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Comes the Fate Upon Us: Taking Adversity Seriously

King - 20th cent. martyrs
Martyrs of the 20th century – honored in granite and poetry – Westminster Abbey

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.

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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].”

 

 

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

 

THE PERILS OF BEING THE BEST

Rainbow Little Torch

I’ve been running for my dream
That started well before
The public even knew
There was someone to adore

I was swimming for my dream
Well before I was born
Who knew the heights that I would reach
The laurels my head adorn

I’ve been throwing at my dream
As you watched and tisked disdain
“She’s so big and unbecoming”
As if my goals were your domain

I’ve been fencing with my dreams
Assault by angulation
Beautiful balestra in hijab
Avoiding fearful imagination

I’ve been balancing all my dreams
On rings and bars and mats
Long before you got off your couch
To write uncharitable scat

Don’t shower me with bloodless praise
“I’m the greatest in the land”
And in ultimate compliment say,
I “compete just like a man.”

First Lady Once Removed

NYT 7:23:16 Lauren Tamaki
nyt 7/23/17 Lauren Tamaki

 

The door to my 10th grade English classroom was flung open with more than a little purpose on the afternoon of October 24, 2003. Irritated, after a long day of teaching, I looked up to see two stocky men, strangers, each with a curly black cord snaking from a right ear to God knows where. Fear replaced irritation as my heart leapt, scared by the suddenness of their movement and the no-nonsense look on the faces of the United States Secret Service. My high school was being “swept” in preparation the arrival of Senator Clinton. The three students in the room, frozen by a situation they had only witnessed in movies, looked at me in surprise, happy to be getting out of their current assignment. I told the agents we needed to stay put to finish our work. The looks of the agents softened as they gave us a nod before closing the door and moving down the hallway to “sweep” the remainder of our school.

 

Senator Clinton was due to speak within the hour in the high school atrium to award the our school district a federal grant to equip district school busses with diesel emissions reduction systems. I waited with my students in the hallway behind the stage with hopes of meeting the Senator and former First Lady.  I moved closer in an attempt to hear my students converse with Senator Clinton. She look up at me and smiled. I offered my hand and introduced myself. I noticed a twinkle in her eye, a softening humility of the often beleaguered former First Lady who had been so hated by so many – even some from her own party. Initially, my feelings were mixed regarding Hillary Clinton. I had friends who resented her for not ditching her husband in the face of his infidelity. There were those who could not separate the president’s personal faults from the actions of his wife. I heard the degrading comments referencing Senator Clinton’s political aspirations; “too ambitious,” some said. But I know a woman’s ambitions are not judged the same as a man’s. Like Sophocles’s Antigone, Clinton’s drive comes from a place that is feared by her opponents. Hillary Clinton has long embodied the power of one who prefers reality to dreams. And, when her First-Lady reality punctured the dreams of those Americans used to seeing women behave a certain way, the ground was in place for all manner of campaigns to bring down Hillary Clinton. She’s a woman who will not be held in place by the principles of double standards revered by the political, nattering, nabobs who slink about, reading and seeing only that which justifies their point of view.

 

There is an aura that surrounds Hillary Clinton. And maybe, my end-of-the-day fatigue made me more prone to awe. But, once in the Senator’s presence, I would have signed on for whatever job she gave me. Such was the strength of the power she conveyed and shared with those working with her. The idea of Hillary Clinton as a natural politician provokes fear.  That a person can go into a building full of people and by her mere presence win hearts and minds, is frightening indeed, especially to the more artificially programmed politician who will spend untold public dollars to find the smoking gun that will close the circuit on her power source.

Later, when I related my experience to others I was reminded of how awe can be inspired not necessarily by decency but the simple power of prominence. I should say here that I was no stranger to being in the presence of prominent people. I have met my share of the famous and infamous. The names that remain in my memory are there for having shown a certain unpracticed humility that overrode all the accolades and awards. It is a power that comes from knowing oneself and an understanding of human nature in general. The venerated journalist, Walter Cronkite displayed the same humble power as he shook hands while walking through the hallway of my first post-college job at CBS Radio in San Francisco. I often thought that, as a naïve twenty-three-year-old I was blinded by the bright light of Cronkite’s accomplishments but the longer I live; I know what can and what cannot be faked. There are times when humility has to live along side of ambition – times when humility seems practiced to veil naked drives for power. But ambition, for women as for men, is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is this ambition that Secretary of State Clinton’s detractors cannot abide.

