a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
The Arabic letter Waw, pronounced wow, is a circular letter with a tail. It often functions like the long vowel sound oooh and has a smaller counterpart called a Damma. The Damma floats above letters in formal, written Arabic, appearing like a loosely crossed ribbon with a similar circular opening. Damma, in Arabic, means to join, or to hug, in the same way our arms wrap around one another in embrace, and the sound, similarly, requires this shape with the lips, ooh.
To enact a sense of wellness, when a person, a community, or a society is not well, is to incant. The puppets move across a marionette stage. The audience witnesses a dance of color, as stiff, painted faces retell old myths, or new zeitgeists. Even the puppetmaster emotes from behind the hall of his textile universe. It is a doing, it is an undoing, it is an act of creation; a survival story ripples through creator and audience.
For a time I sit inside the apartment, its clanking steam heat, the upstairs neighbors fighting and then playing classical music on their instruments in turn, and the children scream in the play yard across from me, as always, but now they howl in tandem every so often, too. One small ocean of sound rises, then another, and another. The howling is a new soundscape layer since the return from quarantine. I’ve lived here for more than ten years without a single howl. Now the children howl.
There’s something to be said about telling the story of walls. The story of being behind a wall, the story of being free when the walls are gone. A story of containment. A story of expansion. One child howled, it’s likely she’s never heard or seen a wolf in the wild, but the wolves have been howling for thousands of years, echoing through books, and songs, and media, too, so she knows what the howl means; this collective grief, this longing and this togetherness, each an arm of something that can hold us, even now.
They don’t worry if they aren’t doing it right. They simply erupt from time-to-time, as if calling all the lost parts back, as if creating a future of deepened solidarity. In their aloneness the pandemic became this long, full moon that they could raise their situational anxieties to. I haven’t had the words for it, but the children in the play yard make it all known, peeling away layers of that frozen time when they were in their homes, behind their screens, when they first realized they could pierce the isolation with their voices, placing a new character on the stages of their lives, and though they’ll never be real wolves they are wolves forevermore.
We enact a sense of wellness, saying before all of this we were just innocent, we were all children with shining faces, spinning yarns of myths and sensory questions, being sent every which way, safe within the story society told of us. We enacted the expectations of who we should be on a stage that fell apart beneath us, and crumbles still, while we’re told to keep dancing on marionette strings until we can no longer.
When one howls, another joins, and all the voices begin to rise above the cars, and birds, and shouts, and sirens of this sprawling metropolis, baying out a memory that reaches far into the future and deep into the past. Each of us was born with a Waw in their mouth, a sacred Arabic vowel howling out a cry for connection. We are born open, arms sprawled, sharply expanding toward embrace.
The children are howling like wolves now. Dammas and Waws ring out above the buildings, ferocious incantations towards a future where there are no walls, where we can all be seen and heard.
Cassandra Rockwood Ghanem is an award-winning writer and illustrator, whose poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art have been published internationally. Her work has been featured in Reed Magazine, The Normal School, New Delta Review, Rip Rap, The Lifted Brow, and elsewhere. She was recently selected for fellowships and awards from the Center for Book Arts in New York City and Disquiet International Literary Program in Portugal. In 2019, Cassandra founded a reading series at the Beat Museum in San Francisco, and in 2020 she illustrated Basho’s Haiku Journeys, a picture book chronicling the life of Edo Period poet Matsuo Basho. Earlier this year, her first poetry collection, Hot Thicket, was released with Nomadic Press. She received her BA from California Institute of Integral Studies and MFA from California College of the Arts.