6.03.2020

unrest

My teenage boy is speechless. He whines and howls and cries. Is he in pain? Is he soiled? Is he hungry? Bored, anxious, sad, confused, lonely, frustrated? Does he feel as if he's been treated unjustly? He must want so terribly to be heard, to be understood, perhaps even to be freed from his reality. He goes most crazy—fever pitch—just before a seizure hits, his brain attacked, his body racked with spasms. His protests are righteous, his message, deafening, just trying to get our help and attention.

Other voices are far more articulate in expressing their dissent of unarmed, shot or suffocated bodies left to languish alone in the streets, in cars, parks, subways and apartments. Their only offense: having black skin. 

Rodney King. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Aiyana Jones. Laquan McDonald. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Renisha McBride. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.

Countless other priceless souls are stolen by White cops and vigilantes with tasers, guns and chokeholds. Knees pressed on necks. Bullets in backs of heads and chests, close range or while retreating. Only cell phones in their grip. Asleep in their beds. Driving to work. Playing in parks. Out for a jog. Asking for help. Watching television on the couch. 

The anger over their hurt and murder is mounting. Peaceful protestors choke the streets. Some take a knee. Others sit cross-legged, arms raised. Braids of Black and Brown and White bodies hold signs and cry out the names of those whose lives were stolen, echoing the phrases:

Hands up, don't shoot! Enough is enough! No justice, no peace! I can't breathe!

Decades have passed. Nothing changes. Another gruesome video inevitably emerges. Tensions and anger heighten. Black and Brown bodies are disproportionately lost in other ways because of systematic racism—cornonavirus, weathering, hypertension, diabetes, mass incarceration. When will justice be served?

MLK said a riot is the language of the unheard. Yet these are not riots. Rather, rebellions, uprisings, unrest. Demonstrators are not the enemy. Looting is not worse than being an innocent victim of a shooting. Cities strangled by unrest can recover; bodies strangled by cops cannot. These homicides are not anomalies. A barrel of bad apples can taint legions. Too many are rotten. Those seeds meant for breeding have cyanide, you know. Enough to go on killing innocents. Enough poison to spoil generations of Black families. Enough to deep-six the dreams of tomorrow's fathers, mothers, wives, sons, daughters.

White privilege exists. Well-off or poor, it has helped most get where they've gotten without getting racially profiled, 
unjustly stopped and frisked, pulled-over, harassed, stalked, suspected, questioned, arrested, trodden. I promise. I should know.

To protest systematic oppression is righteous. In plain sight, our Black brethren are being neglected, abused, maimed, scapegoated, murdered. And though our collective cries of injustice have been deafening, it's as if they're still unheard.


Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

5.28.2020

brokenness

so much brokenness.

my child's brain. myriad hopes and dreams. promises. hearts. this nation. too many american families, homes and livelihoods. the criminal justice system. the federal pandemic response. all of this comes to mind in the dim, quiet moments while holding my son as he seizes.

so much brokenness. 

Calvin's strident seizure-gasps, like that of a death rattle. white police officers suffocating another black man—hands cuffed, face pressed hard into asphalt pleading, "i can't breathe." what is wrong with people?

so much brokenness. 

black joggers being stalked and shot. white women calling the cops on black men and making up dangerous stories about threats and assault. black people getting arrested on their own front porch, harassed on their campuses, in their library or dorm, in the foyer of their own apartment, shot while watching television in their homes. white men then questioning whether these blatant acts are racist. white men and women condemning black folks who take a knee to peacefully protest their ongoing oppression and violence against them. what is wrong with people?

so much brokenness. 

folks contemptuous of the act of wearing masks meant to protect those most at risk of exposure to this dangerous virus, like calvin. scornful of masks which are worn because we are supposed to care about and for each other. menacing men armed with AR-15s protesting government protective measures. a president stoking that very dissent. states opening up regardless of the virus' trajectory. folks congregating without masks as if uninfected or immune.

so much brokenness.

greed. corruption. deceit. wickedness. inequity. bigotry. bullying. conceit. narcissism. self-dealing. defrauding. sloth. petulance. recklessness. all these from our so-called leader(s). what is wrong with this man, these people?

so much brokenness.

and yet, that which is broken can usually be fixed. with love. truth. charity. patience. righteousness. courage. unity. science. knowledge. wisdom. ingenuity. leadership. accountability. selflessness. humanity. hope. kindness. compassion. empathy. like holding a broken child, a glimmer of dawn seeping through the shades as he seizes.

