December 17, 2016
I’ve just read a summation of our president’s news conference on Russia’s hacking of the election that allowed Donald Trump to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. I saw clips of our beautifully cerebral President Obama thoughtfully picking his way through the minefield of words available for times such as these; words that could highlight injustice in a big and angry way. And for that moment I wanted him to be that angry black man – the idea that so scattered the brains of bigoted whites eight years ago – I wanted Obama to tear away at that inbred institution designed for service to the very few. But he didn’t, and that saddens me. My president’s behavior revived for me the belief that there is some unseen player in presidential politics. One who holds all the rules governing this experiment we call democracy. This is the player who gladly sits sideline whispering, to the one front and center, cautionary tales; this is the preemptive hand upon which are written all the options at a President’s disposal. What were the options facing you Mr. President? Instruct the Electoral College to do the right thing, nullify the elections? Declare Hillary Rodham Clinton president? (Personally, I think your parting tasks to ensure a legacy of courageous decision making should be to put Sec. Clinton on Supreme Court and declare Santa Claus legally, officially, a black man). But no, sadly, you have no legal standing in this case. You may have been besieged by thoughts of a civil war even as you understand fully your duty to ensure a “peaceful and orderly transition”. But, there will be war – an uncivil war – waged by the upcoming Theatre of Thieves – the 21st Century robber-barons. And yes, we will protest even as we hide the sickness that resides in the thought that our beloved President, hands tied by a constitution he has taught, is as helpless as we are watching further shredding of this democracy.
December 19, 2016
It seems clear to me today – December 19, 2016 – that we are moving towards that southern economic doctrine of low wages, no unions and little concern for the environment. A southern doctrine that addresses ideas like diversity and the need for common courtesy (erroneously referred to as political correctness) as frivolous, white-power killing, sentimentality. This new “strategy” will ensure that those who live in poverty and those refugees whose fate lies in the kindness of strangers remain 2nd and 3rd class citizens (if they are allowed to remain at all). It will ensure that those who, by nature, have to work outside their small circle of cultural acceptance live in fear. Fear of a capriciously dispatched army who will bend and convert non-believers to their will. This doctrine resides in the barren drought-stricken stretch of community where women know their place, little girls don’t appear too smart and all females understand the ugly consequences of striving to be richer than a man. It is a place where the aims of decent men and the female pantsuit are outlawed.
It is time, now that the Electoral College has affrimed its predilection for inertia, to take Trump seriously and not literally, as Christy Wampole of the New York Times suggests in her piece, How to Live Without Irony (For Real this Time) Yes, we now have a president who can’t spell, who tweets his thin-skinned pain like a hurt child, who has grabbed women by their genitals because he could. Now, according to Wampole, we should be seriously prepared “for a new, expressive austerity.” I agree. It was easy to sit on our self-righteous liberal laurels and ignore the suffering of the “uneducated deplorable” citizens. We are all guilty, in some form or another, of this class combat. And these self-righteous thoughts may still be the palliative we use to soothe the cuts of loss. I know I sleep better knowing I am right; that the best candidate did not win. And, God help me, I have to catch myself, feeling happy for the sure to come ‘I told you so’s”. The low-income, less educated worker, the praise-worthy military and its veterans who will stand and die for the next war to come in spite of GOP continued resistance to Veterans Bills and continued funding, all will suffer (much more than I will) for their willingness to trust a different voice – as long as that voice promised personal well being and for some, as long as that voice as male and white. I have to acknowledge and take serious the ‘trust’ his voters have. I agree with Wampole when she says “this president-elect, seems incapable of laughter…[embodies] the thirst for profit …apocalypse fetishism, joyless ideology, and even cruelty. [His] is a punitive seriousness, a burn-it-all-down ethics that favors revenge over reconciliation.” That said, we must never normalize his brand of seriousness. We must never forget this man is a dangerous buffoon who takes money and retaliation seriously. His hollow promises, laughter and smiles are simply means to an end. As decent human beings, we must take the high road as we struggle to soften the blow Trumps tactics will surely have on those who simply wanted to “shake things up.” God help us.
