Justicia Para Todos

Photo taken from a moving car by a reluctant teenager. I tinkered with it to try to bring it closer to my memory of the moment of color.

This is the dawn of a new semester. Here on the second day of our new classes, I am trying to get a baseline writing sample from all my students, and trying to make sure that everyone knows how to submit their assignments electronically from the get-go. I’m playing Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem today as the poem of the day, and then asking them to write about what they want America (or their own country) to be.

Here are some of my reflections from yesterday:
The relief was almost as hard to breathe through as the grief has been. I felt like I do when I get off the bike and don’t walk it off–light-headed and wobbly. Even though I was extra careful with my daily grounding and breathing, it was hard to keep that energy anchored. It’s been a heavy task to carry the weight of constant destruction in these past four years, and laying down the better part of that burden was a shock to the system, especially as the anxiety of further domestic terrorism still hung over the day. Are we safe now? I kept asking myself. Maybe now? Maybe we can say we’re safe now?

We have made it from there to here. Now it is time to take ourselves from here to the next where. We are safe, but not rebuilt. I celebrate with great joy all the successes of yesterday, all the diversity of cabinet members, all the voices being called in and called on and amplified. Now we hold the leaders to the vision they offered us, and to the dream of a just and equal society, of justicia para todos.

It would have been nice to have had some indigenous representation in the ceremony, some Muslim voices. I admit that I cringed at the overtly Christian tone it set. Our new president is Catholic, and so I think it is perfectly apt and acceptable to have priests and ministers give Christian blessing to the ceremony, but I did come away with a sense that there was an assumption of Christianity. I think someone even used the words “people of faith” as though it belonged to us all. This does not destroy the beauty of so much of the ceremony, even in the prayers and speeches–but it mars it a little for me, makes me wince. I want our leaders to commit to separation of church and state, a separation that can bless the religious perspectives of a Catholic president, as well as the Muslims and Buddhists and pagans and atheists and seekers among us all.

Yesterday, after four years of a constant barrage of vicious and violent and belittling rhetoric, a young Black woman taught us how to speak to each other again. Kindly and firmly, honest about the brokenness we have walked through. She showed us how the language of poetry can craft a vision of a desired world in ways that rhetorical speeches cannot. The wildly joyful response to her words show how starved we have been for poetry, how we have longed for the uniquely disruptive vision of the Poet. I kept wanting to tell people, “I loved Amanda Gorman before Amanda Gorman was cool,” but that would have been a buzz kill–I remember how entranced I was the first time I heard her voice. “Tyrants,” she said, in the poem she spoke at her own inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate, “fear the poet.” Yup. There has been no poetry in this past administration.

The mockingjay is not necessarily a call for violent revolution, ya’ll. As I understand the books, the mockingjay was about the networks of people committed to changing an oppressive system that privileged the wealthy, about resisting an authoritarian regime that brutalized children and families in order to control the population (sound like a familiar border-control plan?), that centered the vicious and horrific as entertainment. I don’t know if Lady Gaga and her stylists intended the association between her peace dove and The Hunger Games mockingjay, but I hope they did. It was brilliant. To me, it means that the people are still holding the powers that be accountable, no matter who holds the titles. As it should be in a democracy.

I do not pledge my allegiance to any flag or nation. I belong to the world, and pledge my allegiance to the planet and her peoples and her plant and animal life, to her networks of energy. I do like the liberty and justice for all part of our pledge, however. I do hope we can start living up to that. Especially the ALL part. Yesterday was the first time I ever got teary-eyed during the pledge. A Black woman, signing the pledge. White gloves. Eloquent hands. Her strong, clear voice. Her distinct signs that made even non-ASL speakers understand the meanings. (And then later, Amanda Gorman’s eloquent hands that seemed to be speaking along with her voice. Eloquent hands.)

Speaking of hands, I am a fan of Bernie’s Mittens, made for him by an elementary schoolteacher, by recycling wool sweaters, using fleece made of recycled plastic bottles for the lining. I hope he understands that the meme-making of the image of him sitting there in his mittens is more about how he also represents something about us rather than making fun of him. I, too, am sitting in the cold in my mittens, legs and arms crossed, watching to see what we will make of our chances. Dear practical Senator Sanders, how we need your vision to help guide us now. Be as curmudgeonly as you need to be. (And also, I think I might start swearing by Bernie’s Mittens. Seems like an emblem of power somehow. Eloquent mittens.)

