“Hope is in what is given not what is taken. We are forced to find precious what is near.”
“Hope is in what is given not what is taken. We are forced to find precious what is near.”
All the junk that goes with being human — the sweaty parts, the sour refusals, jealousies ocean-sized and petty, the worm of veins as aging wears out the body. We try, though, don’t we? We try to manage expectations, to overcome the vast array of annoyances, to face our fears as we watch the burning hellscape that is America.
To get up and fight.
It might be our turn to fall. If so, it won’t be from from hubris, but from a toxic blend of corrupt greed and epic stupidity. Plus Facebook. While Oleg Deripaska funds aluminum plants in Kentucky, a passel of white people in Pennsylvania storms Target yelling about their freedom not to wear masks.
Outside, a pounding — perhaps a new deck for a neighbor? Maple leaves ruffle in the wind. They will crisp and yellow and before long, fall and litter the fence line. How do your hold your suffering? With what secret thoughts or unsustainable compromises? Winter, as has been said, is coming.
By the time the neighbor’s new deck is nailed together and stained and holding chairs and company, the election will be upon us. The massive efforts to steal it, already in motion. If only this… if only that… How to do enough?
How many things have you lost of late? What of them matter? Where does Hope dwell in your body?
I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg would want us to hold fast to Hope with a ferocity past all reason. Don’t you?
Prompt: write for five minutes about all the junk that goes with being human.
Can’t tell if this is a rant or a lament. That may be evidence that I badly need to get out of the house and go camping or it may signal something about this extraordinary age. Probably both.
That’s when I got the idea about sleeping out in the forest: pine needle pillow; pricks of stars visible through the jagged, vertical pines; shadows. Hoots and cricks, some scary, some soothing but all better than the eternal thrum of the AC system and its chill result. What are we? Slabs of meat in the walk-in cooler waiting for the sous chef to grab and fry? The heat knows no bounds. Or at least, previous bounds exceeded. 90, 91, 95, 97. Even the dog gets tired after a block.
I drape my bra on the back of my chair — convention set aside. Where am I going anyway? I can speak to a neighbor at the lot line with my arms across my chest.
The deck at night offers no alternative because of all the AC generators littering yards nearby, thrumming into action at regular intervals. Plus traffic two blocks over. You don’t hear traffic in the daylight because of all the suburban sounds of improvement and maintenance — yawing, sawing, polishing, blowing, hammering, trimming, and trucks, trucks, trucks.
The place of my birth always lies to the north or west. Where I write in community in August quite nearly on top of my birth town and so the geography speaks to home as little else can. When no single school, no single neighborhood, not one state, even, claims your history, let the rolling hills and the clinging mists at dawn speak to home. Those hills. Old, old mountains. Not the majesty of young upstarts like the Rockies, but the soothing ancient rolls of tree-covered dirt and stone. That’s where I’d like to sleep.
After a long solitary walk away from the conference center’s line of Adirondack chairs. A creeping fear of bears. A constant look-out for the bite of a tick. Scraping through damp grasses until shadow and branch take over. What happened to our primitive selves — the musculature of the hunt, the wary nervous systems of vigilance?
We’ve been scrambled. First by too many interior hours, then by a wicked remove from food sources and now by the glowing blue light of our devices. How many sleepless nights do I succumb to the news feed — holding the phone above my head, working my arm a little, my thumb a lot, knowing the whole while that I’m entering an insomniac’s hell — a damnation so complete that it might keep me awake until the early doves start calling out to each other and the passerines twitter with their timeless chatter. If the eyes manage to close at three, the continued scroll under the eyelids represents a modern form of torture — not just for the delivery system with its pituitary-disturbing glare, but because of the tsunami of terrifying content.
We are fourteen Reichstag fires into the creation of a fascist state. We are frogs, boiled, boiled, boiled. We are pretend pundits, all, twittering our outrage in fear and pretend hope that something, ANYTHING, we do might forestall the total collapse of the Republic.
How much, then, I might prefer the clicking rattle of a venomous snake or the crackling approach of a large mammal to lying in bed in the glare of news. Dying riddled with poison or after being mauled by a bear, alone and in pain, somehow more right than the accretion of damage to our nervous systems wrought by today and tomorrow’s political fuckery, which of course is not merely political, but personal. DID 1970’S RADICAL FEMINISM TEACH US NOTHING?
So okay, those circles of advocacy were hideously, egregiously white, but now here we are all, arms extended to any and all who would prefer liberty, or let’s say “so-so democracy,” to kleptocracy, hoping to grab each other and sing, not unlike the yellow-shirted moms in Portland trying to protect protesters with their bodies, which is what good moms have always done — tried to protect their young with their bodies. Look how they turn the BLM chant into a lullaby — “hands up, please don’t shoot” — knowing how the nasty, cameo-clad soldiers must not be angered and really, must be soothed.
