THE STORY OF US

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I awake most mornings to a sense of deficiency; my mind is hard to move forward – like an old car with a slipping clutch. And I can’t sit in front of my computer anymore, put on my favorite music, and write down my heart. My words fail me – flooded as they are with anger derived from a Facebook stupidity or the NYT headlines. I know, I open that door every morning  – I walk in thinking somehow things will be different, someone will upload some piece of information that does not require a fear of going to hell or total annihilation to act upon.  It would be promising to see Times headlines speaking of peace in the Middle East, a true and peaceful blossoming Arab Spring. But no, truth is painful and  half -truths are doubly painful. I am retired, five years now – and I am prepared to quit my part-time adjunct position at the local community college – a job only meant to ease my transition from 24 years of high school teaching. It has done its job.  I sit on my deck now and watch the apples ripen on the ancient tree in the side yard – no it’s not like watching grass grow or paint dry because the growth of the apples signal a freshening of sorts, an advancing – of the deer and fall. It is unchanging – this seasonal slippage. It happens with no coaxing or caffeine induced rage. Unlike human nature, nature is separate – slipping the bounds of discovery and design. It is what it is – no more no less.  My knees and back ache. Yes, you could say it is simply age but I like to think these aches come from years of struggling under the weight of why.

  This week I began an online class offered by Coursera –  A Brief History of Human Kind by professor Yuval Noah Harari  who beams his talks from a chair in Israel to people as close as his Palestinian neighbors to hundreds if not thousands of students worldwide wanting to know the history of us. I’ve just completed session 1 which has moved me from why to how:  If we spent so many thousands of years being hunted and eaten just how did we maintain our grasp (however slippery) on that middle link of survival only to move to the top of that monstrous food chain? As my professor said, we had no physical strength or size, no great teeth, claws or tough hide to protect us and yet here we are – god of all creatures great and small.  I’m left thinking this accident of ascendance is because we are genetically wired to wage war and kill in mass quantities for purposes other than food. Maybe something as simple as thumbs…? – But the great apes are equipped with such – they can still be captured and enslaved. So, thumbs are out. Maybe we began using our brains – proportionally larger than other beasts – to better advantage. Whatever the case, I agreed with my professor that man was (and remains, in my view) ill equipped for his role at the top of the food chain.

 So, after my first week of study, I’ve learned that cooperation within the species holds more weight than the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Indeed, according to professor Harari, because we have ascended so rapidly to the top of the food chain, we remain weak and vulnerable. So much so, we have the all-consuming need (for survival?) to fortify ourselves for protection (the fittest?). Harari likened early sapiens to ascendant albeit frightened lambs nervously scanning a shortened horizon for a leader. This suggests we are not really armed wolves fighting to survive but something far more dangerous – armed sheep.    

Losing My Family: A Play in Three Acts

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ACT I   –  SILLY LITTLE GIRL

(May 2013)

 I just got your e-mail, two weeks before commending your step-father’s ashes to the ocean.  I say e-mail but knife is the better descriptor because it sliced me up nicely. It would have gotten you an ‘A’ in a Benihana school of knifery; so precise around the edges but dense and delusional at the center where the truth certainly lies – waiting for reinforcements.

 Calling you delusional is my only accusation to fling – as I watch you unwilling to turn your wasted unicorn around. I am hoping you are smart enough to study the landscape and choose another more soul-soothing direction. But no, it is so much easier for you sit, blocked by the four walls of your 40 + years of emotional poverty and blame me. 

I want to tell you that success is a terrible, terrible thing to achieve in a miserable family such as ours. It  goes back to a mother (your grandmother) who held her six candles burning at both ends in her own need for love and survival. She was a mother who fought long and hard for the protection of her family. I used to think that is why she so fancied the acrylic nails because they covered the blood-stained natural nails worked to the quick with responsibility. And towards the end even she would admit to parental failings. Even so, I suppose I always felt loved – even if I had to fight for it.  Feeling loved was enough – should have been enough for all of us. And, my niece,  I honestly thought if I  took you under my roof, held you close when you needed, showed you the world (as much as a 27 year-old aunt could anyway), point to a future of hope  that you would come to see these deeds wrapped in a package labeled LOVE.  Now I see, for you, that package never arrived. My love was not enough.  I am not that naïve to believe ours is a family unique; in  happiness all families are alike. It is misery that brings about unique permutations  that frolic  legless, twisting, slithering throughout the  human body waiting for the right moment to escape in word or deed.  

And so it goes. Your misery escaped as you tapped out your love-less message of loss with fingers wrapped around your machete sentences; wildly swinging as you cut me up before serving me up; “If  I’ve said anything to offend you I apologize….I love you and respect you…”  If this is love – please keep it to yourself.  Without a doubt, you have the greater need.

 I can’t even cry at your version of truth. I’m  just left with a deep, deep sadness at the vision of you swinging wildly at your faux-memories –  slicing and dicing both ways through a forest of  half-truths – cutting each blade below the root.

Silly, silly little girl.

The Same Old Colossus

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   You sang your song of liberty

from a torch that dared

straddle the countries of

hubris and humility.

You giant woman

for the new  world

with your torch in one hand

a scroll in the other 

as if you deserve to hold the love that

 ignites harmony in posterity.

    Better to have left your hands empty

lyrics to be interpreted by

ignorant polemics believing

they have captured lightening

in the harbors of darkness.

No sea-washed sunsets to replace

the blood-dimmed tide of bigotry.

Your welcome is tainted,

You,  mighty woman,

have been sterilized in dead salutations.

    The poor remain tattered and wanting

in your air-bridged harbors

for the pomp you claimed to eschew.

Too silent this colossus

as the poor  wretched huddled masses breathe

filthy air of need as they shuttle

from job to job that further

sucks the marrow from bone-hard dreams.

   And you say she looks at the refuse

expressionless lips whispering

asking forgiveness

for the lamp that no longer

lights the golden door?

 

As well she should.