QUARANTINE – Week three:

Ibis 6ft

NOTES FROM A FREE-RANGE PUNDITIn an effort to be less judgmental of my Florida neighbors, I’m striving to remain open and friendly. Yes, different from my angry social-media persona. Hey, I’m trying.

I was walking Ellie when I spoke to my down-the-street neighbor – a man who normally turns his head when I walk by. That day, though, I was able to establish eye contact and be the first to say, “hello how are things?”  He mumbled something like, “They’ve been better,” as he continued to close his gate. Good start, I thought as I continued on my walk. Then, on my return, I saw him still standing in his yard and after asking questions about Ellie and her “breed” he patted her on the head. I thought – he can’t be that bad he likes my dog.

We began to talk. He told me he is 78 as we discussed the coronavirus and how people will be more willing to communicate now in spite of the six-feel-of separation rule. We discussed our ability to speak and even agree on some things while not on others. I agreed that it was nice to communicate in spite of our differences. Then, as if he needed to know this before he got any older, he asked me my racial heritage. I told him bi-racial, black and Anglo but I identify as African American. He proceeded to tell me what he thought about blacks with Dred-locks (dumb assholes). I told him he should have seen me in my Angela Davis-huge afro.  Silence – I could almost hear the whooshing sound of that visual flying right over his head. He moved on to his fears that the current isolation will cause people in the cities to go crazy with break-ins and such before marching on to the Florida Keys and his place (I looked around – – unlikely in my estimation). I listened, surprisingly unoffended – I really did like – something about the guy. Pity – maybe, for all his fearfulness? I asked him what he thought the color of the face of these break-in artists was? “Black,” he said. I told him he had another kind of sickness – and bad. I said he was far too fearful and that he should quit watching Fox News.

In an effort to redeem himself he pointed out to me that the thieves who were certain to come and break in his house were –  Haitian, not African American. I guess he wanted me to share his fears.

Oh well, some days, six feet will not be enough. ;(

QUARANTINE: Week Two

    cropped-sunset3651.jpg

Like our electronic toys

The world has a reset button

When we ignore her overheating

She admonishes with flames

When we foul our nests

She sends the oceans in retort

And when we ignore the world’s health,

Its inhabitants’ well-being,

Choosing to chase vicious luxuries

Because – we can

She sends the enemy invisible

The virus incurable,

Barely namable

Scoffing dreams and schemes

Our world has reset

An algorithm for stimulus

Six-degrees of separation

Leaves room for empathy

We leave food for the hungry

We drive the immobile

We care for the sick

We handsomely tip the daring

Souls who venture into the

Empty streets of commerce

Bringing food to those of us with money – to eat

But, the natural world wants us

To open our eyes

She wants us apart enough

To see those lives

That will never change – even with

A conquered virus

She wants us to see the fallacy of

Putting profit before people

She wants us to see those

Who have always been

Quarantined by poverty

In spirit and in purse

Yes, the world has reset.

Sadly, the culling

Won’t be equitable

 

Reset people

Reset!

 

THE RICH GET RICHER

Flickr
A wall Street-off Scott Lynch/Flickr

I hear the Rich are happy now

     Millions are left uninsured

     Their congressional pawns lie straight-faced

     Tax money saved and secured

 

How much do Rich need to satisfy

     How far can their zeros extend

     Common decency should prove the check

     When so many have so little to spend

Ask, they’ll say: we worked hard for our money

     We deserve every fruit of the earth

     They’ll explain to us, meritocracy

     Forget criminal inheritance, and birth

They’re rich because we like their stuff

     As greed smiles behind our backs

     Their small Christmas bonus implies

     We can buy those boots but not those straps

The Rich assuage guilt with philanthropy

     Tattooing their hearts with no blame

     As the poor kneel to pray for cures

     For diseases bearing only their names

THOUGHTS FROM THE CENTER RING

well of sorrow

             It is inaccurate to say that I hate
             everything. I am strongly in favor
             of common sense, common honesty,
             and common decency. This makes me
             Forever ineligible for public office.   H.L. Mencken

I’ve written about my perception of decency and, it appears, I am writing/preaching to the choir. My friends feel as I do.

As for people who see things differently there seems no “healthy” debate available to them. So far, it’s all been name-calling and put-downs. People who want healthy debate, it appears, are having that debate somewhere other than on social media. And, honestly, I’m not so sure decency should be debatable. Aren’t there are rules already set for what is decent in a democracy?

