‘Suitcase’ is authored by Nicole Cooley, a professor of English and the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College—City University of New York.


“Suitcase” documents Nicole’s experience as the mother of a new baby living in NYC right after 9/11. In those first weeks and months after the attacks, when no one had a language for what had happened, citizens were told to buy gas masks, store antibiotics, save emergency supplies, avoid crowds, not fly on planes. According to Nicole the advice was “dizzying”. She describes how she could smell the burning from the World Trade Center inside her apartment. 

“The city and the country felt out of control. And as a new parent, I felt overwhelmed with fear for my daughter, wondering how I could raise her in such a world in which she would never be safe.​I wrote the poem as a Ghazal, a Persian form that so often memorializes and idealizes a beloved, a form that uses repetition to increase tension. “

Here, the repeated word is “suitcase.”  The last line of the poem is supposed to use your own name, and so Nicole invoked the letters stamped on her suitcase, N.R.C. Her daughter is now a teenager—and she has a second daughter too–but Nicole says that her early experience as a mother is forever marked by living through those months. 

Suitcase is a poem taken from ‘Borderlands and Crossroads’ as part of my season featuring feminist mothering poems
_________________________________________________________________________


Suitcase


Gold-zippered, blue plaid, gilded with initials:
suitcase

we were told to pack in case of
a new attack
. Girl’s suitcase,

my grandmother’s gift for those first sleep-overs.
I fill it with duct tape.
Cipro hidden in the lining of the suitcase.

The paediatrician refused to give the drug but, yes, I begged, cried,
I demanded. In the Before, this would be my daughter’s suitcase.

While she slept inside me, I’d pack a silky nightie, toothbrush.
In the third trimester, I’d lie in bed and arrange the suitcase.

Now: Swiss Army knife. Distilled water. Potassium Iodide
to carry with us at all times when we leave our home.
In case of



tablets to swallow immediately as the subway fills with smoke.
This city permanently on
Orange Alert, the ready suitcase

waiting while I nurse my daughter, watch the news.
In the
After, another day of jewel-blue sky, I pack the suitcase,


seal the windows as we were told against possible chemical attack,
but still we breathe in the burning, the ash, the soot.

Plan an evacuation route. With each warning, the city shuts tunnels,
cuts us off. We’re packed and ready, with our suitcase.

I watch the news. I already know I won’t have another child,
not in this city. Packed and ready for the next attack: our suitcase.

Now the baby no longer fits in the circle of my arms. Pregnant,
I’d dreamed the girl I’d birth as safely miniature, kept in a suitcase.

You must be ready, the TV tells us. To leave your life,
for the safety of your family. I lay my daughter in the suitcase

stamped with my initials, N.R.C., letters engraved
long ago

on a headstone, and now not mine, not hers, no one’s suitcase.

________________________________________________________________________________

It could have been a watershed moment for the party or, if I am being optimistic, even British politics way back in 2013 if the party’s leaders had taken seriously allegations made by female members on their encounters with Lord Rennard.

If the leaders had acted differently on the claims and given the women the respect that they deserved it may very well have opened the Pandora’s box of sexism within British politics. I say this not as though it were a missed opportune moment for party political kudos but rather as a lost opportunity for a Liberal party to demonstrate that women’s rights was something the party practised and not just spoke about from podiums at conferences.

With news coming through about MPs harassing females in Parliament I have no doubt that in the days to come the Tory party and the Labour party will throw up sexist perpetrators too. This is not, however, the type of level playing field that the Lib Dems want to be aiming towards.

Many female members of the party, including me, watched with disbelief at the extent to which the women who had been victims had to go to to even get their story across. At one point, I even wondered about the wisdom of letting my then 14 year old daughter carry on being a member of a party that seemed to care so little about something so serious.

I had a conversation with a Lib Dem councillor who told me how she was often intimidated at party meetings because of her gender. I personally approached a female Lib Dem MP over these concerns and her reply was that female members should not feel afraid to speak up. That was the gist of it. It profoundly conveyed a lack of a deep understanding or, even, care about the level of sexism that had taken root in the party.

It doesn’t pay to rake over the details four years on if anything out of respect for those women who must be reading and following the current unfolding of events and wondering whether it has come too late for them.

I can’t help but wonder though whether British politics may be in a different place now if our leaders had stepped up to the plate. The culture of the party in coalition was largely to blame. It was very macho. Members were constantly told to toe the line which largely translated into being a culture of obedience. Questioning what the leaders were doing in the coalition was actively discouraged. I remember attending conferences where opposition to austerity policies was almost ridiculed for being immature in content. The message was that we were in power and had to act as grown ups. 