So, this evening, my second glass of wine has sufficiently lubricated the hinges on the doors to my big, rusted political heart and I find myself returning to a line in Homer’s Odyssey, a scene really, where Polyphemus, blinded and bested by an arrogant, boasting Odysseus, stands huge upon an outcropping, breaking off mountain-tops and hurling boulders and curses in the direction of Odysseus’ retreating ship. And, for the moment, we are Polyphemus, blinded and outwitted by our lack of seriousness and the arrogant tools of injustice. The line that haunts me? “Now comes the weird upon [us].”
They advertise the old junior high school now
as luxury apartments.
A community of renters of classrooms now
better used as kitchens, bedrooms and
I wonder about the Feng Shui of old schools –
is there such a thing?
What about the sleepwalking renter who turns
down the wrong hallway and finds himself
at the mercy of the bruised hands of the bully.
He better keep lunch money in his pajamas
to soften the blows.
Bullies don’t die; they are the hissing saboteurs
that live long on the shoulders of the bullied. I know
I wonder about that old mattresses full of dirty secrets
from the musty storage area under the auditorium stage?
What about the science labs? All those electrical outlets?
To be used in the bedrooms maybe?
And the principal’s office? Those silent walls painted in a white
sadness faded gray with by the
hollow projections of success. And the chairs
just outside – chairs that held the scared &
waiting and the tears of the kid who solved
her problems with her fists, whose father
would do the same.
Ahh, those weighted 10 minutes felt an
unmerciful hour of despair – many times.
What about the guidance office – off course for sure –
sailing past abridged horizons of the disadvantaged
rich and poor. The test scores that tell too little locked
away from any potential help.
What about the cafeteria; that battlefield of emotion
all watched over by bullets and targets.
Fear palpable, quaking food trays
passing the cool tables. Hip A&F, Gap,
& old navy, establishing beachheads
waiting for dispatches from the
cute banana republics
shielding frightened dictators
in well-decorated spider holes.
And the gymnasium with its polished hardwood that
felt like stone when struck by the head.
What about the janitor who cleaned that
hardwood of blood that gushed
from your wound? Did he harbor sympathy
for you? For your victimhood? Or did he give
that imperceptible nod to an abuser’s covenant?
And what about the locker rooms and the gym
teacher who waved, back and forth, a
yardstick through your new Afro laughing
derisively in spite of her over-pressed &
And remember your heart breaking with all the pain
of a truth that couldn’t be spoken.
On Sunday, there will be an open house at the old
junior high school that has been converted into
No need to go. I’ve seen it all before.
There is a country rich in diamonds,
Oil and foreign sports cars
I know this – having read it in
This is a country in which one child
In six will die before the age of five
Says The Times’ Kristof
But I live in a country that cares
About children – Some of us
Care so much we call authorities
On parents whose children walk
Home from the park – alone
Keeping our children absurdly safe
Ignoring the Angolan mother holding
The “twig limbs,” swollen belly, wizened face
Of the near carcass that is her child
She’s waiting for care from the few who do
Those people who come from far off places to nurse and
Heal everyone’s children
Those people who know that diamonds
Are friend to no one
The people who recognize
The diamond’s sparkle
Being stolen everyday
From the eyes of babies
Leaving in its place a
Haunted spectacle, skeletal frame
Held together in wrinkled brown
Wrappings of skin
Not the express
The one gladly missed
Dawdling on life’s platform
Windows flashing light
Quick, dark faces inert
Blank stare ahead
Glimpsing the gold
Coins of paradise
Gone too soon
We, unhurried & unnoticed
Age and wisdom
In separate cars
On that same track
A landscape of
Where we keep our humanity
And in the future they will come
Down long google-glassed tunnels
To collect artifacts
Heartless facts from
Our artless landmarks
Blind to the act:
Giving succor to the enemy
Night on the battlefield when mountains
Of hatred became mere
Mounds over which we stumbled with gifts
The weight of humanity too great
Too heavy for the light of day
A light used to make way for
The resumption of war
We live so long – hopefully long enough
To know life is enough
All we should want
The rest is fearing
The opinions of others
We are old enough to resist
Know there is great pleasure in GO!
