Category Archives: prompt responses

The Gilded Age with Hangers

Can I eat this? Will I survive eating this?

Rihanna in her pregnant glory, aglitter. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a toned-down red satin gown with famous women embroidered along the hem. Say their names: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt. Blake Lively makes a satiny ascent, waterfalls of silk trailing behind her.

And the men! My favorite was the one who looked like a pirate — tall black boots, a string holding up his pants. I can’t think of his name. The young man with lavender hair and ruffled collar was yummy too — setting off discussions about male manicures.

At the very moment Glenn Close exploded onto the red carpet in day-glo pink, someone in the hallowed halls of justice leaked a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

Can I eat dissonance? Will I survive this? Will our daughters?

Repeat after me: a Christo-fascist state. Learn to say it. We now have a court that isn’t even political, it’s fucking religious.

Instead of calling right-wing stunts “performative nonsense,” how about calling them acts of terrorism? Wiping out two districts of Black voters in Florida, letting billions of dollars of food rot at the border just to make his opponent look bad, creating criminal penalties for doctors performing abortions.

I want to go back to an era when watching guests at the Met Gala is an exercise in petty judgment. Who looks fabulous, who looks ridiculous, where do we find the best cleavage and the ritziest jewels?

There wasn’t time for anyone to design a gown out of wire hangers. There wasn’t time for women to attach bloody ribbons to their lace.

If justice exists in the sky, can we coach her to come lower, to re-establish domains in Appalachia, in Houston, Miami, and the Ozarks? The fact that they surrounded the pillared halls of justice with fencing this morning tells you something.

But maybe we should skip the pink hats this time and work the phones instead. Waltham, the next town over, is sponsoring a protest tonight and I feel tired just thinking about it. I’ve been to two there already — one in support of releasing the Mueller Report and I can’t remember the other.

She can’t remember all the protests she went to under trump’s reign.

Can our hunger for justice outweigh every roadblock? Can it blow like Hurricane Andrew, taking out entire neighborhoods of anti-women strategies and policies, moods and feelings? I hope maintaining majorities in the House and Senate isn’t too much to ask for.

I turned twenty in Dublin. At the time, contraception was illegal there, abortion was outlawed, of course, and homophobia institutionalized. How Catholic, I thought. How medieval. Never in a million years did I think the day would come when Ireland was more progressive than America.

And what about the now-fully-ensconced Justices’ lies before Congress — and yes, that’s Justices’ with an “s apostrophe” because three of them lied to get their seats. Oh yes, Roe is established precedent. Oh yes, we follow precedent.

Riz Ahmed — that’s the actor’s name. One booted foot on the step above, crotch to the camera — pure, natural swagger. Unlike that other pirate, bloated and lacking his eyeliner. I can’t even absorb the story about the latter, but it infiltrates everywhere. The formerly gorgeous Johnny Depp looking like a bad batch of muffins in a suit. That dumb pony tail.

We all get old, but did we have to witness a time when our daughters have fewer rights than we did? I was in high school in 1973, on the verge of so much bed-hopping — maniacal about birth control as I was careless about everything else. I was spared the need for a procedure, but almost everyone I knew in college — or let’s say 2/3’s of everyone I knew — had a pregnancy terminated. Safely. Not without trauma, mind, but none of what was difficult arose from infection or fear of dying.

The Gilded Age was the Met Gala’s theme this year. The idea of robber barons is particularly hard to take at this moment in history. Five white American men possess more wealth than the bottom 60%. Or is it 80%? I don’t know — ask Robert Reich. Whatever it is, it’s obscene.

But we want our celebrities. Sparkling stilettos and borrowed diamonds on bodies lovely and distant, unattainable and yet, due to the nature of film, also somehow ours. Belonging to us.

Is God punishing us? If so, for what crime? What sin?

*. *. *.

PS I cannot figure out how to turn off comments for a single post so let’s just act as though I have? The topic has already taken enough out of me for now.

A Ghost and a Villanelle

 

I’d temporarily forgotten that February 13 was the date my mother died until last night when a photo of her and my father tipped over for no apparent reason. Hi Mom!

Coming down the stairs for coffee this morning, it struck me that perhaps all the missing blog photos in the year 2009 can be chalked up to my sister. That’s the year she came back into my life after a nearly ten-year hiatus and inserted doom into my daily fare. Is that you Noreen? Not quite done fucking with me? If so, nice prank.

