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.

How to Plagiarize a Campaign Speech

Thank you. Thank you all! I’m very excited to remain unseen behind the black and white of typed script.

I am a US citizen. I am not a patriot because most of the time I feel like I’m tethered to the world with the thinnest thread and I could float away at any moment. For me, patriotism is highly impractical.

I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, a state of regular size in the United States. My sister, who is an incredible woman and friend was also born here. We were raised by our parents, as were our brothers. My elegant and clever mother introduced me to fashion and beauty but I never took to it. My father had a passion for business and travel, which he did a lot.

From a young age, my parents impressed upon me the value of hard work. I’m very lucky to have a sturdy body. It has helped me to labor tirelessly for other people. We all want our children to achieve, to have hopes and dreams. We want them to do their homework, go to college for free. We want them to laugh often. We want them to fall in love. We want them to find the thing in their lives that interests them and we want that to be their job. We want them to live in an alternate reality.  

I have no aspirations to be first anything, although I’m usually the first one awake in my house. This is a necessity.  I never place first in video games. I rarely seat myself  in the first chair at the front of a room. I prefer sitting at the back by the door, in case I feel the need to flee. I’d love to have the financial backing to buy a residency in the country of my choosing.

Thankfully, my word is not my bond. I once said to my teenager, “I’m going to put that laptop in the oven, turn it on, and we’ll all die from the toxic fumes!” It was not a promise. It was an experiment in parent-child communication. The bond I adhere to centers around one belief– if  she/he/it breathes, she/he/it must be accorded care, kindness, compassion, and justice.

I’m very fortunate for my white, privileged heritage. I’ve never had to experience the fear and injustice because of being black, of being a refugee fleeing a war-torn country, of being LGBT, or of being despised for a million other possible non reasons. I do have the experience of being a woman which, in itself, is hugely complex even without the reality of misogyny.

I would like to take a moment to recognize an amazing poet, the great Walt Whitman, who wrote, “…dismiss whatever insults your own soul…” He also wrote, “…stand up for the stupid and crazy…” though I don’t think he was talking about politicians.  And let us thank all of the writers across this country and around the world. We are truly blessed to be here, since most of us will never have any kind of recognition and will live in poverty. That will never change.

I can tell you that I have been concerned about this country for a long time. I think small. I see things. Sometimes I have trouble focusing, literally and figuratively. I am not tough but I am kind and fair and caring. This kindness is not always noted and this confuses me because it is there for all to see. What I tell you about myself may or may not be true.

I’ve graduated from college twice. The first time I saw This is Spinal Tap, I experienced culture shock and I’m very good at hydrating vegetables. I’d welcome change and I’d welcome prosperity, as I’m sure would all people, not just some of the people. That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims. It includes Hispanics and African Americans and Asians, and the poor and the middle- class. Did I forget anyone?

Like no one else, I have seen the talent, the energy, the tenacity, the resourceful mind, and the simple goodness of the heart of God. Everything depends on it. Let’s all come together.

Thank you.