Moment of Silence

Weighing in.

One option, when it comes to dealing with confusion is: promise, announce, proclaim, blame. Another, offering less up front, commands infinitely more. Observing a full spectrum of unknowns, this one points silently with the gaze, to offer no defense. Defenseless, the humble observer can only sway, moving steadily into an unnamed dance. No one teaches its choreography because there is nothing to teach, and no one ever comes running to learn how to wait. 

Against Horror

A time to grieve.

Bodies again, but no words. 

The point was our speechlessness.

Terror: when the body flees to survive.

Horror: parted lips, frozen and immobile, a spectacle of power. It almost always goes by another name, or none.

State: a verb for the creation of complicity.

The method: consistent spectacle.

What heals, then?

The opposite of spectacle is suffering. To suffer is to return from horror with a voice.

Blessed are they who––

Cry against the silence, throw shattered voices into it.

The opposite of order, this is language like broken windows.

The opposite of calm, this is babbling, wild-haired, full-bodied.

The opposite of isolation, grief demands recognition of our common breaks. Its substance is our connective tissue. It flows with the blood of a common wound.

Grief is a voice, and it sounds like the inverse of okay,

which sounds like the reverse of an answer.

Consider this moment.  Against the hum of this machine, let us launch 

a shattering cry. Now is the time. 

Break.

***

Inspired by Christina Rivera Garza’s Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country and by Adriana Cavarero’s Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, translated by William McCuaig. 

Shepherd

The real work of preserving life.

Protect her but know this. Only by doing so in earnest can humility be learned. Some are inclined to believe that the charge begins and ends with what the lost believe is the sole triumph of her sex, forgetting that it is not her womb but how she sat with the creatures in the yard, soothed the sick and the dying, welcomed and fed strangers, and traveled long distances to meet the ones in prison. Some would claim to defend life while they abandon her to her grief, and to all the rest of her work.

Not all of her children are living, but they all have names, and it would be a mistake for anyone outside the limits of her skin to presume to know them––or her, the contents of her heart or the will of her womb. 

There are reasons why the Liberator––who so many seem to prefer in infant form––preferred, as a man, the laying on of hands. There are reasons why he knew to send her attackers away, forgoing either law or personal insult, saying only this: let he who is clean of living cast the first stone. Another time, he asked Simon, in the company of another supposed criminal, Do you see this woman? Weeping and extravagant in her devotion, others would dismiss her on legal grounds, citing purity codes. He knew her by her tears. Later, when he met the women on the road of sorrows he said to them, Weep not for me, but for yourselves, because the day will come. 

To ignore the grief of this moment is to fall asleep again in the garden, when all that was asked was vigilance over one who is persecuted and afraid.

More than an Elegy

New life in the ruins.

You can try not to believe the dizzy river or trembling mountain as a matter of pride, or maybe fealty to the fact of this ruin. This street where I work takes its name from a water body I’ve never seen. I’m afraid to ask. The mountains above the freeway, behind the strip mall by the Arco, seem often to sit in silent judgement, accepting the cell phone towers at their crowns like parents too tired to argue.  Here, in this concrete landscape of grey-beige buildings with garish trim and iron rails, where the center that once had shade trees now calls to mind a prison yard, I am so often in mourning that even the occasional peal of real laughter sounds like the fall of the last pane of glass in a war-ravaged former home, and all I can see are the abandoned tricycles tipped over in the soot of the wreck.

But yesterday morning, in the dingy shade of a narrow steel awning, above the concrete walk, against the industrial stucco, on top of a steel grey electrical box, there was a nest of baby birds my love had rescued when he saw it beginning to slip. I was afraid to touch them, he said, but–– we had learned, as children in the wake our parents’ wars, that even our hands could mean death to whatever still managed to hatch. The freeway roared behind us, and the leaf blowers in the parking lot, and we stood there, beholding. Soon we were a small circle of celebrants, calling Oh! and Oh, look! One shared how she had watched the slow build over time, afraid to believe her ears when she heard them finally, the day before.

