Sharp, necessary things

11703574_10207310081527376_9128149954750898429_o

Louise Erdrich says in her poem, “Thistles”:

“under loss and under hard words,
under steamrollers
under your heart,
it doesn’t matter. They can live forever.”

I think there are some feelings that are like thistles, that’s why Erdrich’s poem and the thistles along the sidewalk speak to me like an old friend as I ponder how some losses, some griefs, some pointy bits of the past never do entirely smooth over or disappear.

They simply die back for a while, and you think they are gone. Then you’re innocently snapping a photo, minding your own business, and they come back—sharp as ever.

But they are beautiful, thistles are. They endure for a reason.

You can read her whole gorgeous poem here:
http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2007%2F06%2F22

NOLA dreams

woman in sparkly dress at night
Christmas Night | New Orleans | Gentilly | Lit by a streetlamp

Last year evaporated.
No.
Exploded,
boiled over,
filled to the brim and
poured over the edges
leaving December behind.

The beauty and the un-beautiful
combine
combust
time escapes like steam from a kettle
screaming with possibilities
I want to find more magic.
I am digging.

gentilly-nola-christmas2016

2017, a mini-novel

(I’m writing a mini-novel with flash-length chapters over on Medium.com. Following is the first chapter of my tale of a dystopian future. Check out the rest if you like—it’s a work-in-progress, which I’m hoping to finish before year end. It is a work of fiction. I hope. Access the chapters by clicking here.)

View at Medium.com

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-2-41-09-pm

2017: Chapter One

The sirens blared. The President’s voice boomed, an audio clip in an endless loop. “…then I grab em by the pussy,” he crowed, again and again and again, the way he did every morning at wake-up. “She’s a pig, I mean, look at her! Miss Piggy. Call her Miss Housekeeping, why don’t you?” A laugh track — or possibly a recording of hyenas howling, it was hard to tell — ran between bursts of his “boy talk.”

She’d heard it so many times now. It was designed to make her go numb.
She let the guards believe it was working.

November Ginkgo

gingko tree
Gingko tree, Northern Kentucky, Novermber 26

Walking this weekend brought to mind a poem I remembered about Ginkgos. Their “yellow fluttering fans of light” never fail to inspire me. I attempt and fail to capture them in yellow/fossil/sucked-in-breath poems. They are the last of their division of tree (Ginkgophyta), all others being long extinct.

Ginkgo leaves are found in fossils dating back 270 million years, and though they are messy and somewhat smelly trees—they are my favorites at this time of year.I look up and get lost. Or look down and get lost, depending on which day I come upon them.

Here’s a stanza of the poem I had to come home and google around to find. It’s from “The Consent” by Howard Nemerov.

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

golden ginkgo leaves on the ground
Fallen ginkgo leaves.

The door is that way, Judge Ruehlman

photo of arrow on red wall

Dear Judge Ruehlman,

I’m a registered voter and I’m not going to mince words here. I’m going to be straight with you. It’s time for you to go home, Judge.

You’re drunk— drunk with judicial power, that is.

Maybe it’s a side effect of how our justice system works, or doesn’t work? Maybe some counseling would help?  It’s addictive stuff, power. The Ohio Supreme Court agrees you’ve gotten out of hand.

In June, the Ohio Supreme court said “[Judge Ruehlman] has repeatedly acted to shield Chesley and his assets from creditors, despite a patent lack of jurisdiction,” referring to your interference in a multi-million dollar settlement that (the now disbarred attorney) Stan Chesley was ordered to pay to his legal clients.

Kentucky courts ruled that Chesley owes his clients at least $25 million dollars, which he’s apparently holding in some kind of perma- limbo by filing twisty lawsuits that make it difficult for the case to be moved to Federal court. The Ohio Supreme court scowls at such shenanigans.

