Stolen Goods

I rent. I live in this house with my kids. I don’t cook meth. I don’t have a stash of unsecured guns because I hate guns. And except for occasional loud expletives that escape the mouths of my teenagers, usually in response to a video game, we’re pretty quiet.

Do you notice what I just did? I didn’t write that I have bags under my eyes or that there are cobwebs in some of the corners of the rooms, that this house is messy and there are unpacked boxes in the closet. And I didn’t write that there’s a sparseness to it like its inhabitants are ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

The neighborhood is nice, close to the river and not heavily populated. My landlords are responsive if there’s a problem, which is why a contractor and his small crew came out today to replace a window.

They do their work and just before they are about to leave, a police woman and a city worker show up at the door.

       “Are you the homeowner?

       “Renter” I say.

       “Can we come in?” she asks.

       “Sure.” I say. I’m not very savvy and not a quick thinker.

They come in. A small interrogation happens. Evidently, we have a room full of stolen city property. Road signs. One of the stolen road signs, the STOP sign, was a gift from his aunt and uncle, purchased online and arriving just in time for Christmas a couple years ago. The stolen YIELD sign came from a garage sale in Minneapolis a few years ago. I’m not sure who would take the rap for that. And the stolen street signs were given to Pook in July by the city worker who was replacing them. I remember thinking at the time what a waste of resources it was to replace perfectly good, slightly used, street signs with new ones, the only difference being that the names on the old ones were all in capital letters. 

Luckily, Pook is home and I call to him, telling him the police are here, but that he isn’t in trouble. Pook has been listening to the whole exchange so far and comes into the room.

       “It was July 19th about 8am” he says.This is in response to a question asked a minute earlier about when we got the street signs.

       “Ask our neighbor,” I say, “He was there.”

The police woman asks for my ID, my phone number, and tells us to get the signs. The STOP sign has a bar code on the back and a sticker identifying the store it came from, so that’s one less stolen item. The city worker looks at the YIELD sign and says, “That’s not mine,” though I don’t know how he can tell. About the street signs, he says, “These are mine.”

       “Take ‘em”, I say. I don’t want them in this house. What had once represented a sweet memory of Pook as he joyfully and awkwardly carried the signs home has become tainted.

As they are leaving, my landlord calls. After they’ve gone, I call him back and assure him that it’s all sorted out.

  A couple hours pass. Pook vacillates between fury and sorrow. I am not calm so I text my landlord.

I’m just thinking about what happened this morning and I’m bothered that one of the people who came into the house to replace a window took it upon themselves to call the police about a street sign in the bedroom. It was given to my son by a worker from the city when they were being replaced. At any rate, it feels like aviolation.

Was that what happened? The pd said it was visible from the road. If so we will fix it w the window guys

Ha. Lying comes too easily for too many people these days.

Oh man that’s not ok and not the story I got. We will take care of it

It was against the inside wall of the west bedroom.

My landlord does take care of it. Late in the afternoon the city worker shows up at the door with some road signs for Pook. After he leaves, Pook says, “What would’ve happened if we were black?”

And the road signs are still in the living room. I’m guessing they’ll end up in the garage.

Act One

Is it the flaw in me, the inability to see out the top of my head, and the lack of dexterity, the rubber of limbs that bend in the way of tree branches, that leaves me so open to anger and sorrow and fear?

And worse, I’ve been hating. I hate the frackers and the drillers. I hate the uniformed ones who wear their belts dark and heavy around their guts. I hate the youth who sport iron crosses and fly confederate flags.  And guns, I hate guns, the buyers and the sellers. I hate the liars. I hate the thieves. I hate everyone who makes a profit and a joke off the backs of children. 

I don’t want to be a hater. I tell myself that I must find a different place to stand, a different way of seeing. I tell myself to take a walk.

I get breezes of fresh, fragrant air, the way air is supposed to be. The Magnolias are blooming, throwing their blossoms across streets and alleys, having a regular old perfume party. I breathe it in and I think everything will be okay. But seconds later, the air is laced with the stench of Glyphosate. The moment is wrecked. I pull my shirt collar over my nose. There’s poison everywhere and so much noise of people striving. It is not the soft whistle of hope. It’s the rattling buzz of desperation. How does a person look in the face of evil and not begin to hate, not become its opposite equivalent?

What I’ll do, I decide, is focus in on the small things.

Now, I gather my hair in my fist. Now I fan my neck. It is hot, hotter than normal.

Now, the Arctic is melting. So much water and no really clean water except maybe in the Pingualuit crater.

Now, I wash strawberries, organic strawberries, the kind without the witches brew of pesticides that migrant workers breathe. Now I cut them. I put them in bowls and hand them, glisteningly sweet, to my children. 

Children in cages don’t get strawberries handed to them like that, especially since their mothers and fathers have been torn away from them. Especially since prisons and make-shift prisons used to house people who have committed imaginary crimes, are making a ton of money.

Now, I drive my car. It is not covered in ash. It has never been submerged in water up to its windows. I have never suffered from thirst or suffocation while in my car.