The women who complained of sexual harassment and intimidation were seen as interlopers. They threatened the party’s reputation and politics was more important than morality.

The tide is turning, thankfully. The Mexican wave ripple effect of the dismantling of sexual harassment as an acceptable act because ‘men will be men’  has reached the doorstep of British politics. It is only a matter of time before the full scale of women’s experiences of sexual harassment within the hallowed halls of Parliament is unmasked.

It really is time for British politics to stop being projected as a strong man’s political playground. The baying, the shouting, the hand gestures and smirks in Parliament resemble a zoo at feeding time. With all that testosterone it is not surprising that women are made victims of all that male micro aggression. If there is any good to come out of a Hollywood mogul’s shameful, evil and possibly criminal behaviour against women it is the unmasking of sexual harassment as an act that knows no boundaries.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Lib Dems could have solved the huge problem of sexism in British politics single handedly but I do think that we could have made a difference that may have, in retrospect, been seen as a watershed moment.

Four years on and I still feel a sense of anger. Apart from Lord Rennard himself and the party’s leaders, I reserve the last vestiges of my anger for Shirley Williams who gave unstinting support to those who undermined the women who put themselves on the line to speak up. What does it say when a doyenne of the party lets members down? 

‘Mong’
is a word commonly used by apes masquerading as humans to describe people
with disabilities, especially people with Down’s Syndrome.

Given the current psychological condition of the convenient use of one’s age as an abdication of responsibility for irresponsible talk that comes out of one’s mouth, I thought I would set in context right at the start of this post how old Guido Fawkes was when he tweeted the above message.


Guido Fawkes, the well known British blogger, was 46 years old when he tweeted the extremely offensive word ‘mong’.


At that age I don’t believe that there is much one would say either unintentionally or in anger about a disadvantaged group of people. Disability rights and issues has been well publicised enough as a socio-justice issue that one would have had to have been living in a cave to be ignorant of it.


I care because I have a niece with Down’s Syndrome whom I have blogged about before.


Lest anyone was in any doubt as to the crux of Guido’s intended slurs, which was to use disability, he gold plated the tweet with ‘retarded’.  


Way back in 2004 the BBC published a list of  ‘worst words’ to use when referring to people with disabilities with ‘Mong’ featuring at Number 4.  There has been more than a decade of sufficient awareness of disability rights. Guido’s tweet came a year after the UK hosted the Paralympic games in 2012. The games were the apotheosis of disability awareness raising.


I stopped reading Guido’s blog years ago because of the constant references to female genitalia and the use of various forms of obscene language. The intellectual content displayed in the comments left by readers is something that one hears from football fans on tube trains during match days.

The use of hashtags on Twitter may be a great social media innovation for getting a specific message across in the way the #metoo hashtag has drawn attention to rampant global sexual harassment of women. The flip side of the coin is the power of the eponymous hashtag to further reinforce and disseminate stereotypical demeaning messages and pictures of women.


I looked up the hashtag #Asians because I had attended an Asian Writers Festival and was seeking to reach the right audience with my tweets. What I found was a stream of naked women and nothing of any relevance to being ‘Asians’. In a further twist, most of the images (I only went as far as today’s tweets) were of White women.  Am I to conclude that #Asians=naked sexy White women? 


In a world of increasing complexity I am still trying to figure this conundrum out especially given that under the hashtag of ‘sex’ one finds only a scattering of naked women pictures.


Could it be that Twitter, as an organisation, is managing a soft porn messaging service that caters for Asian countries where pornography is outlawed?


Twitter’s refusal in the past to take down rape threats or such like dire tweets against women is increasingly making it a misogynistic social media application. Come on Twitter, for goodness sake. #Asians are walking, talking brown skinned human beings who live lives with dignity. While you aren’t responsible for twats posting porn surely you can do something about a hashtag that refers to a whole humankind. The sexualisation of a hashtag that refers to a race of people is deeply immoral and racist. Replacing pictures of white naked women with ones of Asian women will not do the trick either. That’s the Hugh Heffner faux model of female empowerment.

The clear blue sky,
The scent of flowers,
The colours of Rangoli,
And the sound of crackers.

The gifts and sweets from dear ones,
And the getting of their love,
The light of the candles below,
And the dazzling fireworks up above.

Lighting lamps at our homes,
Making the less fortunate smile,
Putting on new apparels,
Show our friends some style.

Paying respects to the gods,
And decorating for them the thali,
This is what the occasion is all about,
This is the spirit of Diwali