There are recognized standards for decency. There is the recognized standard of what is proper and in good taste. And we live in a democracy in which our representatives are expected and elected to adhere to a certain standard of decency. I find it difficult to understand those who support elected officials who fail to follow even the faintest path laid out by (what used to be) our collective decency.
In 1954, as an amazed television audience looked on, Boston Lawyer Joseph Welch – after one of his associates was accused by Joseph McCarthy, of having communist ties – responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career:

 
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” 

What has happened to our collective sense of decency? When did it become okay to be cruel and reckless with the lives and well-being of American citizens and other people around the world?
Where is our sense of decency?
This is a question that should haunt us because the answer will certainly define us as we move forward.

CIRCUS FAMILIAR

I’ve come to accept the spectacle

The morning face that stares back at me in the mirror

Large pores packed with night-sweats and frustration

There’s lots to do but nothing to say

That will ease the guilt of not doing

Most likely I’ll clean my keyboard

remove the fingerprints

angry smudges that dappled my screen with hope.

I’ll open the Times app before adjusting a pillow behind my aging back

I’ll sip some tea as I consider the tilt of the screen and font size

I’ll search for good news as if

I’ve not already thrust my chin up to the edge of humanity

To improve my view of its destruction.

CIRCUS FAMILIAR

  Gwen glad pty  I’ve come to accept the spectacle

The morning face that stares back at me in the mirror

Large pores packed with night-sweats and frustration

There’s lots to do but nothing to say

That will ease the guilt of not doing

Most likely I’ll clean my keyboard

       remove the fingerprints

       angry smudges that dappled my screen with hope

I’ll open the Times app before adjusting a pillow behind my aging back

I’ll sip some tea as I consider the tilt of the screen and font size

I’ll search for good news as if

I’ve not already thrust my chin up to the edge of humanity

To improve my view of its destruction

A Diary of Change

On the 18th anniversary of the day our world changed – forever.

zack-gwen-twin-towers

September 12, 2001. Last night I looked frantically for the picture of my SAVAR students on our yearly trip to NYC to no avail. But I can still see the their faces. BJ’s thousand watt smile, Kim, Thea, Byron, Jessica, Tiffany, Kristy, Nikki, and Katie all in adolescent poses of deep friendship. There were more but these faces found the camera at every turn. It is what I see when I close my eyes. And I could be wrong, relying, as I do, on the sovereignty of memory. I could be thinking of the picture we took on the eighty-third floor of the Empire State Building – different year but some of the same smiles and definitely the same Twin Towers in the background. I will always remember these pictures and yet over time I know these memories will fight a losing battle with the vision I beheld Tuesday, September 11th. Shocked, I watched the south tower as it belched smoke and flame. I saw the second plane bank and then plunge out of sight into the tower behind, propelling the fireball out beyond the south tower. I knew then that this plane was not coming in to drop flame retardant on the first tower – as I first thought. My heart raced. I held my head. Only later did I curse technology. Oh to return to the world of word-of-mouth transmission. The time when one hovered around the television or radio, listening to the newscast as it was filtered through the minds and hearts of stoic announcers. I thought of Cronkite’s voice coming over the speaker in my junior high library and how it cracked and caught on the words that president, John F. Kennedy was dead. That was a time when we were allowed space to form our own mental pictures of catastrophe – however tragic. It is different now.

 Yesterday I had a student write in her English essay, “Change is inevitable…” At fifteen she knows this. And here I am, half a century in age and barely able to remember when a postage stamp was two cents and the closest war was the ‘gas war’ happening over on the boulevard. I’ve missed something about change. Maybe it is the sameness of my days; the only changes are the ones I make.

 Now, my days are changed. An unseen hand has written a tragic script complete with murderous planes. How does one teach this? I don’t want to gather my son and the sons and daughters of others around me and have to explain hatred and intolerance. I fear it is completely beyond my ability. And yet I must.

 I left school on that Tuesday with nowhere to go. Everywhere there was nothing but television news so I watched my son’s soccer practice. I sat in the bleachers reading the local paper, the last one printed before the attack. I could believe, for a few minutes anyway, that the news of the day was light. Periodically, I’d look up at the boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds on the soccer field in the bright sunshine. The day was exquisite, with the green hillsides only hinting at the golden leaves to come. On the broad expanse of lawn I witnessed young people in innocent athletics giving high fives to friends and competitors alike. I could have stayed there forever, a frozen tableau of perfection. No hatred, no intolerance, no headlines of alarm.

 A student asked about our annual New York City trip. I was resolute in my response. “We will go. That’s one thing that will not change,” I told her. But change is inevitable. A fifteen-year-old told me this. And she was right.

April 2002. The New York City trip did happen. Phantom of the Opera enthralled my forty-five students, most from the hinterlands of rural western New York. On the subway to South Street Seaport, I decide not to make the trek to the hole in the ground that changes forever they way I view human nature. Most of the young people go with another chaperone. A few students stay with me and the vendors of cheap memorabilia. I sigh with relief. I am not ready.