I’ll sue, you’ll sue, the AG’ll sue, the ACLU will sue — but the delays and the chances of meeting a radical, unqualified right winger on the bench grow by the minute. We’re frogs. We’re boiled. Our organs are near to exploding.
Let me walk, therefore, barefoot on rocks still warm with summer sun and risk disturbing a rattlesnake. Let me enter the deep, cool shade of the forest and lie down there as the sky inks black. Let me be surrounded by the old sounds, even if bringing ancient fear with them. Let me lay my head in the bracken ferns, aware that I crush a few fronds for my comfort, but prepared to do so to save my soul.
In the spirit of learning through imitation, here’s something written after reading three pages from Jamaica Kincaid’s “At the Bottom of the River.” As promised, it’s pretty stream of consciousness.
There’s the book about indigo, the one about slavery, one called, “Unexplained Presence.” If you could explain anything you would. You know you can’t, but the trouble is you keep trying. A fan in a summer window whirrs, more to block out a roofing crew than to cool the hallway.
All hallways connect one thing to another.
Remember how little Markie crawled up the stairs and his brother trailed behind, exclaiming, “You’re a good climber-upper!” Stairs connect up to down, the present to the past.
With all the molecules swapped out since our babies were learning to walk, we might as well be different people. That’s supposed to make us feel better — scientific evidence that we are not, after all, stuck. But what of all the unread books? The tome about journalism highlighting Ida B. Wells or the new massive biography of Frederick Douglass? You don’t even take the time to reread his Fourth of July speech.
You go, instead, to the rocky shore looking for talismans, hoping to be refreshed because the evidence in hand suggests that you are indeed stuck.
The man’s forearms still lovely, still eager for son. You write ‘progeny son’ instead of ‘solar sun’ and give the game away. Our issue, 1,000’s of miles away, having left, and left again. Airports foreclosed for now. Even a run to the PO to mail care packages means defying the odds. Contagion everywhere, anywhere.
If you look at the lozenge of of light on the floor, what do you actually see? The puddles of gold like stepping stones from here to sleep.
At the shore, you gather palm-sized rocks, silently condemning the neighbor who fills his truck and fills it again to line his long driveway with Pebble Beach artifacts. Your offense is so small by comparison, three rocks in the pocket, but the impulse is the same.
A mist came in. The surf crashed in brownish rolls. We could smell the kelp. We could smell the brine. All the smells, stepping stones to the past.
Remember when Thacher Island light houses bellowed out their caution on days like this? If they were to do so now, I might weep. And why don’t they now?
The sandals are left in the car. The espadrilles get sandy and, because of recent downpours, muddy, too. We used to come here as children, as families, as the last of the boomers, ready to accept all as our due and then reject the same with ideology, entitled rage, and dirty espadrilles.
We were too young to protest the war. As Saigon fell, I was taking my boyfriend by the hand, lying him down, unbuckling him. We were too young to go to Woodstock. We watched the reels wistfully, knowing all the songs. We missed the mud. The dirty hair. Jimi Hendrix before he died.
We protested Three Mile Island instead. We made ‘Take Back the Night’ banners instead. How many forthright and righteous women does it take to bring down a single, lying predator — twenty, thirty? And maybe not even then.
I put the thieved, striped rocks in the garden where they can talk to others of their kind. ‘I was stolen from the beach. How ’bout you?’ ‘I long for the sound of the surf, for the sound of the fog horn, for the sound of children scrambling with their plastic pails and sunburned shoulders.’
Sunburns no more! Lighthouses silent!
When the sun illuminates a long string of cobweb draped from ceiling molding to light fixture, it’s hard not to gasp. How long, exactly, has it hung there?
How long had the creepy pair lured girls to the massage table? Why do we call her a ‘madam’ or ‘socialite’ and why do we call him anything but ‘convicted sex offender’? She turned up in New Hampshire, not Zurich, not the Upper East Side. She thought her money would shield her.
Will she live long enough to tell her dirty secrets?
The muddy espadrilles resist the bleach, refusing to be spiffed up. Now the toss away shoes cost unreasonable sums — formerly priced like upgraded flip flops, now like a mid-level shoe.
No foghorn blare. The mist a fine spray. We were refreshed. The dog always between us. Pebbles rattling in the backwash of surf like we remember. All the rock tokens. The light puddled on the floor. Hallways and staircases leading somewhere. Recalling the toddler proud of his new velcro sneakers. “Here, Markie, chew on these!” Those were the days when the little one put everything in his mouth, chewed banisters and socks. Memory like a plaintive foghorn, marking out where the invisible island lies.