The court’s opinion said Chesley “has turned to the courts of Ohio to thwart collection of the judgment and re-litigate the case. Chesley has found a receptive audience in (Ruehlman).” The opinion also said you gave defendants in the case—Chesley’s clients, who were awaiting their funds and puzzled over why their lawyer was suing them—“patently false advice,” by telling them they did not need legal representation, advice that shows how tipsy you must be on that 100-proof power. You told a senior citizen from rural Ohio in danger of losing her home due to financial struggles that she did not need an attorney, when, according to the Ohio Supreme Court, “A judgement in favor of Chesley could have a dramatic effect on how much money Ms. Boggs and the other creditors are able to recover, and when.”

If the Ohio Supreme Court says you’re doing things you have no business doing, that’s enough to convince me as a voter, as a citizen, that it’s time for a new judge.

But there are more reasons to boot you out of court, reasons that resonate deeply with me.

You remind me of another judge recently in the news. Aaron Persky is his name. Everybody’s heard about him. I imagine you can’t see why people are so upset by his hand-slap sentence to Brock Turner.

After all, you did the same thing—worse, actually—delivering a not-guilty verdict while expressing your sympathetic concern for a young man “facing 20 years,” after repeatedly interrupting the prosecutor’s questioning of the victim to badger her by suggesting you thought she “kind of liked” her assailant, and suggesting that maybe she decided to cry rape out of disappointment that her assailant didn’t perform well. Suggesting that “sometimes girls like that when a guy pursues them a little bit.”

I wonder if you can even fathom why anyone’s so darned upset about Donald Trump’s pussy-grabbing talk. If you can victim-blame a woman in open court as she testifies, instead of listening respectfully and deeply to her after a grand jury and prosecutor have deemed her case worthy of being heard, it seems to indicate you might think women “kind of like” being demeaned and abused. Let me explain, Judge, why women do not speak up. Because when we do, we are blamed and shamed and re-victimized by men like you who demonize us as liars for daring to speak, even when we have rape-kit evidence, even when there are multiple victims coming forward.

Do you ever ask male victims who run from an assailant if they “liked being being pursued a little bit”? Or if they like being hit?

Back to Judge Persky. I hear he’s not going to be hearing criminal cases any longer. I don’t think you should either. I imagine along the way you served up some actual justice. Very little is black and white in this world. So for whatever clear-eyed service that I hope you rendered, thank you.

Still, in the end, there are some lines you don’t cross and you’ve crossed them every which way, zig-zagging all over the place. Maybe the power just got to you? Addictive stuff, that.

I’m going to play my woman card on election day, Judge.

 

Sources:

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2016/06/22/ohio-supreme-court-slams-hamilton-county-judge/86242854/

http://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/08/the-stanford-rape-case-judge-steps-aside/497609/

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/10/26/judge-ruehlman-rebuke-rape-victims-shocking/92738786/

Dear Melania

once upon a time photoDear Melania,

Do you mind if I call you M?
I don’t want to waste too many keystrokes. Never fear. I’m not going to be mean, or unfair. I’m just going to tell a story.

Someday, some far-off wonderful day, you will be remembered like a princess in a fairy tale. (Yes, I think you will be famous, even in the future, though I imagine your name may be lost, M.)

You will be be the hapless one who drank a potion that blinded her to truth and made her say crazy things, like “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,” with a dismissive flick of your wrist, as if a woman who alleges assault is like a mosquito buzzing too close.

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in our country.* Try telling all of them they will find justice. Try telling that to the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted, who had eye witnesses, physical evidence, a jury conviction and a prosecutor seeking a nine-year sentence, a woman who penned perhaps the most moving victim statement ever written and bravely read it out in court, then heard the rapist’s father dismiss what happened as “twenty minutes of action” and watched as the judge said a long prison sentence would ruin Mr. Turner’s promising young life. As you undoubtedly know, M, Mr. Turner served three months, and his victim got a life sentence in which she will I hope heal and grow even stronger than before, but will always have to endure those who still say things like, “well, she did get drunk, after all.” And she has to endure people like you who would pretend there is justice for women who are assaulted, in brutal, demeaning ways, even by someone far less powerful than the prince you married.

