absent any ethical concern or place of justice; but rather, speaking from command and order; a refusal as deep and profound as that of the abductors, child-breakers, soul-killers, and inquisitors here, in Japan, and beyond, who answer with nothing but their class greed and determination to retain power at the cost of our sovereignty over our own persons and the sovereignty of our children.

That Picture Of Us Walking

I still love that picture of us walking.” Rui and Daddy – Central Park, New York 2007

On Wednesday, November 16th 2022, Rui turns 17 years old. Days later, Rui’s cousin Sarah will get married and the family will gather to celebrate Sarah’s milestone with one another. I look to her act of commitment with her new husband for their celebration of hope and futurity. Happy marriage Sarah! And Happy Birthday Rui. May your 17th year be a breakout year, and a breakthrough from the limits imposed on you. Come and know us if you can. Reach out with written words if you can, here or call me.

I also bear what we established between us and all that I’ve witnessed because life persists. It’s no longer possible to separate myself from what’s sewn into my clothes, bones, and into my nervous system which never forgets.


It’s become a kind of custom, maybe a lazy one for me: I rely on the solidarity of music and musicians to help me convey the potency of what I feel. Not sovereign, I reach out to them and they sometimes unknowingly reach back. Their help is by no means exhaustive, but a warming salve against the cold wash of an engulfing flood that gave us no mercy and extinguished the future that was, and the primacy of hope.

What did and what do I find in that flood? I find everything you might expect to find in the fall. I find U.S. empire, stumbling clumsily along the direction of its decay, tromping in the wreckage of the world it made with it. I find Machiko Terauchi who took advantage of the shadows in which empire conceals her; where its subjugation of your people gives you the capacity to belittle your son and his father’s love. Where a boy’s identity could be maligned, truncated, and twisted into the form you wished to pretend was yours before it grew its roots too far into its own field.

I got a lesson in the anatomy of human destructiveness and how it spreads and poisons lives and whole societies.

In the songs, hope and striving to live come back.


Sharon Van Etten: Years ago I used to buy records downtown at the music shop where this beautiful songwriter paid her bills behind the register counter. I have a couple of memories of chatting to her there. She was super nice, had a both serious and amusing-bemused air around her. I only later learned how good she was. This is just one piece of what she’s done.

Sharon Van Etten
I Know

Now I turn into a lover on the side
I cannot tell the poet eye apart from mine
And now you see me with a tear fall on my right
I know, I know

You see me turn around and try to hide my sigh
I know the ancient melodies will come at night
I sing about my fear and love and what it brings
I know, I know

And then you push me out
And then you push me out
I know, I know
And then you disappear because you can’t fight fear
I know, I know

I sit inside a box and try to find my thoughts
With cups upon my ears so I can shut it out
I see you listen to my body and say
I know, I know
I know it’s hard to find out what I’m not
I know, I know

And here we are apart, but here together are
Our hearts that now beat for each other, although far
I hear your voice and I know what it calls
I know, I know

Hold on, hold on
All I ever wanted was you.


And here’s the recently departed John Prine, who has something warm to teach us about fearsome passages and endings.

Summer’s End
John Prine

Summer’s end is around the bend just flying
The swimming suits are on the line just drying
I’ll meet you there per our conversation
I hope I didn’t ruin your whole vacation

Well you never know how far from home you’re feeling
Until you watch the shadows cross the ceiling
Well I don’t know but I can see it snowing
In your car the windows are wide open

Come on home
Come on home
No you don’t have to be alone
Just come on home

Valentines break hearts and minds at random
That ol’ Easter egg ain’t got a leg to stand on
Well I can see that you can’t win for trying
And New Year’s Eve is bound to leave you crying

Come on home
Come on home
No you don’t have to be alone
Just come on home

The moon and stars hang out in bars just talking
I still love that picture of us walking
Just like that ol’ house we thought was haunted
Summer’s end came faster than we wanted

Come on home
Come on home
No you don’t have to be alone
Come on home
Come on home
No you don’t have to be alone
Just come on home

4 thoughts on “Persistence Without Sovereignty

    1. Hey Ray, Thanks. We all run, man. The music helps me find the emotional root, and sometimes it helps let the pressure out.
      Keep on keepin’ on, and stay in touch. Thanks for letting me know you’re out there. We’re all still in the stew at the same time. Solidarity!


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