Enough of that. It’s Valentine’s Day and so I offer you a Valentine’s Day poem. A couple of weeks ago, my Thursday class writing teacher gave the villanelle as a prompt. One very famous example of the form is the Dylan Thomas poem, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

Valentine

Love lost, love found. It’s one big ocean.
We fold our clothes, we make our meals.
Spelling care with simple acts, there is no commotion.

You  may envy the grand gestures of devotion.
Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Isolde hold appeal.
Love lost, love found. It’s one big ocean.

Do not gather relics and affix labels like some sort of museum docent.
Tidy the house, run one another’s errands and reveal that when
Spelling care with simple acts, there is no commotion.

Don’t keep a tally of sums, multipliers, and quotients,
Lest your feelings harden, wither, or congeal.
Love lost, love found. It’s one big ocean.

Remember the pleasure of the bow, the box, the gift well-chosen
Let that ripple outward with warm appeal.
Spelling care with simple acts, there is no commotion.

And you my dear mate, through the ups and downs of fortune
Have taught me patience and rubbed my heels.
Love lost, love found. It’s one big ocean.
Spelling care with simple acts, there is no commotion.

The white underwing

I happed upon this image just before a writing session. Here’s most of what I wrote.

Up, anxious, sitting on the pot. Above the bathroom curtain’s ruffle, I can see a section of the night sky. A wedge of moon travels above Linshaw’s roof and into the netted shadows of their massive copper beech.

That tree, part sentinel, part cautionary tale, is hundreds of years old. It was a sapling during the small pox epidemic of the late 1700’s. It grabbed sky in one direction and earth in the other when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Horses and a stream wandered nearby.

The beech was bigger yet at the Emancipation Proclamation. By the time of the Spanish flu perhaps the twin trunks had established themselves.

The white planked house is old too, but not nearly as old as the tree. I like to think that old Abraham Jackson sited the foundation with due regard for the tree, a tree which was still in its youth but already punctuating his property with its mighty grace.

The moon in her delicate variety is older yet, so old that a different scale of time is required. The coal-to-diamond scale. The asteroid-encounter scale.

All I can think about during my brief viewing of the night sky is how insular I’ve become. A life apart from the wonder of puddles and their up-side-down worlds. Apart from trout and hummingbirds. Apart from the cleansing sweep of cold night air in the lungs.

Oh I go outside, but my walks with the dog are more like mail delivery than adventure. Making the rounds. A chance to take stock of all the closed blinds and to wonder why so few structures ever show any signs of life.

When I lived on the other side of the state in the Berkshires all I had to do was raise my head off the pillow and gaze out my eastern window to be transported. Sheep’s Heaven Mountain. The mountain’s name whispered: time passes, time passes. Not that long ago the wooded hill was bare and dotted with sheep.

Here the horizon is rooved. One neighbor painted their house a bright yellow this year. At first I wondered about their choice but today I look out and its yolky warmth is welcome in all the grey.

All the grey can dull the senses. Maybe that’s why the news photo of a snowy owl in Washington, DC captivated me this morning. She’d made her way south from her usual haunts. She could be yet another signal of the drastic climate change we’re all so busily — in one way or another — trying to ignore.

But when I spy her fluffed up against the cold atop a statue of Themis, a figure representing freedom and justice, I like to think she stands for something else. That she augurs change. I like to think that when she lifts her wings and reveals their white undersides, we are meant to notice and in noticing, act.

I don’t believe the arc of the moral universe necessarily bends toward justice. There are too many ways we can fail. But this bird perched on the head of a goddess carrying the sword of justice lets me think we have a chance. A chance to make things right. A chance to live up to our promise and to atone for our sins. Not because I say so, but because a solitary owl, mysterious and commanding, has told me so.

Boots, deck, and a poem

The boxes arrive like secrets
waiting to be heard. The beauty
of forgetting. Memory herded and
exploited the stuff of scholars,
but let’s not neglect the joy
of a blurred-out past. What
did I order, exactly?

The slicing of tape like
ripping cloth. One violent jerk
with a blade. Last time I jabbed
my thumb and bled all over
the fur of my new boots before
I knew of the wound. Some
injuries come like that, stealthily,
all consequence and no memory
of impact.

The time before there was
no blood, just mystery. What
did I order, exactly?

Opening, remembering
— a pre-ordered deck.
The American Renaissance
Tarot
. It winks in promise.
Remember? Remember?

It is still a stranger to me,
this collection of 78 cards
but already I thrill to
its character – American,
not Egyptian, not medieval
European. Say it again,
the breath rising, cresting,
enunciating with the power
of recognition, four syllables:

A-mer-i-can.