Now I walk into the grocery store. It is called Festival Foods. Compared with supermarkets in Venezuela, this is a festival. I used to live in Venezuela. I used to want to live in Venezuela forever. Then a goat became president and, after that, an ass. First, everything shiny began to disappear. People protested. Then people started to disappear and the morgues were filled to capacity. Men with guns and men on motorcycles with guns took over the streets. Little by little the comforts of civil society disappeared. No hay pan. No hay medicina. People with enough money got on airplanes and left, though some brave ones stayed. Those who were poor to begin with, who suffered more, began to walk across borders. This is one of the ways migration happens. 

Now I drive near the apartments where Dick and Audrey live and I say a prayer for their wellbeing. And for Louise and the other Louise and Lois and Ed, may they rest in peace. And MomDadGrandmaGrandpaHelenBlancheJoeSharonPatGrandpaGrandmaPatMaryAliceLarry and Norma. I stop now. How can I ever reach an end? I have to believe that when I pray for one, by thread and reach, I am praying for everyone. One prayer is every prayer. One act is every act. You take the pictures. You cook the food. You write the story. You donate money. You march in the street. You invent. You discover.You make the decision to be kind to everyone. Me, I’ll unclog the toilet with a broken plunger for the old lady with the weak arms.

Now, I bring the groceries to my kitchen. Now, I put away the bread. Now I think of wheat and chaff, sheep and goats. In this country, there is a goat for a president and chaff in congress. I never wanted to live in the United States, yet here I am. This shows how privileged I’ve been. It is nothing I earned. 

Every loving act is a force. Please, act in any way you can.

Snowflakes

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Snowflakes, in all their diverse beauty, fell liberally across the land. In some places, they fell with blizzard fury and made the news. In other places they fell so softly it seemed a soundless leisure. And sometimes they fell in places snowflakes had never fallen before.

Some said it was due to the effect of climate change. Others considered it a freakish event without cause. Still others, especially those who could not surmount the inconvenience of evolution, cursed the sky from where the snowflakes fell.

It was a long winter. Some called it endless. Many were exhausted by it.

People searched for alternative reasons to explain the constant snowfall. They babbled and babbled and many harsh and useless words were thrown around. Most didn’t notice how the snow had accumulated under their feet.

Then it happened. Spring came like it always does.

The millions and millions of snowflakes melted.

The oceans rose.

The rivers swelled.

The floods came.

And no amount of bagging could stop them.

They coursed through towns. They knocked down the doors of houses, sweeping out all the secrets kept there in the corners.

It was shocking. It was devastating. And after the floods, it was quiet for many days.

Then one person salvaged some wood and set it in the sun to dry out. Another person scavenged for nails. And another found some paper and a pencil and set out to record all that had happened, just like before.

Voice

My voice has been gone for months. I tell myself it will return like one of those faithful dogs unwittingly lost hundreds of miles from home. In my mind I can smell the heat and sour of its breath, feel the heavy fatigue that pushes down on its neck, see the scrapes on the pads of its feet. I can smell the dark cold of its fur and feel the matting of its coat tightening and pulling at the skin. I hope this dog doesn’t give up, doesn’t lie down in the ditch, there by the side of the road. And I hope, too, it saw the same light I saw this weekend, the thousands and thousands of women marching.

The truth is I chased my voice away. It was too trembly, I thought. It stumbled over words. It lacked indignant, angry energy and was well schooled in going mute when challenged. I silenced myself.

I thought of Sor Juana. I thought of Anne Sexton. I remembered how angry I felt when I discovered I’d reached the end of their words, that somehow, though their words were of them, they didn’t belong to them.

It’s true I prefer quiet to loud, and bird-loud to human-loud. I’d rather be silently sorting buttons with an old grandma than be dosed with the flash and color of crowds.

But I see the Gollums out there dancing their gleeful dances on the backs of human dignity. I see darkness coming and the silence of powerlessness starts to descend upon me again.

Then I remember having heard the rustling of a corn stalk in a black field. I remember the tire screech from a car a half mile away. I remember how big the sound of a lone voice is on a mountain.

Sound will pierce the places there is no light. A dogged voice will cut through the darkness. The meek one will too.

Shape of a Heron

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Betty and I are walking to the river. I wear two pairs of sweat pants, a turtleneck, a sweater, and my long polka-dot robe under my coat. I wear a ridiculous hat in high school colors, with a pom pom on top. My boots are good, grey and warm. Betty does the three legged hop, then tries a two legged hop, before sitting down to warm her paws with her tongue.

There is a bird on the iced over river, the river where, only yesterday, ducks were swimming between the ice floes. One day has changed the story completely. The bird has the shape of a heron, but a heron in winter makes no sense. And I can’t tell what it is because I don’t perceive depth. I have to rely on shadow and angle and movement and the bird isn’t moving and dawn has yet to open its bright eyes to the frigid air.

Now the bird walks the frozen river. We walk parallel to it along the short beach. It has one wing that is hanging wrong. Maybe its long curving neck is a pose for survival. Will a wing mend itself? Swiftly, I mean. I know I cannot reach the bird. The weight of my humanity would break the fragile ice and already I’m drowning in my own feeling of helplessness. 

And I write this, not because I think it will have any impact. It won’t save the bird with the broken wing. It won’t save the mothers and fathers and their children in Aleppo. It will not save the bees. It will not stop a hurricane. It will do nothing to stop the bleed of greed and corruption. About all it will do is mark me as one who wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but didn’t.