activism, Choices, Take Action

Ask Fear Out

dance trilogy

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

– Audre Lorde

I buy the house for the future. Political variables do not enter into the equation. Of course the system will stay healthy enough to sustain my son and me. Housing markets rise and fall. Financial markets swing from bear to bull. Social security may last or disappear. Through all this, my house is insurance. The same is true of my education, my work experience, my retirement savings, my kid’s college fund. The road will have its bumps but we’ll be okay, more or less.

(But for how long?)

My decision fails take into consideration that truth is only assumption and that nothing is fixed.

Now a fear takes root, a fear bigger and more eclipsing than any I’ve ever experienced. Inside this fear swim all the possibilities of a much darker future. Inside this fear dawns a recognition of the fragility of my security.

Privilege, as it happens, will not protect me.

Continue reading “Ask Fear Out”

Growing Up, Purpose

This New Day

woman-registered-vote

The suffragette whites hung at the foot of the bed.  In the jacket pocket, I’d tucked a gold wedding band belonging to one grandmother and a pair of gold earrings from the other — the last Christmas gift she gave me before she died.  Both of these women were born before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

In their lifetime, my grandmothers earned the right to vote.  Even so, they didn’t have a chance to see a woman run for president.  One probably wouldn’t have marked Hillary’s name.  The other — a little blue dot in bright red Texas — would have. I wanted them both with me on election day 2016. Continue reading “This New Day”

Adventure, Letting Go, Relationships, Things I Can

99. Things I Can Light: Story from Flint

What men call adventures usually consist of the stoical endurance of appalling daily misery.

– Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves

Do we choose the journey or does it choose us? How much say do we really have?

I imagine I’ll tell the story of now as a gritty trek through a wild and scouring place. It will be the reason for the deep cuts and silver streams lining the map of me. I’ll marvel at my strength (grown out of necessity in this restless soil) and adopt the progeny of my mistakes as my own kin (oh, how very many of them).

Something will reveal itself eventually. It must. It always does.  Continue reading “99. Things I Can Light: Story from Flint”

People Watching, Things I Can

66. Things I Can Cross: Campus at the Edge of Could

They sit on the grass in a loose circle. Rain has steamed the patches that remain to a fecund spill of harlequin and jade. The one with long hair and glasses is a swaying stem, her pod at the edge of splitting open. “He had a whole philosophy about the virtues,” she says. Her hands flit out to catch the round putty of this idea then stretch it out, out.

On these summer days when dusk falls near bedtime, the lunch hour employs a more forgiving clock. Two men in dusty coveralls striped with orange reflective tape sprawl on a bench next to chain link. A temporary enclosure wraps around campus like silver Christmas ribbon, knotted somewhere hidden, impossible to pull free. You’d have to find the shears. Behind them, a sign strapped to wire: Do Not Move Fence. Someone has not only tried but succeeded. The lousy lot of us — students and faculty and staff, our shared absence of virtue rendering us indistinguishable from one another — has such an excess of time on our hands (or perhaps a paucity of imagination when it comes to selecting a target for our disaffection) that we need reminding how to treat a fence.

The younger one is white, filmed with dust, his red goatee threaded to rust. He holds a phone — or the amalgam that now passes for a phone — aloft. A noise crackles from it. His buddy’s hair fans in every direction. He is black, though in this case the speciousness of the designation is even more palpable than usual. Dry soil has powdered them to an identical tone.

Race, of course, is about everything else that churns under the surface we imagine solid. It is thrumming here. In the way they speak, sit, gaze. The one on the left splays his legs and drapes his arms, one over a knee, the other along the back of the bench. The one on the right leans forward, stiff, holding the phone-like object. Whiteness and blackness is in this posture, this way of taking — or pretending not to take — the measure of passing students.

The crackling is a voice, a distant Barack Obama. The president’s unmistakable cadence, the falling and punctuated pauses, is carrying across a field of cameramen and wind, piped through the pinhole speaker next to the tiny screen now aloft in the younger man’s grip.

Has something happened? While I was in my lunchtime yoga activating the parasympathetic nervous system with happy baby, did another plate shift? Another city block catch fire? Another of my neighbors fall in the dark hush of a redacted narrative?

I look around at the others. The grass-bound circle of literary acolytes is now far behind me. Women perch on metal chairs outside the student center which houses a new Panera. This is the most popular lunch spot on campus despite a growing national suspicion of Bread’s intentions. A beauty in a creamsicle dress and platform heels turns heads like a stadium wave, collapsing construction worker and student into one undifferentiated hunger. The only ones oblivious to her liquid progress are two younger men striding past. They clutch the straps of their backpacks, heads bent at such an angle they almost meet at the temple. The one speaking rushes out words and stumbles over them. They hadn’t run it with the new numbers — that must be why — that’s why it turned out like that. Neither breaks stride as the sundress swirls across their path.

