How to Choose a Future, Line by Line: A Work in Progress

Inspired by the painting that Wikipedia used yesterday on its homepage, on President Barack Obama’s last day.

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“Hope” George Frederic Watts, 1886

 

There have always been moments

Like this: the whole world a weeping

Woman, half-collapsed, up to her knees

In tears for our unborn futures.

 

There/like/woman/in: blah

Moments/weeping/knees/future: so-so

good enough start; carry on.

In 1886, my great-grandparents chose

 

(or turned?) (Look this up; give context;

History is personal and political:

The sweat of a single brow, the blood

Of thousands soaking a nation’s fields)

 

Since then, the vote and indoor plumbing:

Yes, all that. But also, a nuclear arsenal

In the small idle hands of a man

With neither conscience nor safeguards.

 

And so, this lyre–all strings but one long since

Broken, washed away in these salt waves,

The tears of my people, my tears–

And all the air above this musician

 

Awaiting the quiet note still to come perhaps

From this final trembling audacious

String and the transformation

That may yet follow its music.

NaNoWriMo: Nation over Novel

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So yesterday I was struggling to write a blogpost about how we need to vote to avoid turning this country into an English-speaking version of 1930s Italy or Germany, how if we fail our country now, we are both figuratively and literally screwed, all our buried racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, all our buried shit will come up from where it has been buried for so long and will be turned into public policy.

I am a student of history. I know how that sort of thing turns out.

And I was trying to write this, I found it easier to write about writing, something neutral and safe. But I am a writer and I cannot stay neutral and safe. Yesterday on Facebook, I put out a post saying this:

“Well, even if Wednesday does not begin with a hail of jackboots, we have our work cut out for us trying to unfuck this country from its toxic political discourse and the reality of recharged institutional oppressions. Where do we even begin?”

And while many of my friends focused on my (apparently) original use of the verb “unfuck,” my old friend Jack Reynolds wrote the following:

“Where to begin? Create things of beauty; art, music, poetry, food. Step out of comfort zones with small acts of kindness, not random unplanned ones but something to do everyday. Smile. Tell a joke. Give compliments. Break bread (gluten free if needed) with others and find out what makes them tick. As Dan Berrigan once said “Lets tell the truth to each other and see what happens.” Make community. Don’t search for it, make it or it’ll never happen. Smile. Take quiet time and not take ourselves too serious. Take others seriously. Be grateful for any and all things that are beautiful and unearned and are gifts. I heard a sailor say that you can’t control the wind but you can control the sail.”

He is wise.

So I thought I would write a poem to give us hope, because I seriously believe that this is a huge part of what art is for. So this is my offering to you and to God and whatever other gods might be out there: for sanity and liberty and the hope that this country stands for.

Election Eve, November 7, 2016

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

 

The moon is half-and-half tonight, like

A mitzpah coin holding out its promise:

That this is not some space-opera dystopia,

Where the creepy demagogue wanna-be

Is going to shoot down the moon, leave

All our tides raging out of control, our seas

Washing their bloody waves, troughing through

Our silent, ravaged, grey cities. No. Never.

 

The moon will remain to govern all our tides,

Those of water, those of blood: like clockwork.

The shining silver half-coin will grow to full,

Showing that we shall be together, not long hence,

With what this country was always meant to be:

The melted alloy of many elements, the gift given,

The promise kept: that we are stronger together,

And together we can heal all the broken pieces.

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And again, Robert comes through…

In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For Balance. The ability to stand on one foot, on a tightrope, and juggle AR-15s, ethics and dollar bills, while chanting the U.S. Constitution, in tongues. Or good health. Unweighted dreams. A mechanism for disagreeing without needing to annihilate the opposition. […]

via In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For — O at the Edges

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St. Patrick’s Day Concerns

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That moment when you look in your closet

For the only green shirt you own and even

Consider wearing all red and hoping to run into someone

Colorblind. That daft hope that someone, anyone

Will say, “Top of the morning to you!” just

So you can reply, “And the rest of the day to you!”

