Journal excerpt — early 90’s

The wind hounds Framingham. It is one of the most constant reminders I have that this, indeed, is a prison. The wind’s vigor, its selection of the compound as a place to rush through and rush through some more and the way it flaps the antiquated metal slat ventilators all serve to make one feel diminished, inconsequential, and exposed.

When it’s calm elsewhere, like in Newton, Natick, or Weston, the wind barrels through the grounds of the prison with persistent force. An additional punishment. When a light breeze graces my leafy suburb, a harsh wind scours MCI/Framingham. There’s no logic to it. Just like there’s no logic to a mother of three being handed a mandatory term of five years for committing a crime of poverty.

More than the glint of sun on barbed wire coils, more than the assessing looks of officers garbed in blue, more than the drab disrepair of the old building, the wind reminds us where we are and that we are exposed, lonely, inconsequential. I get to leave. They do not.

I know nothing of another worker there except that she loves to fly kites. She shared this as we were crossing the yard that separates the old building from the new, a place where the wind blasts as if down a desert canyon. This personal disclosure seemed not so much evoked by the wind as blown out of her. The wind demanded it. Her sharing reminded me of an abandoned burger wrapper that after several tugs of air gets lifted into a current and carried an uncanny distance.

I don’t know what the wind does to the souls of the inmates.

One woman who had the chore of cleaning dead pigeons out of the old building’s rafters mentioned ghosts, at which point I made the rather stunning observation that it had never occurred to me to imagine what the place felt like after nightfall. She heard howling. She speculated about spirits.

*. *. *.

These paragraphs were from torn pages found in a casual file in the basement over the weekend. Most of it was about the frustrations of serving inmates when I didn’t have much to offer them.

Aid to Incarcerated Mothers’ primary mission was to arrange visits between children and their inmate mothers. The prison, notably, is located about thirty minutes from where most of the incarcerated women came from. I was the staff attorney for a while and reviewed petitions to terminate parental rights and social worker plans and I can’t remember what else.

I vastly preferred being in a medium security women’s prison to working in a posh law firm, that I do remember. That and how the women kidded me for looking like a soccer mom (I didn’t have kids yet).

Spring is near

The rake is cold in my hands, the absence of gloves testament to how often a gardening task happens without forethought.

I hear my oft-repeated assertions of the last several weeks: “I’m not gardening this year. I’m just not.” If there was a sound track for a husband’s eye rolling, I’d insert it here.

Every year, the satisfactions make themselves known and why do I forget? — the soothing rhythm of movement, the visible results, the smell of dirt.

Yes, lots of plants have suffered lately, particularly newly planted shrubs, making investments rather less than ideal. Will it be mind-meltingly hot again this year? Will the body find itself pleading with the heavens for rain?

I could spend an entire summer caring for what’s here and filling a few containers with annuals. I think that’s what I mean by “not gardening.”

We’re supposed to get some more snow, a right nor’easter heading toward the Cape, heavy accumulation predicted for west and south of here. So after I cleared the sedum of dead leaves, I thought the better of it and slid back a protective layer. They’re hardy buggers, but still.

I think Finn can smell the storm coming.

The sky already wears its snowstorm grey.

And we have snowstorm-worthy leftovers for today.

Finn barks. The day calls.

Tidbits on the Irish and Black people

Did you know that Frederick Douglass traveled to Ireland to fund raise for the abolitionist cause? And it got awkward because the people with money were the landed gentry — the Protestants, many with AngloSaxon roots — while he, as a member of an oppressed group, identified with the poor Catholics.

I learned this in a fantastic book by Irish writer Colum McCann entitled, Transatlantic.

Boston is a very racist city with a shameful past, particular around bussing. It hurts me (somewhere below the collarbones) to think about it. It’s getting worse, with hate groups on the rise, giving credence to something I heard Robin DiAngelo say in an interview* today and that is that we’ve reverted to a pre-Civil Rights state here in America.

Back in the early nineties, when I was a lot younger and also a lot stupider about matters of race, my Black boss, who was from Mississippi, said she experienced more racism in Boston than where she grew up. At the time I was inclined to think that hyperbole.

No more.