I don’t really like our warlike national anthem. Never have. I prefer to think of “America The Beautiful” as our anthem. Why isn’t it? And I loved the sweetness of J-Lo’s rendition of that one, and the gorgeous intensity of her breaking in with the Spanish version of the pledge. My Spanish isn’t good, but I understood what she was saying by the time she got to “justicia para todos.” Yes, please!

Despite my dislike of the anthem, I found myself moved again, at the moment that Lady Gaga turned and gestured (eloquent hands again) to the flag, as she sang that it was still there, and suddenly it wasn’t just about war but about the fact that we had just weathered an insurrection, and no longer just the flag, but Democracy, was still there. Suddenly it all stood for so much more than war and colonialism and imperialism, but for the basic principles of democracy that we keep trying to get right, that were under attack just two weeks before in that exact same spot. I still don’t like the anthem, but Lady Gaga transformed it momentarily for me yesterday.

Keep singing, Mockingjay. We’re listening. We’re gathering.
We’re working as hard as we can to make justicia para todos a reality.
We’re ready to be that light you spoke of, Sweet Fierce Poet.

May we be worthy of our dreams.


Gratitudes:
1. Safety
2. Rest
3. Poets
4. Breath
5. Tabula Rasa

May we create justicia para todos.


“For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.”
–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from The Hill We Climb


THE LUTE WILL BEG
by Hafiz

You need to become a pen
In the Sun´s hand.
We need for the earth to sing
Through our pores and eyes.
The body will again become restless
Until your soul paints all its beauty
Upon the sky.
Don´t tell me, dear ones,
That what Hafiz says is not true,
For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny
And you awake to our constant need
for your love
God´s lute will beg
For your hands.


“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” —From “On Pain” by Khalil Gibran

Roadside Profusion

This is the season when chicory and day lilies bloom together, and the lace of Queen Anne, and the stars of St. John, and the tall hag’s tapers of the mullein, and the profusion of dogbane, and the tidy self-contained heads of red and sweet clover, and the yellow sparkles of sweet melilot, and the nodding pink balls of milkweed that catch you with their wisps of scent when you’ve already walked on five paces. Our roadside is rife with the buzzing and humming of pollinators.

Yesterday, I worked in the herb room at Radiance, the little shop where I work one day a week in the summertime. It’s one of my favorite places. In the evening, Jon and I walked down the road. As we walked, I began to see the same beings I had been smelling and measuring during the day: St. John’s wort, plantain, mullein, red clover, chicory, raspberry leaves, thistle. Wendell Berry’s words flash into my heart: “What we need is here.” And a fragment of Mary Oliver: “The world offers itself. . .”
*****
I often dream that I am wandering down the hallways of a large and rambly and labyrinthine hotel. Sometimes it’s a school, sometimes city streets, but mostly a hotel. I go down hallways and through doors that sometimes lock behind me, into dark passages, up stairways, back into well-lit hallways with a thousand doors. Sometimes I am completely alone, and sometimes there’s a bustle of people.

The anxiety dreams are usually set here, and I have a deadline, somewhere I have to be, and I can’t find my way. Usually, for me, I’m trying to find a class I am supposed to have been teaching, and I’m probably late, and I may have actually missed teaching the class for a couple of days, and my students are completely unsupervised, and I should have had the schedule and directions with me, but I don’t, and I can’t seem to pull it up on my phone. Sometimes, like last night, I ask a helpful receptionist. Last night, I was told brightly to please take a seat and I would be helped in fifteen minutes or so. But I was already five minutes late for a forty minute class. So I set off again to try to find my way on my own.

At one point last night, I did manage to meet up with friends and colleagues for lunch in an incredibly busy dining hall (no Covid in this dream), which was nice, except I was terribly afraid they would discover that I had not taught a single class yet that day and that I had even forgotten how to get from class to class. I was so ashamed. But Ellis was in the dining hall, too, even though he was with his friends, and it was nice to see him there, and happy, and the cooks had made a huge pot of ugali, so he and I kept going back for more of that.

