Archive for December, 2014
Oh, darkest secret, deepest fear:
I’m afraid I’ll never see the stars
Per aspera ad astra
A little prayer
Warm-breath whispered in my ear
By the blind innocent within
Who believes in light she cannot see
I don’t know how I stayed away from the water so long. A (very) minor surgery interrupted my habit of swimming 50 or so laps in an indoor pool, a half-hour meditation for me, where I immerse myself, literally, in a flow of stroking, kicking, turning, pushing off, all the while counting out the laps over and over.
I swim as hard as I can. I am not a particularly fast swimmer, but I swim steadfastly. Speed is not the point. I concentrate on feeling my body in the water, on form, on breathing, on the dreamy beauty of the watery blue beneath me, on the mosaic-tiled black stripe I follow back and forth, back and forth.
Even so, stray thoughts inevitably bubble up, little silvery bursts, like my underwater exhalations.
They say when you are drowning your life flashes before you. I’m not drowning, but life has had its flooding moments lately. Last night as I pushed hard off the wall of the pool, the things I once was certain of flashed through me, more like a current of feeling than a vision, beginning with the childhood certainty that my mother would always be there to love me.
Certainty is an illusion, yet we think sometimes—most times—that illusion is truth. These illusionary truths, these certainties we cling to, like life preservers on a choppy sea, are the very illusions that will one day have us gasping for air, trying not to drown.
The last lap brought it home. Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth—So nothing’s true? I buried this tired and hopeless thought. I slept hard, and woke feeling fragile.
Then this morning, I heard a line from one of Gregory Orr’s poems, and I dove into some of his poetry and these stanzas floated up:
Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.
Catastrophe? It’s just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.
Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.
All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.
And somehow these words comforted me, and so to my swimming-mind puzzle there is now a hopeful ending (thank you, Gregory Orr):
Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth.
All you can do is keep swimming; All you can do is keep singing.
I’m not certain of hope sometimes, but I’m also not certain of hopelessness. Maybe uncertainty is truly the gift, after all? With that thought I turn, push off, keep swimming. It is just enough to make my heart softly sing as I kick and breathe my way through this watery December afternoon.
“I don’t understand,” you commented, “how is it racist?
If those kids were raised right—they wouldn’t be shot.”
Raised right, commenting friend?
I choke on my anger
but I’ll try not to judge you
I used to believe in TV news and fairy tales, too, but now
I want you to imagine reality.
Imagine it, commenting friend,
you, who probably hunt ducks or deer with
your stocky white son, tramp the countryside
waving shotguns and rifles, never imagining:
your son executed for playing with a pellet gun
Imagine it, commenting friend,
imagine your son, gunned down, then framed for his own murder
imagine your daughter, trying to save her little brother
imagine some asshole, hundreds, thousands of assholes, saying
you raised him wrong
Promise me, commenting friend
you’ll imagine your son, wide-eyed with fear, as he bleeds
turns the snow beneath him pink, then red, while his sister
who ran to save him is tackled and bound
as the officers stand, hands on hips, not even pretending to help
Imagine later, commenting friend
when you, rightfully outraged, sick with grief
wait for justice
surely this time, this time—an indictment? It’s all on video!
He was just twelve, playing alone—surely this time, this time?
Tell me now, commenting friend
Do you still think it’s not a race thing?
I’d rather reach your heart and change your mind
than leave you untouched while children are shot and left to die.
I bleed out, listening to you who was “raised right.”
3/2/15: This is a second draft of a poem originally published 12/6/14. It is quite different from draft one, and I think it says what I want to say more accurately.
Tamir Rice was playing with a pellet gun on a Cleveland, Ohio playground when someone called the police. The caller told 911 that the gun was “probably fake.” Surveillance video released by the police shows the officers’ car pulling up right next to the boy, and shows an officer shooting Tamir in the stomach within seconds of pulling up. Tamir was 12.
Officer Loehmann, the shooter, was not indicted.
“I can’t breathe!”
Eric Garner’s last words,
gasped as Officer Pantaleo’s hands
squeezed his windpipe shut.
“I can’t breathe,” Garner pleaded
as he died, begging—
every cell in his body
screaming for oxygen.
“No reasonable cause,”
said the D.A.,
when the grand jury choked on logic
refusing to indict even though
the medical examiner ruled
Garner’s death a homicide.
“I can’t breathe!”
“This fight ain’t over, it just begun,”
said Esaw Garner. In her voice
I hear every cell in her body
screaming, begging, pleading for justice.
I have been eating poetry
Wildly gorging on it,
like it was chocolate, and you know—
I cannot keep candy in the house.
I’d be fat as a tick, as Mama used to say.
Poetry is calorie-free, sweeter than syrup
but sometimes so bitter it stings going down.
I sat alone in a softly-lit hushed restaurant last
Saturday night, reading poetry, poetry, poetry
and savoring vegetarian chili, roast carrots and
a cold brown ale.
There is no happiness like mine:
so much poetry—no room, even, for dessert.
(An ode to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand, who died this week.)