Try telling it to the women who, even right now, are held as sex slaves at truck stops in middle America. Or to the women, like me, who were as teenagers raped by much-older men who seemed kind and interested in us as humans, men who took what they wanted and then threatened unspeakable things if we spoke up. Tell that to the sisters and mothers and friends of women who have been preyed upon by men.  To the 400,000 women whose rape-kit evidence languishes for years, untouched by police.**

And try telling it to the the many men—the kind of men I love—who are strong enough not to need to oppress women to feel powerful. And the men who have said things they regret, and woken up to how damaging that is to them and to us women. (C’mon guys. Join me here in saying this is not okay.)

None of us are buying it anymore, though societal change is painfully slow.

Your saying “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,”reminds me of another “M” from history. The one who said, “No bread? Well, then let them eat cake.” Remember how that turned out?

It’s “boy talk” you say. Your then 59-year-old, rich businessman husband was “egged on,” you insist, as if he was and still is a powerless, poor little boy. It’s bad enough when men dismiss reality, but it’s so hard to watch those women who tear out their own hearts to follow them into the jungle of misogyny. I almost begin to lose hope. I worry women won’t keep speaking up, out of the fear that has kept us silent so long.

I think of words attributed to Margaret Atwood:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

These words ring true.

Still, it’s hard to know, in the middle of a tale, what might happen next. All I know is that for centuries, millennia— the unlistened-to voices of women have gathered in the ether. The voices of those who have been raped, abused, groped, bought, sold, used and discarded, grabbed and then shamed and shunned and silenced—their voices float around still, like tumbleweeds of truth. The  winds of our time  and the hot air of your man and those who hold him up as a paragon are blowing those unheard voices together.

Yes. The true tale: it’s being told. The truth is now, I think, I hope—unstoppable. That’s why everyone is so unsettled right now. That truth is heading toward the flaming egos of men invested in guarding their powers, and toward the women who cling to them, out of fear or denial or both. Men in boardrooms and bedrooms. If you look you can see those egos, burning like gas flares on a dark oil field, as the truth swirls closer. Something’s going to blow up.

I do not imagine you will read my letter, but I had to write, anyway. I wonder.
Maybe underneath all the denial, you knew that your words would be a call to action for women to speak. Maybe underneath it all, you are just scared, too, and dream of a better world, where the assaulted do indeed see justice.

I like to imagine that is who you are, at heart.

* iBachman, R. & Saltzman, E. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/FEMVIED.PDF

**http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/23/how-the-u-s-ended-up-with-400-000-untested-rape-kits.html

For Terence

scared sad face

For Terence

It’s like some evil game
nightmare edition
of Simon says

Why do so many people
who look like me
comb over the footage,
looking for a misstep?

The questions begin,
inevitable
hateful
cloaked in willful blindness
the cloak victim-blaming
always wears:
“Yeah but–was he
fully complying?
Why didn’t he
comply exactly?”

The wrong questions,
again
and again,
world without end

Just ask Charles Kinsey
if hands up & unarmed
& lying on your back
on the road
begging for reason
will keep a black man from being
shot if someone decides
he looks like a threat
because he is breathing

Like someone decided
12-year-old
Tamir was a threat,
sitting alone, dreaming
little-boy dreams
that will never come true.

I dream of a world where
people who look like me
will ask vastly different questions,
harder ones,
braver ones,
again and again
until this world ends

And a new world opens
one where police will be expected
to protect and serve
a father of four
car broken down
who has his hands in the air

Where de-escalation
is the absolute expectation

A world where
Terence Crutcher
would still be here
heart beating,
breathing,
alive.