The babies called back to us, lifting their fuzzy heads, opening new beaks wide, something that sounded like See us! See! See! –– as if to echo our nearly muted hopes, amplified to drown all other noise; as if to answer those questions we feared to ask, about the possibility of life, even now. Hi birds! I called back, open palm over heart.  Hi! Hi! Look at you, I repeated, again and again, gaping, a fool helpless in witness.

Tell Me, Neighbor

Feeling a wound.

The fact that it is so difficult to express is what complicates, and in these complications, sometimes art. In its invisible geography, the felt experience of any other tends to flicker, then disappear.

Like fireflies, or a faulty bulb? Like meteor showers?

No, not like any of these.

It breaks your metaphor, doesn’t it?

It breaks.

A choice, then: the astounding freedom of unsight, or the weight of witness.

This body, take it. It has never known certainty, the first sound a cry, shattering words.

***

In her profound The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, Elaine Scarry writes, “When one hears about another person’s physical pain, the events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the same remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portentous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth. Or, alternatively, it may seem as distant as the interstellar events referred to by scientists who speak to us mysteriously of not yet detectable intergalactic screams. . .”

Almost Endless

For a Monday morning.

We all fall from our infinities. These landings have a way of knocking the wind from the lungs. After the crash, there’s a stillness before it begins again. Inhale, exhale.

Loquat, cypress, tire swing. Field mouse, damselfly, dark-eyed junco. Brush rabbit, baby, coyote. All of this before you even find your feet again.

What will you do without your delusions of endlessness? The unbound forever vanished, here is a beginning instead.

Breaking Silence

A tribute.

When silence is betrayal, when uncertainty mesmerizes, a calling to speak can be a vocation of agony––so rejoice as well, because we are here in firm dissent, a new spirit among us.

No document from human hands can make any of the persecuted less our brothers––sisters, hear their broken cries. They watched us poison water, bulldoze land, and the children run in packs in the street, seeking food for their mothers.

Family, village, land––destroyed. The initiative is ours now, to somehow cease this madness, to be prepared, with every creative protest possible. To challenge the young with alternatives, each by their own convictions.

There is a deeper malady here, and the answer so readily dismissed as weak is love––courageous, relentless against fear.

Let us hope. We still have a choice.

Begin. 

***

Exactly one year before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his speech “Beyond Vietnam––Time to Break the Silence” at Riverside Church in New York City. Today’s post is a tribute to this moment, assembled from words and phrases in this speech. Found poetry is one of my favorite ways to listen.

Bird Feeder

Sights for the sore.

When the pigeons come near the bench, a white-haired lady tossing crumbs from her lap begins to laugh when a lone mallard approaches. You too? she says. Okay, okay. Then come three or four other ducks. Sure, sure, she tells the first, bring your friends. There is enough.

Down the path, a toddler turns from his red rubber ball, and now he is coming too, the others behind him. In the distance, a train sound. Uh-oh, says the boy, and then turns back to the birds. Hands open, arms out. The woman laughs again.

Rituals

From one palm to another.

What grows here is an open hand. It catches shade from remaining trees like falling rain. Cup the view, wrap a fragile forever in time, hold. An old ritual: pull back the sun. It can’t be helped, the impulse to pry a closed fist into an open palm, for heat or to signal an invitation. Like, Stay.

***

Inspired by the sculptures of Lorenzo Quinn. And everything else.

Valley

Between us.

Between being and becoming, a valley holds the wasted lives of a time when we thought we could not know what we were except by testing hot fire against some idea of what it felt to be a god, before the end of the world, and we are in this valley now, still with this longing, and what can it be but nostalgia for the days when it was possible to imagine anything but this relentless fragility with its incessant reminders, that there is no becoming beyond this? Instead of a world, see this baby, head bandaged from the last strike, another attempt by a would-be god of our own making, to make some urgent point, but there is no scorecard without a world to rule, only this child looking up, eyes glazed and the dead all around.