There’s Harriet Tubman!
Edgar Allan Poe! Oh, and
look, Moby Dick and Frederick
Douglass. One figure
teaches a young Black boy
to read, another upholds
a sacred root. Hawthorne,
Stowe, Harriet Jacobs. They’re calling
to me and they’re calling me
home.

Hello. Been writing a lot and editing even more and they somehow take away from showing up here.

We got a little snow last night. The cooler temps make it seem like December. Almost nothing else does. More on that in the next days.

 

Joy Harjo and Ted Lasso — what?

We are still America.
We know the rumors of our demise.
We spit them out.
They die soon. 
U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo

I gave this Harjo quote to my writing friends on Tuesday as a prompt. Below is my response. If you haven’t watched Ted Lasso, perhaps don’t bother because it’s a lot about that show. Also, if you haven’t finished Season TWO — warning! There are spoilers!

*   *   *

“To face a crowd,” she instructs, “lift your arms while breathing in.” She demonstrates. “Make yourself big!” The statuesque club-owner talking to the littlest of the coaches. When he tries, he finds the technique useless. He cannot make himself bigger. Instead, he spits at the mirror. Somehow, that works. Spit, plus an e, equals spite, we soon learn.

All the happy transformations and  mini-redemptions, which are sometimes big redemptions, somehow are lost on Nate the Great, the littlest coach. He turns into Nate the Snape. It doesn’t matter that his burning resentments are misplaced — clearly father-induced — they flare into betrayal anyway. He digs himself into a hole so deep that no rope ladder of apology can help him exit.

But we know, we wise viewers, that our hero, head coach Lasso, previously portrayed as being able to bridge every chasm with folksy stories, genuine humility, and a radical capacity to apologize, doesn’t try very hard at the critical moment with Nate, now does he?

And, pshaw, when the final scene of Season Two shows Nate formerly the Great on the sidelines of the nemesis team, we know the failure was a gimmick and it disappoints as gimmicks always do.

Nevertheless, we look to Lasso, a man of the moment, somehow. If only there were stories appealing enough, humility genuine enough, and apologies transformative enough to bridge the flaming chasm that divides America. I don’t think there are. We’re at Stage Nine or Ten on the way to tyranny, the stage where truth no longer matters. Post truth is pre-fascism. It comes after the stage of simplistically and hatefully vilifying the other. Lock her Up! Build the Wall! As one pundit put it, we’re not debating the efficacy of vaccines or masks, we’re debating whether truth matters or not.

So before trying to spit out the notion that we are in free-fall decline, I must first spit on epic, destructive stupidity. SPIT. Yes, it’s the racism, stupid, but it’s also the stupidity, stupid! I must spit on greedy corporatism infecting governance. SPIT. On lying. And more lying. I mean Satan-level lying. SPIT. And on stupidity again — willful stupidity, as in I did my own research on Facebook, and corrupt stupidity as in a climate-crisis denier opining in Congress, ain’t it better for agriculture if it’s warm? Yuck. Yuck. SPIT.

The rumors of our demise are so well-founded, how do I spit them away?

Magic not saliva might be required. A national exorcism. Starting with the Former Liar in Chief followed by Fox News, which leads me to note, by the way, that the step on the road to tyranny about the state taking over the levers of the press would not be required on our path to damnation, not as long as idiots like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham drip nightly poison to huge adoring crowds.

We are still America. Still riven by race. Still tainted by the original sins of genocide and slavery. Our exceptionalism always dwelt in pools of blood and now it also depends on the masses being ignorant. George Carlin knew as much decades ago when he joked, they WANT you to be uneducated.

List of the vilified: intelligence, climate science, disease science, science, science, science, eloquence, the separation of church and state, women, women, women, especially women in positions of power.

Therefore, I can only spit on the rumors of our demise as a supreme act of faith.

An act of faith.
An act of faith.

If only Paul Bunyan could come back as Ted Lasso and stomp from state to state applying his special brand of seeing the other, meeting the other, transforming the other. Not, certainly not, Mitt Romney in the signature cardigan and a plastered-on mustache which, by the way made him look more like Hitler than the humble coach, kneeling in a sickening gimmick, making an offering to the flourescent-pink-garbed Sinema.

SHE’s spitting on America.

Can I spit back before exorcizing the sense of inevitable demise of our Republic?

An act of faith. Into the ground my weary disdain, my frothy pessimism. Pattoowie.

 

new recording 16

Recording, if it works, gawd I’m a dolt — is four minutes forty six seconds.