I had kicked off my pointy red high-heeled shoes in my own classroom, but I was supposed to go to a different classroom for every class, and I was supposed to be teaching Math and Foods as well as English, and I suddenly realized as I was rushing down the hall that I was barefoot (thank heavens I wasn’t naked this time), and I was further ashamed that people would see me barefoot because it’s against dress code not to wear shoes.

So it was a long and tiring night, and I kept waking up, and every time I went back to sleep I was back in the dream. At one point, I did manage to find a schedule, but I was already so far behind in the day that it was sort of pointless, and I couldn’t find my way anyway, so I went back and got my painful shoes and sat in on someone else’s French class.

Glad to be awake now.


Gratitudes:
For plant medicine all around, for wise women, for catfolk, for time to make and create, for the mirror of dreams, for giving up shame–anxious bit by anxious bit, for the ones who are committed to transforming themselves and society.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.” ―Martin Heidegger


“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


“You have to learn to get up from the table when LOVE is no longer being served.” —Nina Simone


“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” —Tom Waits


“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” —Rafael Campo


“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” —Mark Morford


“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
—John O’Donohue


“There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on.” —Richard Rohr

Voices Made of Fire

If you could trust your voice completely,
if you didn’t have to consider how how others would respond,
if you didn’t have to be safe, to be tame, to be docile and
humble, acceptable and charming and quiet,
if you had not been trained to make your words
into an easy chair, to turn your voice to honey:
What would you say?

Baiting the Hook

Today’s Poetic Asides Prompt is to write a poem titled “Complete (____).” I’m going to take a little bit of liberty.

The Compleat Poet

Bait your hook with a juicy image,
the wriggling worm of a story,
something you’ve pulled
from the muddy garden plot
of an ancient dream,
or from underneath the rock
of a hidden memory.

Your elements are tabula rasa and type.
Sounds and silences.
Language and lore.

Walk along the stream-bank
every morning at dawn,
so you can learn how the mist
rises above the waters
just before the fish start leaping.

Learn their habits,
their secret hiding places,
their favorite words and phrases.
Bring them the most succulent morsels.

Tease your line across the surface,
dipping down with quick
and tantalizing strokes.
Cultivate patience.

Carry your treasures home in a pail,
or scrawled in a notebook or napkin.
Learn to cook them fresh.

Poetry

Gratitude of Resistance Twenty-Three:
Poetry. November always feels a little frantic because I add writing a poem a day to my schedule. I have been doing this for so many years that by now, I would feel lost and bereft if I didn’t do this. It’s part of what holds me to my true purpose. I love teaching, and I feel like I belong in this job with these students and these colleagues at this time in my life. But I have chosen Poet as my identity, and whether or not my poetry ever makes an impression in the world, I would no longer be able to do my other work without it. November and April and summer always bring me back to poetic center.

May we walk in Beauty!

All a Prayer


Gratitude List:
1. Towhee and peewee, and phoebe and wren
2. Hummingbird is still in the hollow. I thought she had gone, or died.
3. Those who accompany the people in vulnerable situations
4. Cucumbers with cream cheese
5. The voices of the people are sometimes heard. Speak up. Speak out. Stand for justice.

May we walk in Beauty!


Thoughts for Monday:
“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.” ―Martin Heidegger
***
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.: —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
***
“You have to learn to get up from the table when LOVE is no longer being served.” —Nina Simone
***
“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” —Tom Waits
***
“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” —Rafael Campo
***
“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” —Mark Morford
***
“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
—John O’Donohue
***
“There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on.” —Richard Rohr

Going Somewhere

Today’s prompt is to write a Going Somewhere poem:

This poem gets up before dawn.
It listens for the rustle of a thousand starlings
waking in the hollow, and follows them out into the grey.
This poem feels the splattering of rain on its face
and the tingle of autumn chill on the skin.
It keeps its face tilted into sky
as the leaves twirl and flutter
out of the morning sky.

This poem has somewhere to go.
It’s going where the geese go,
following those ragged lines
sprinkled across the sky.