That memory of being able to wear a green sweater

To school instead of the uniform cranberry, because

Irish Americans are exactly that weird and yes, we did

Go to Catholic school. That craving for corned beef,

With or without the cabbage and Guinness. That dread

Of someone spelling it St. Patty’s as if the bishop was

Named Patricia. That memory of the one single time

You ever drank green beer, and that quizzical look

People give you when you have a Polish last name.

 

Illustration by Sandra Boynton.

A Made Thing before Valentine’s Day

“My Foucault-friend, who is now an ­anthropologist, observes that in the West we tend to think of made things as being false” (Biss).

Anti-Valentines-Day-Metal-Playlist

If the poem I make is a false thing, as made as my house,

As false as your eyelashes that you also made this morning,

As thing-like as your car that falsely carried you

To work yesterday and just as falsely, eventually,

Carried you home last night, then how am I to cultivate

Truth like a garden of earthy, homegrown delights?

 

If my poem, made from words, which presumably also

Have been made, in this case by our ancestors

Who agreed what the grunt would mean, and the hiss

And the slow accumulation of consonants, then how

Can beauty be real, since there too we simply have to

Agree on the symmetry and style of another face?

 

If the song you made from notes just lying around

The universe is false, if the story you told yourself

Of love and loss and, eventually, redemption and love

Again, if that too is made and therefore false, what hope

Do any of us have to find the real thing, the true and

The beautiful thing, the unmade heart beating to ours?

 

Biss, Eula. “‘The Folded Clock,’ by Heidi Julavits.” Review. New York Times. 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Something For an Actor at Winter Solstice

Even in December, your eyes are prodigal

Green like the low and leafy mountains

Of my youth, or variegated green like an autumn

Field that the breeze fingers and the sun flickers

Over, the bright greens of still summer and the faded

Sepia greens of summer drifting away.

 

Lie back as you would adrift on the ocean,

That constantly floating green that wraps the globe

In an embrace of waves constantly, constantly

Ebbing green, flowing green, the flash of sunlight

On the mighty roaring green, the hiss of foam

Like a promise or a kiss. Such greens dazzle

 

This heart, which far away contemplates that one

Distinct gift of the rainbow that light presents us, this time

Through you as you look in this direction, unseeing

But seen, showing all the lively greens—friendship,

Envy, desire and wrath—we come to know through your eyes,

So prodigal green, even in cold December.

Preparing for Christmas in a Changing Climate

plain door wreath 450

Fall has been lingering this year. Normally, cold weather in Boston starts at the beginning of November, and by “cold” I am thinking below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which I begin to consider locating my long Johns. The first (usually uneventful) snowfall tends to be between Thanksgiving and the start of December. Not this year.

I’ve heard people say how “lucky” we’ve been with the mild weather, but in my book if the weather is routinely 20-30 degrees different than the usual temperature not for a day or a week but for (so far) a month and a half, that has got to be a bad sign. It also means that I have had a hard time accepting that Christmas is really on the way. I keep forgetting to pick up the wreath I usually put on the inside of our main door (trees don’t work in a small apartment with a large cat).

 

Now as the high glaciers melt into green

Ocean water, rising, rising, now when we look up

Expecting the water to fall in flakes for hungry tongues,

Now the sky is grey and strangely warm.

 

Unseasonal, that’s what it is. The nights are long

Just as you might expect, but the air lacks crispness,

The blue of the afternoon sky lacks snap. I cannot say

I feel lucky. Even after nine feet of snow in Boston,

 

Which only finally melted six months ago, I fear

What might be coming: either ten feet this winter, or,

Possibly, none at all. Either way we lose. Already

Polar bears are drowning for lack of arctic ice.

 

Already small Pacific islands are losing ground

The way an old man loses hair: a little at a time,

Then all at once. It’s the opposite with the stores,

Switching the candy and hangings from one holiday

 

To the next overnight and at least three weeks early.

I cannot make that transition at all this year. So much

Worry about the Earth, not enough glad tidings.

Too much grey and drear, not enough merry and bright.

 

In the face of this, I force myself to find a small, green

Wreath for the inside of my door, to dangle small golden

Pigs—for abundance—a red bow to remind me to take

The bull by the horns and face the absence of winter

 

And the endless presence of winter, both living in me

As I move through the warming world feeling colder

Now than I ever felt as a child in a snow fort. Courage,

Says the angel in the branches. Embrace hope.