It is not the There
But the trip
The memories will come years later (if at all)
With its uneven ruler
To defend life’s
Last week I was stunned by the unkind comment of the stranger next to me as we filled a container with donated cans of soup at the local food bank. The comment came after a polite discussion that almost lulled me into dangerous camaraderie with this woman whose conversation segued from motherly pride in her daughter’s nursing career to her idea that Ebola is God’s punishment. “Whoa!” I put up my hand and responded with the usual; where was God when….(insert any historical scourge here). I pointed out Nazi Germany’s contribution to earthly scourges but, after a few days of contemplation, I know there is not much I could say to this woman and others like her who make their stabs at somatic immunity by volunteering in local food banks and presuming to know what God has in mind for believers and non-believers. And maybe my discomfort comes from my own questioning about a belief system that asks me to suspend belief in reality; a reality in which I live. The reality here is that Ebola is not new and as long as it stayed in some faraway land punishing others for being… well, the “other,” Ebola remained that terrible disease plaguing those sad people in that faraway land. Ebola is here, in our face, live and in living color (cue the hysteria).
We first-world (as opposed to third-world) inhabitants are quite predictable in our approach to life; we live our comfortable lives (some more comfortable than others) consumed with the daily familial and material concerns of the species. Oh, we read the headlines as we pass from one engagement to the next but no headline gets our attention like the local headline giving us the exact location and identity of the killer who has been knocking at our door for decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1994 Richard Preston introduced a generation of readers to The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, a non-fiction thriller that frightened even Steven King who, according to Wikipedia said the first chapter of The Hot Zone was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life. ” Preston’s book paints indelible images of people in the throes of hemorrhagic fevers and bursting vomit-bags of black bile on transatlantic flights. (After reading the Preston’s book in ’95 I have seriously changed my original position on monkeys as sweet and adorable pets). But Preston’s bestseller did not act as wake up call for the “free world”; shaking our collective shoulders and encouraging us to answer the door. No, it was not until the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, according to Slate.com, that serious research spending occurred at the behest of Dick Cheney whose fear of America’s vulnerability to attack by enemies using bioweapons (as if airplanes were not enough) prompted the Project Bioshield Act. And here is just another story from the file of tragic irony; were it not for the vicarious warriors – those men who fight wars with other people’s children – and their projection of retribution, we would be living with an even worse prognosis for survival.
It is Monday morning, our favorite team has lost the game leaving fans with nothing but hindsight to tell us that America has, once again, been caught deaf to the knocking of humanity. Had we listened to those doctors on the front lines fighting diseases (diseases that know no politics or religion) we wouldn’t be in this heightened state of terror. Had we studied the past, listened to our hearts, and reached out with all the atomic weight our country can muster (especially in times of war) to assist a world far less fortunate, we would not be at this intersection of moral chaos and panic. We allow the scourge of Ebola to continue by proclaiming it a part of “God’s” plan – a passive aggressive approach that did not work with the aids virus. As a country we need to read, reason, and understand. After reading the story of the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone we should have understood Preston’s terrifying conclusion: EBOV will be back. And so it has.
Every teacher prays
The Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian, Atheist …
Everyday, walking the classroom’s threshold
We pray to be delivered from
The menace of caprice
In a land governed by misery
The only evidence of our existence
With nothing but a chalk
backbone for the onslaught
The educational cataclysm
That will leave the classroom
Scattered in doom
Books, bodies and minds with
Words and dreams
Obliterated beyond recognition
…pray for us teachers now
and at the hour of our test,
And this is what becomes of youth
Arm and arm with desire
Standing staunch facing abuse
Before a funeral pyre
Youth inbred with courage and past
Arm and arm with desire
Stand before weapons en masse
Falcons in loosening gyre
To see faces so young and unlined
Witness new history unfold
Is to know the past as so unkind
Lessons unlearned, agony untold
This is what becomes of a youth
Where bondage is original sin
Buried with denial at its root
As if the crime had never been
Not as if one turns a page
To find a new, happy ending
Black skin will always pre-sent rage
Some unfailing and unbending