When you wake at midnight,
you will hear it calling through the darkness,
urging you to adventure,
tempting you to take your risks
and pack your dreams into a bag
to follow where it leads.


“Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air. Partly because that’s what they do—they think about things that are going on—but partly because they take their own personal experience and see how that fits in with what they see in the world. A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment.” —Don Share
*
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” —Maya Angelou
*
“We need poets to change the world.” —Justin Trudeau
*
“…Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.”
—from “How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)” by Wendell Berry
*
Morning Prayer
by Phillip Newell
In the silence of the morning
your Spirit hovers over the brink of the day
and a new light pieces the darkness of the night.
In the silence of the morning
life begins to stir around me
and I listen for the day’s utterances.
In earth, sea and sky
and in the landscape of my own soul
I listen for utterances of your love, O God.
I listen for utterances of your love.


Gratitude List:
1. The weekend, right on time
2. Language that builds bridges, that invites conversation, that includes spaces for listening
3. Autumn skies
4. How good it feels to be warm after I have been chilled
5. This wall of photos of our ancestors

May we walk in Beauty!

Door to the Temple

Today’s prompt is to write a disguise poem.

You stood–still–in the center of the room,
the dancers weaving in and out about you,
a silken mask hid all your face but your eyes.

If they noticed you, they gave no sign.
They whirled about and sipped their wine.
They never took note of your disguise.

Sometimes the simplest way to hide
is in plain view, where the blase few
will never hear your silent sighs.

*(A little dramatic, perhaps, but i’ll work it up a bit later. For now, it’s time for bed.)


“No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds –
November!”
–Thomas Hood, No!
*
“I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” –Mary Oliver
*
“Awake my dear. Be kind to your sleeping heart. Take it out into the fields and let it breathe.” –Hafiz (I know I posted this one recently. I still need it.)
*
“Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed.” ~~ Muriel Rukeyser
*
“We discover the Earth in the depths of our being through participation, not through isolation or exploitation. We are most ourselves when we are most intimate with the rivers and mountains and woodlands, with the sun and the moon and the stars in the heavens…We belong here. Our home is here. The excitement and fulfillment of our lives is here…Just as we are fulfilled in our communion with the larger community to which we belong, so too the universe itself and every being in the universe is fulfilled in us.”
~ Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe
*
Words of Howard Zinn:
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t ‘win,’ there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.
“An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.
“If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
*
It may seem harsh, but that’s sort of his point–
Bill Maher:
“Christians, I know, I’m sorry; I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t. I’m not even judging you. I’m just saying, logically, if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian. You’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers. You’re just fans.”


Gratitude List:
1. Saffron yellow is the color of the season, and everyone is wearing it. I don’t usually pay much attention to the colors of the season,but this is a stunning color. I might have to buy myself something in saffron.
2. Moonrise tonight. The moon was like a mist, a ghost, veiled face.
3. Two purrfolk on my lap at once
4. Grace and mercy
5. Sleep

May we walk in Beauty!

Poetry is the Lifeblood of Rebellion

“The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.” -Joanna Macy
*
“All I’m saying is,
Refuse to act like nothing is happening.” —Natasha Alvarez
*
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” –Harriet Tubman
*
“Honesty is grounded in humility and indeed in humiliation, and in admitting exactly where we are powerless. Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are.” –David Whyte
*
“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” –Alice Walker
*
“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” –Albert Camus
*
RESPONSIBILITY
by Grace Paley
It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets they can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy
to hang out and
prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet to not pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery
there is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time


Gratitude List:
1. Dinner with the dormies
2. My colleagues
3. Being listened to, being heard
4. This little air conditioner in the window
5. The way mist gathers in the hollow

May we walk in Beauty!

A Pleasant Day


It’s a pleasant day for an old man cat, when the sun shines and the catnip is rising through the myrtle.  (Photo by Farmer Jon.)

UNESCO has named March 21 World Poetry Day.  Someone on my Facebook page suggested we mark the day by quoting Mary Oliver: “Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.” I read that part of that one to my classes today.

See if you can catch
a wriggling poem from air
to mark the new day.

Gratitude List:
1. Happy cat
2. Clear fresh water
3. Poetry and Poets
4. Wise women
5. A good book

May we walk in Beauty!