Still holding my hand, Senator Clinton thanked me for teaching, saying that so many of our country’s teachers could be successful in many other professions – but instead they come to the classroom. Intrigued, I wondered how this woman, whom I had never met, could presume to know me? Now, 13 years older and wiser, I understand (like Clinton) more about human nature. Senator Clinton’s acknowledgment of a certain nobility in one’s desire to teach made me glad, all over again, for my decision to leave California. And there will be those who say that all Senator Clinton represented for me that day in 2003 was a simple affirmation of my own life choices. But, as Antigone infers, there are two laws: man’s law and the law of nature. And one is more infinitely worth fighting for.

I’M STILL

Slide1

We teachers are a docile lot

Teaching this world’s polyglot

Glued to plans and kids alike

Don’t ask us what we don’t like

Keep the kids’ assembly line

Moving forward marking time

And when the hammer rears its head

Do ‘be still’ until you’re dead

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

 

 

Flunking Retire -ment

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I have flunked that good, after life

Leaving desk, chalk, and youth sublime

Eight years and a clarion light

Continues to call me to dine

~

With character filled texts and chairs

I return to a chalkless life

Anxious, faded elegance dares

To drag my dreams to “that good night”

~

Dreams die hard desire remains

I answer the call to return

Restoring dream’s dust to grain

Desires continue to burn

~

Teaching is now a brand new flight

Where time and love is now outsourced

Knowledge now comes in bits and bytes

Pass, fail with a little remorse

~

Virtual reality reigns

As 21st Century fun

As if being “real” needs explain

Over needs for real wisdom

~

So I am back to spread my grains

Of wisdom and where I found

Meanings to life ‘long side the brain

Which the “Road less traveled” is bound

 

 

 

Another Turkey Day : Another Fight

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I’ve had many Thanksgivings in my lifetime – 64 to be exact. Some Thanksgivings were solemn while some were in need of police intervention. This Thanksgiving, I vow to not argue, fight, or suffer even the slightest guilt over the kind of turkey that will be consumed by my family. I won’t.

From my working-class childhood to my middle-class life in the hinterlands of western New York, I’ve learned that a turkey, any turkey, even just the smell of a roasting turkey is a must. I’ve come to this conclusion via my mom who would, surveying her kitchen early Thursday morning, pronounce the beginning of the holiday by saying, “Let’s get this place smelling like Thanksgiving.” And so she would.

We live in interesting times when it comes to the food we put on our plates. I’ve suffered the slings and arrows shot from the self-righteous and well heeled. And I’ve walked through a Whole Foods store. So I think I understand the vaygeshray that surrounds the argument between the factory-farmed turkeys and those birds who’ve been raised in the weedless fields of the free-range mind. Suffering. It’s all about suffering.

The Thanksgivings of my childhood were only fraught with decisions around frozen vs. non-frozen and the turkey’s weight – questions easily answered by my parent’s current budget. Today, one can run from pillar to post in attempts to be politically correct and can, after taking out a second mortgage on one’s home, get the totally natural turkey; one that slept on down comforters and was fed on manna dropped from the hands various gods of free-range practices. And so, for more than a few years, my husband and I opted for the expensive, middle-class-guilt reducing bird that needed the strength and precision of Seal-team 6 to cut through. But hey, the bird didn’t suffer. It could hardly have suffered as much as we did – chewing, chewing, and chewing on what seemed like the dusty, original, leather-bound edition of Moby Dick!

So, this Thursday I vow (in honor of my late mom) to get up early and get my house “…smelling like Thanksgiving.” I will give thanks for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me and mine. Also, I will acknowledge the original (yet unspoken) theft this holiday commemorates with an apology for the suffering of native Americans – a suffering that gets lost in the concern for an ugly bird that we will slice and dice with impunity. And after all of this, I will gladly testify before the senate committee on turkey injustice. I will raise my right hand, and swear to tell the truth before all the gods of political correctness that, yes, I bought a commercial, salt injected bird at 89¢ a pound. A bird that probably gobbled horribly as it was being killed; a bird that may have had siblings that hated him or her for a fat-breasted success; a bird that had no idea what a future was or that there was a senate committee committed to his or her happiness. Yes, I ate such a bird and I found it – GOOD.

NOV. 15, 2015: Headlines – A Poem

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Attackers in Paris

‘Did Not Give Anybody a Chance

as if chance played with motive

none are chanced

when death is not feared

FEAR:

it is all that keeps us good

and goodness is relative only

to the god one is willing

to die for

this god militarized,

weaponized

expanded

personalized

assault driven

a god unknown to

civil – ization, decency

lost in three hours

of hell;

a lifetime

of blood spillage

all red being read

in black and white

newsprint echoing ancient

tales written down

the original sin

in concert with the

unconscious brain

man-made insult

the beginning of pain

the parchment of war’s genesis

held tightly in the

fists of bloodstained

armies ordered

young conscripts

avenging lives dear

motivated

by chance

motivated

by fear

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