The president’s voice pings off leaf, satchel, water bottle, sunglasses. If something has happened, the light would scour this plaza instead of skidding as it does off bared calf and shoulder. The fountain would pound instead of froth, the faces furrow, the gazes tunnel into the things we call phones, seeking an answer or maybe a map in those digital libraries that far out-Alexandria Alexandria itself.

When it happens, whatever it is, so much we think is solid in this place will tumble like rockfall into the ravine through which we course. Momentum we imagined our earned and maybe even natural pace will back up behind that unthinkable-but-now-here flash of history. In that instant, downstream will transform into the bewildered trickle of a future uncertain how to fill the space it occupied when it was so lush, when it was able to slake the thirst not only of its own banks but of everything in us that came there to drink.

 

Children, Parenting

Turning Rite

A rattling on metal. Something like gravel on the roof of a train. It echoes down four stories and then back again through the flue reaching above mine and the one above that, all the way out to night. The fire is a mere whisper of its former self, a glow in a carpet of gray. I reach in with the hook end of the poker and creak down the damper. Rain gushes down outside, washing away the remains of dozens of exploded snowballs, our frantic footprints, the tiny snowman with the stick features we built in the first dusting on the basketball court. It will melt away the ice that has already canceled school for tomorrow, carrying it down curbs, into sewers, away to the Chesapeake bay.
 
At dinner tonight, we slurped soup and talked of rituals. Tea ceremonies and such. “What’s a ritual?” Bug asked. Our guest and I tried our best to puzzle out a definition. Like a habit that you do over and over, but with more meaning. Sort of. And like a tradition, sort of. “Like brushing your teeth every night?” Bug asked. We pulled out the Oxford dictionary. We looked up both “ritual” and “habit.” The former is marked by its regularity and invariability, and it often has a religious and ceremonial quality to it. We tried to come up with our rituals. Are the three books and three songs every night a routine or a ritual? Where do our prayers and passages reside? Do we have a sacred fixation?
 
My boy sleeps now. Out through a reflection of green-pink-everycolor lights, the street below is a river. Ice-tipped peaks and silvered trenches first soften to hills then flatten to black.
 
Our last book at bedtime was a new one from the library: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. It is the true story of the feat of one Philippe Petit who, in 1974, snuck a cable between the two buildings of the World Trade Center as they were still under construction. He walked it, danced it, and even lay upon it as the sun rose over New York City. The book tipped me vertiginously too high and too far behind all at once. Dizzy, I had to catch my breath. Those towers are gone and Bug wanted to know why.
 
This question was going to come. Even with this certainty, I knew I would never be prepared. Shutting the book and setting it aside, I scooted down close to him. “There were some people who wanted to hurt America,” I explained. “They hijacked airplanes and flew them into the buildings. The buildings fell down. People died.”
 
True to his engineering mind, he actually wanted the how, not the why. I filled in the gaps easily. Too easily. It is all as fresh as if I am watching it now on that giant screen, the same silence choking us — bound as I am to the anonymous, forever Us of that moment — in a university lounge just a few miles from the Pentagon. Bug asked one straightforward question after another. “Did they fly into one building then out and into the other?”
 
“No, baby, there were two different planes. And a couple of others.” I kept it simple. In the spots where he plunged the shovel of his curiosity, I elaborated. We meandered around that day, finally making our way to the moment the passengers on board the last plane stopped the bad guys by crashing into a field. After Bug found where to place his period at the end of the story, he leaned his shovel against a tree, slid down into the bed and asked me to sing.
 
It is legend to him. Ancient history. No frisson shivers through a spectator with quite the intensity it does for a player. These are lines on maps and pages in books. When you are here and now instead of there and then, you trace them with your finger. You maybe imagine visiting. Normandy. Vietnam. Manassas. In other places, too, shadows of what was human made and human razed streak the land. The ones who remember delineate the shade. Those who don the mantle of memory after the last survivors are gone then call those phantoms back again and again until ghosts knit to earth like a skin under the now. Library of Alexandria. Berlin Wall. Twin Towers.
 
It should come as no surprise that Bug is not frightened by the story I tell. It is no different from any other history lesson. People work. Build things. Invent and discover. Go to war. Lead and follow. Make art and families and cities and revolution. Hurt each other. He’s learned already that villains are real. That heroes help. That people can come together to change what is into what could be.
 
That danger lurks and courage grows.
 
My boy’s classroom doors have little black accordions of paper clipped up high in the windows. He tells me these are for when the bad guys come in. While the kids hide, a teacher can unclip the little curtains to block anyone from seeing in. Bug told me this on the way to the car and then asked if I’d brought a snack.
 
My son sleeps. Rain rattles against the damper then dulls to a hum before finally falling silent.
 
He asked for extra songs tonight. Tiny lights glinted from tree branches in the living room. A velveteen Santa sat on a side table with a key silent in its back, having earlier tinkled down its wordless version of what we’ve all learned to know without even trying. I curled into my boy and called from memory the first few verses of the old standbys. Silent night, holy night. . . My voice slowed and and thinned as his eyes drooped. Christ is born in Bethlehem. . . Planted in the furrows of my brain, these hymns. As Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas day in the morn. . . I settle my child to sleep with the lyrical story of a God we do not worship in an ancient land that is not ours. Born is the king of Israel. . .
 