The roofers bang the shingles in place.
A prompt response to “get me out of here.”
Short version — life sucks, but there are pockets of joy.
1) Horse hair lath. Dust of decades. Darkness. I scrabble away. Can anyone hear my frantic efforts?
2) The leg, it is broken. The well, it is dry. I watch the sun fall off the rim of the stone like it’s the end of the world.
3) I cannot see myself in the mirror. He has smudged me out with benign disregard. “Oh,” he says, “I didn’t tell you?”
4) The legs crowd my relief. Chairs, staid and those that rock, ladies feet, socked and shoed. Get me out of here!
5) Twelve at the table. Eating. Pass this. Pass that. Nine people tied for saying nothing.
6) It would’ve been funny if it weren’t tragic. Abominations launched. Lies tolerated and worse. Quick! Change the channel.
7) In the dusty cellar, the ten year old clutches the Bible recently purchased at a flea market for ten cents. Fifty years later she wonders, ‘do fallen Catholics have any protection during tornadoes?’
8) Sandy wore pigtails, ate her boogers, and laughed at all her father’s dumb jokes. ‘Will childhood never end,’ her brother wants to know.
9) Ronnie slobbered because of cerebral palsy. Ronnie leaned in for a fourth grade kiss. Wet. His mother where? Sandy called home. Her mother would not come.
10) At the will signing, Jennifer thought her head would pop off in panic. ‘Was it the business of witnessing,’ her therapist later asked.
11) Brad sat in the corner of the lodge, cold French fries on a plate, his wrist broken. His mother couldn’t be reached.
12) The uncle that declares ugly predictions as if doing a service. “Most don’t live for more than three years,” he opined. Her father’s staples not even out.
13) There’s Robert De Niro acting as if he’s a young thug. Only problem is, he’s got an old body. Is this ever gonna end?
14) Herculean restraint collapses and spite retaliates agains the crazy that is her sister. The silent tolerance never credited.
15) It’s 10:30 am. Her boys have been rocketing around the house since before six. Time is a liar — surely it’s dinner time?
16) She wept by the tomb, her blue robes darkened by tears. Three days is a long time to wait.
17) And behind that rock? Waiting, why exactly? Was God the Father brewing up some special elixir to elevate His Son or was the Holy Ghost off on a distracting mission in Egypt, perhaps, or Mongolia?
18) Even 47 minute masses are too long.
19) Why not give them sacks of grain? The potato blight did not cause catastrophic death and emigration anywhere else in Europe. Genocide, an old game.
20) What was her name — the girl in the well? Now we remember the scuba diver who didn’t make it out trying to save that trapped soccer team.
21) ‘Get me out of here,’ thought every single one of those boys. How polite their desperation!
22) Hamburger grease and twitter thumbs do not go well together. Can no one stop the man?
23) All the saviors fall down. They, too, might as well be trapped in a damp cave in Thailand with a flooded egress. We holler and holler for their help when they are the ones in need of rescue.
24) Can no one stop the man?
25) Traffic on the Bourne Bridge crawled to an absolute halt. There was no way out. An existential crisis. Would Jennifer eventually slide forward past the narrow rails and be reborn. Get it?
26) If I count to ten or a hundred will it go away? If I count to ten or a hundred will I go away? If I count to ten or a hundred and vanish, who will I be after?
27) The Committee chairs bored even themselves. Why keep talking?
28) The partner in the corner office humiliated her with a guffaw at a department lunch. Much later Jennifer will rail out loud: “I’d rather be a decent person than a good lawyer.” Fucking boilerplate!
29) Interminable wait. Wooden benches. Dead, hostile faces at the counter. 84. Oh god, I’m 110.
30). Wait for it. Wait for it. She’s still waiting for it.
31) Her apartment smells rank — a vile combo of garbage and urine. There are so many boxes and piles of crap everywhere, there’s no where to sit. ‘Did I want to watch CSI-Los Angeles reruns?’ she asks as if everything was normal.
32) At some point, we all shed the body.
Finally, well, there is no finally — just strings of intolerable moments punctuated by sweet spring air, a perfect omelet, the well-timed embrace, passionate release, the just-right pocketbook, friendships that endure, a cool glass of bubbly water on the deck in July with a good book, oak trees that rattle all winter, catalpas that litter the ground with orchids in spring, the devotion of dogs, the quirky affection of cats, a difficult catch made, dancing into remembrance, the blues, rock and roll, the sound of pounding surf, the smell of pounding surf, foaming surf on ankles and knees, a dip in the cold Atlantic, his clever wit, my laughter, your beauty, purple shadows on snow, the old dog relaxing in his bed at last.