On sitting down with fear

door with many locks“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
–Hafiz
Fear is ever-present, a room in every house. I think it must be acknowledged to be lived with. Denying fear’s existence, its slithery form under the bed, under the pillow, in your head, in your darkest dreams—is to deny part of what makes us human. Unexamined, it drives us. Unacknowledged, it diminishes us. We want to chase it away, but without it, we are not quite all there. We are fragmented. Brash and bold or handwringing, but not whole.

We are whole when we can look in fear’s hissing-badger face, see it clearly, yet remain calm. It doesn’t mean we are not scared shitless of those needle-sharp badger teeth tearing into us. Tearing into everyone and everything we hold dear. Oh, no. We are terrified of the tearing and even more terrified of the silence that precedes it. Our hearts are beating too fast. We scan the news and cannot breathe, cannot think what to do.

I am saying “we” but when I say that, I am talking of my many selves. Maybe you know what I mean? The selves that scatter as I try to ward off fear.

I’m not afraid of dying, I won’t die tonight—I told myself that, told you that, but lying in the hospital alone, I met fear. It came in the night to shake me awake. It shook every part of me, parts I forgot were there—the frozen teenager, trembling in terror. The happy little girl, lying on her back looking at seagulls and cumulus clouds, breathing sea air, fully in the moment, the one I lost so long ago. It shook the anxious, lost traveler feeling around in the dark for a warm hand, the one learning to hold herself when no one is there.

It awakened the bright-eyed lover who is peaceful as storm clouds threaten, because the sun lives inside her, as it lives inside all of us when we feel whole. It is her I search for now, and I think she’s deep inside, in the fear room, hanging out.

Fear lives in a room deep inside me. A stuffy room I must visit, opening windows, letting in air, relaxing into, though it makes me edgy. It is a room I go to ponder things I cannot understand, go to find the best parts of me. A room where all my many selves find each other, the default meetup place. In the darkest corner is the cradle of courage, dear little courage, weak as an infant, sobbing, wobbly from being so neglected.

I hold this tiny part of me—she is crying for love—and picking her up, I feel again like a strong, sure mother, courageous enough to look at the fear. All the fears. There are so many right now. It seems important to be strong, be together. Strong enough to smile into the invisible beams of hope that shine behind all fears, casting great shadows.

Hold hands, everyone. No matter what, everyone.
Look at fear honestly, and you will find courage.
Yes. There it is, fear. It travels with us, but we don’t need to feed that snarling beast, it always finds something to feed on.
Say, I see you fear. Then turn away. Let it grow dull from inattention.
It’s courage we need to nurture now.

A poem for my neighbor’s hibiscus

pink hibiscus flower closeup
Hibiscus (aka Rosemallow, Rose of Sharon, Swampmallow)

A poem for my neighbor’s hibicus
Furled for the night,
see? They’re rolled up tight,
like tissue-paper cigars in the moonlight
sleeping
in the morning they will spin open
I’ll be walking past
I’ll be sucked in, again
will spin with them, six-and-a-half again
ballerina fantasy
fairy dresses for princesses named
Hibiscus, Rosemallow, Swampmallow.
The white one, shining in a sunbeam?
Rose of Sharon, sweet savior of sinners—
This pink one, I’ll call her Roseasharn Joad
bearing what cannot be borne
blooming when heat swells
when dreams evaporate like raindrops
when petals unwind
magic tunnels in time
swallower of bees
and ladybugs
and me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small miracles

IMG_488423084I believe in hope
in change
in light in dark times
in turning off the news
in speaking the truth
in spreading beauty into the world
in the power of small miracles
in starting where you find yourself
in breathing in the moments

To anyone who struggles (which includes, I think, everyone?)—keep trying, keep moving, keep looking, keep reaching. Change requires action and effort. Sometimes action is just a walk around the neighborhood when you’re feeling lost inside. Remember, as Audrey Hepburn said, “I believe that tomorrow is another day and…I believe in miracles.”