The evergreen outside the window sheds its silver husk. Boughs that protected a soft patch of snow from the freezing rain earlier now dip and shudder in the downpour. Inside, an ember pops. The scaled lip of the last log glows for one fulgent moment before turning to ash.
 

Children, Outdoors

Ancestry (abridged)

He cranks the handle of the umbrella. It creaks open like dragon wings after a long winter. The skies have been emptying themselves over this place for days. Underfoot, the ground is no longer differentiated. Soil? Water? It all pools together and pushes up around the feet. Slog and slop. The green is shameless now, cascading wanton curtains of thrilled leaf. Bug neither cares about the soggy seat cushions nor acknowledges that lasagna isn’t exactly patio-dining fare.
 
The rain has paused. We will be eating outside.
 
The four of us scoot in around the green iron circle cluttered with linen napkins, big porcelain plates, and parmesan cheese. The pansies behind Bug pop in violet butter from the boxes. He devours the slipping, fat noodles and wipes up the remaining sauce with garlic toast. We talk easy and only half about anything. My mother is wearing the necklace my father sprang on her at the tag end of Christmas day last year. It is a silver-and-stone replica of the solar system.
 
“Which one is Pluto?” Bug asks.
 
“It’s the littlest one, isn’t it?” She lifts the chain and examines. Bug reaches out and touches the polished tigers-eye sphere suspended in a silver ring.
 
“Is that Saturn?”
 
We go through the planets one by one. He does not see the sun. “Grandma’s head is the sun,” I say. She strikes and pose and we all chuckle.
 
“I bet the hippies are still out there in the Arizona desert selling those things,” my father says. “You know, they make every single piece by hand.”
 
“What’s a hippie?” Bug asks.
 
Silence. We all consider.
 
“An ancient civilization,” I finally say. My folks both laugh.
 
“Hippies were a strange tribe of people who broke with tradition long ago,” I go on. “They created their own rituals and ways of worshipping the things they held sacred.”
 
“Yeah,” my dad snorts. “Unlike every other civilization in the world?”
 
“They made wild, new music and wore beautiful costumes.” I explain. “Some of their songs and stories are still with us today.” I take a swig of my ice water and reach the professorial conclusion. “In fact, you could say it was a renaissance.”
 
My mother laughs. “Yeah, a renaissance of hair.” She smiles at Bug. “Everyone grew their hair long then.”
 
“My hair is long,” Bug says.
 
“Yeah. It wouldn’t be if not for the revolutionary ways of the Hippie,” I say.
 
Bug ponders this. Behind him, the tiny duckpins of the fuschia plant are popping open and splaying their purple viscera. “What kind of hair would I have?”
 
“Short,” say my folks together.
 
“Army short,” says my dad.
 
“And you wouldn’t be able to wear jeans to school,” explains my mom.
 
“You have much to thank the Hippie for,” I tell him.
 
“Why?” Bug reaches for more bread but I block him with a carrot. He takes it and gives it a crunch around his loose tooth.
 
“Because before that, people had ideas about doing things only one way,” I say.
 
“Everyone had to follow orders,” my mother explains. She gestures towards the rest of the lasagna and my dad reaches for it. She slops out extra helpings on the smeared plates. The dog snuffles near and I give her a firm point down the steps.
 
“Hippies were big kids like your aunt and uncles,” I explain. I wave off the offer of another helping. The evening is just too light for more. “Young people. Tired of being told how to be. They decided they were going to do things their own crazy, artsy, colorful way. And so they did, even if it got them in trouble.”
 
“Okay,” says Bug. He tucks into the melty cheese. His shirt is spattered. The capacity of his stomach stuns me, as does the fact that he is just so very tall.
 
“You should have seen your granddaddy’s hair,” my mother says with a faraway look in the direction of her husband.
 
He grunts. “Yeah. It was really something. Down to there, hair.”
 
“Where it stops by itself,” she says.
 
It goes quiet except for the sip of wine, the slurp of sauce. A borer bee dips low and Bug ducks away. I remind him that bees prefer nectar over tomato sauce and that she’ll be off to find something sweeter. She should have no trouble lighting upon an ample source in this fecund pocket of earth.
 

Love, Poetry, Reading

Book Lovers

Each with his favored arm
made his foray
scorning confections and only sometimes opening a hand
dusted with the crushed stamen
of a hothouse orchid. Walt came bearing small sprouts
at least before his straight-up offer of crotch and vine
while against my throat, Edgar licked
glossed feather. I choked down Eliot’s ragged claws and talk
of Michelangelo, glancing against the vorpal snicker
Carroll carried unsheathed. The graze bared
blood beat and Baldwin fire going the way I dared not ache.
I had barely found my feet and certainly not my sense
when, whispering, Kazuo led me to a corner of the room
I’d never seen and there, Salman with a slow grin
esta-esta-estuttered open his voice in song.

Continue reading “Book Lovers”