Our chartered bus is faithful to our departure time and, after a last minute buying flourish of knockoff glasses and watches, we depart. I count heads then relax amid the excited chatter of adolescence. Even as darkness descends I sense we are on THAT parkway. My senses are validated by the silence that befalls the group. The bus slows to a crawl – not for traffic but for the view of the remains of the Twin Towers – the hole that has swallowed my city memories. I thought if I didn’t look – maybe things would become unchanged. I looked.

I admonish myself for my foolish, pretzel logic – to think we could achieve some type of retro-sameness. Like the skyline of lower Manhattan, we are all forever changed.

GDF – 2019

 

Why I Marched

me-w-sign

I am of that age to which some “ladies” don’t generally admit. I am 65 years old and no “lady”. I’ve come a long way from those years when my mother would scold me for unladylike behavior; gum chewing, swearing, wearing mini-skirts, and sloppy bell-bottom pants. I was admonished for any behavior that would have me in motion, speaking my thoughts, and waving my fist in the air. I guess my mother’s wish was that she be the mother of a lady. But that wish came before my dad left her and us. My father left me with the hard fact that it was always a man’s prerogative to leave. I was 16 when I watched my mother dragging home an old typewriter and asking to use my grammar text to practice letter writing – something she did not learn before being taken out of fifth grade to care for her blue-eyed brothers and sisters in the Canadian Maritimes. I fell asleep many nights to the cadence of the old Royal typewriter’s “home row” as mom practiced for the job of receptionist with Los Angeles’ only African-American optometrist at the time. It was a job that would take her from the sweatshops of downtown and provide a sense of dignity she so desperately wanted. It was about that time my mother quit pushing me to be a lady, instead, telling me to stay in school and get a good job so I wouldn’t have to depend on a man to take care of me – “be able to care for yourself.” She was telling me to be, like her, a real woman. I started college in 1969 only to witness events that did not revolve around whether or not I saw myself as a lady. Later, as the only African-American female in my Los Angeles workplace, I was made aware of the prevailing assumptions regarding my collective and gender. Insulting still was the old term “ladylike” often used when I responded with a few well-placed expletives in my defense. I learned that fighting misogynistic attitudes with anger was ‘unladylike’. Eventually, I was able to return the “favors” with a tough, wisecracking demeanor that shielded me in the male-dominated industries in which I worked. It wasn’t long before I realized that being a lady made me vulnerable while being a woman made me strong.

So, on Saturday, January 21st I marched with REAL women who were proud of their pussy-hats. The experience took me back to my days as a student at San Jose State University in northern California when, with my Afro as a halo, I marched against the purveyors of the Vietnam War just as fervently as I marched Saturday against the current war on women. I marched for my older sister who died of breast cancer in 1990 and for the sister of my college roommate who had just succumbed to this dreaded disease; a disease that hunts down women with a criminal, bloodstained accuracy and kills with impunity. But I also marched for the women who voted for Trump and against (in my mind) the best interest of ALL women. I’ve lived long enough to know there is not enough time for blame and finger pointing. The die is cast and everyone, all women and the people we love, will be hurt by the Trump legislation that is coming our way.

 

So, I marched, I yelled until I was dizzy, waved my fists in the air and hugged my history-making girlfriends in wild abandonment of that outdated

moniker; LADY.   I marched as a WOMAN.

THE LIFE LIMITED

tracks

Not the express train –

The uneventful

Quick-trip to decay

 

We’re on the Limited;

Confined within limits

On life’s platform

Night watching

Brief recognition vanishing outlines

Illuminated windows, They stare ahead

Silhouetted profiles against flashing light

Glimpsing the gold coins of

The Paradise Express

 

We remain for the day

As we see ourselves

Age and wisdom

In separate cars

On that same track

Tearing through

A landscape of

Scattered grace

 

HOME WORK

Jr. hi sch

I’m tired

Of the look

Insolence interrupted

By the jaundiced-whites

Harbingers of your future

What do I care?

Of your English grade – 32

Why should I care

More than you

Or your mom’ s not

Your dad’s what?

They made it harder for you

You make it hard for me

To care – the cycle

I dare to meet

Those eyes

You raise

To the sound I make

What you care to hear

Around the earbuds that let in

Only the nuance of thuggery

Now

Waiting at the school door

For pick up

Graduation?

To the line at the Mobile station

Bathroom – the 8X8 cell where

You’ll lose your innocence again and again

So don’t move – keep the look

Dare me to care

If you have

Your homework