* podcast: Bossed Up, Feb 2021 episode

Thanks, Ellen and Doris for providing reference (here are my listening tips: 1) fast forward through four minutes of ads and intros at the outset and 2) if you have been thinking about anti-racism, you can maybe skip the first fifteen minutes (or listen at 1.5 speed, which is what I did)).

Notes from April 2021

Indulge me. Otherwise where will all these passages live? I randomly opened a writing group notebook and found this prompt response. I may do more of this.

Not that you need to know to appreciate my response, but these words were written about six months after my brother’s hemorrhagic stroke. The novel mentioned is Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam.

Who’s to say why the coagulation goes awry and what shoves the blob skyward to lung or brain? I don’t mean chemistry, but rather destiny.

Flannery O’Connor said anyone with a childhood has enough to write about for a lifetime. Two things: what if you don’t remember is one, the other is had she lived past 39 would the assertion have held?

Next up: a novel written about end times. A white couple in their forties rents a house from a Black couple in their sixties. The initial conflict centers on sympathetic flexibility — to exercise it or not — toward the Black couple. One of the younger characters in defense of helping them out keeps repeating, because they’re so old.

I’m so old. What an unexpected place to land critiquing a novel.

The radiology tech ticks through her questions: surgeries, Jewish genes, forebears with breast cancer. No. No. No. The final No gets an asterisk — none of my forebears having lived long enough. Same regarding hip fractures.

Without looking back (to childhood), what is there to say? My socks are damp. I hear a truck passing on Route 9. For some reason, my ears are ringing. What’s for lunch?

If I wrote an end times novel, the first floor would fill with water and the deer would swim all the way to Worcester to claim higher ground. Wouldn’t we be clever, crafting a boat out of an armoire, diving into the pantry to claim all those cans of beans and a can opener. He did scuba. I can sew. Does anything ensure survival?

The water froze on Saturday. A beautiful skim of ice not welcome or expected in the white ceramic pot outside where it awaits spring annuals.

Beautiful, cheerful, colorful spring annuals. Let the adjectives march off a cliff after I fill my pot. I want the thing instead of its description.

One child gets the bum thyroid, another my soft teeth. Their father imparted a singular disinclination to converse.

Check the bloods! Get the teeth polished! This week I learned that most hip fractures are from falling sideways.

It still knocks me back to hear my doctor ask, “Have you sustained any fractures that you know of?”

Husband and I would paddle out the second story window and collect the neighborhood cats, relieved that at least we wouldn’t have to listen to children screaming at the nearby playground anymore. The school and its surround submerged.

So much of privilege comes down to being able to effectively manage one’s annoyances.

Raucous, repetitious, grating. Adjectives that speak to the inability to control things.

Last week, I said to the Dive Master, “We’ve got a screamer this year. First period.” I blame the teachers.

He hasn’t donned a scuba mask in years and most of my sewing is of decorative items. Make a top why don’t you? Cover the goddamned ripped chair?

Marshaling skills in non-income producing venues is another sign of privilege.

Soon I shall reduce myself, not to a fine, ineluctable syrup, dense with flavor and mystery, but to apology. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.

Everything is happening at once. The reefs dying off, the burning of the West, forests under stress. And here we are twiddling our thumbs as if we had all the time in the world.

I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.

Destructive, greedy, corrupt or willfully blind. Those adjectives feel necessarily to name what gets in the way.

Not to be too reductive. But it’s white men, specifically Republicans.

Chomsky called the GOP ‘the most destructive organization on the planet.’

Noun — GOP. Adjective — destructive. We get tired, all of us, tracking the damage. The clot gathering density, the vein about to collapse and send blood northward, glacial ice one-fourth the size of Rhode Island letting loose.

I got cold. Put on a sweater. My feet feel dry now. Sometimes that’s all we have — the noticing of damp, the preference for non-damp, and the gratitude for dry socks.

Shadows and poems

Muscular and assertive shadows with claims to the olden days. Wisteria.

Shadows that process.

A delicate shadow that refuses your judgment.

Shadows warmed by wood.

A shadow with secrets.

A bevy of shadows? Or perhaps a parliament. No, a convocation!

Happy Monday all! We walked out with Finn this morning, flexible in our gear. Hats on, hats off, gloves on, gloves off. Langley windy, as usual. Warmed up by the bottom of the Cypress slope, as usual. We feel spring arrive through the lens of habit and garments. Finn sleeps now. Pooped.