Merrilyn Downs prays over a memorial for George Floyd
Photo, Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Des Moines Register - USA TODAY Network

5.26.2020

bones

Every morning I wake with achy feet. Who knows why. Stretching my Achilles tendons helps. Perhaps I'm growing into my mother's soles and toes and various other arthritic bones perhaps exacerbated by having had six kids.

When turning my head I can hear and feel the grit and grind of gears in my neck, its sinews, bones, tissue and tendons as they crackle and pop like embers, or pebbles or sand underfoot. Should this be happening at fifty-six? My inner body is stiff—so unlike it used to be when both palms could press flat against the earth, shoes on, knees locked. My outer body is looser yet less elastic than in years past. And gravity is working on it. Thankfully, my aches and pains don't usually last; they linger a bit, then disappear and show up later in another limb or joint and, like the seasons, the cycle repeats.

To add insult, Calvin flails and grabs and stomps, his hands and fists forever flying in my face, rigid fingers clasping at the back of my neck, scratching and digging in. Changes in his loose routine are sometimes met with frenzy. Or maybe it's that his tummy hurts or that a seizure is "due." I wish I knew. In any case, his grousing chaps my nerves. His clawing dogs me. His restlessness never gives in. Because he does not adequately see or fear or walk or reason, I have no choice but to follow in his ceaseless steps. Daily, I ask myself how long I can keep up.

Lauren stops by to see the garden. I had invited her to come in by way of the field in back. While admiring the blooming rhododendrons and budding azaleas, she and her dog keep their distance. From under her straw hat, she notes the garden's control and structure, each shrub and tree's careful placement, the meticulous pruning meant to make their branches thick and sturdy, the deliberate design of limb and leaf and blossom to work in concert with each other.

"Your garden has bones," she says.

I tell her that they hold me up.

5.25.2020

vigil strange i kept on the field one night

Every Memorial Day I post this poem by Walt Whitman, and every year I think of those who have lost loved ones prematurely and senselessly. This year, along with honoring and remembering those lost to war, I mourn the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, many of whom—in a better world—could have been spared.

Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a look I shall never forget,
One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the ground,
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my way,
Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses,
(never again on earth responding,)
Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade—not a tear,
not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear'd,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug
grave I deposited,
Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten'd,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell. 

—Walt Whitman

Confederate dead, Chancellorsville

5.22.2020

just two

Suppressing my instinct to embrace her felt strange. It had been easily two months since we'd last met over coffee to discuss politics, writing, dreams, food. At a safe distance—more like ten feet than six—we took Smellie to the fields and made our way along the path through the woods, veering into the brush whenever we encountered others. It was only the second time since all this coronavirus craziness began that I met with a friend. As we strolled, we caught up on each other's goings-on, and that of our sons and husbands. We toyed with the idea of the four of us gathering for cocktails around a backyard fire, but neither could say when we'd feel comfortable enough. It seems there's still so much we don't know about this virus, and we worry about letting our guard down.

When we arrived back at the house, I considered offering her something to drink so we could sit and enjoy the dwindling afternoon sun in the garden. But I'd have to touch her glass, I thought to myself while trying to work out how I could logistically handle it safely. She told me she had to be on her way, anyway. So I walked her to her car and, from yards away, we gave each other air hugs, and I blew her a kiss goodbye as she drove off.

Later, I told Michael that though I loved seeing her face and visiting with her in person, it felt dispiriting to have to keep so far away from someone I like so much. There's something melancholy and alien—especially since I, like Calvin, am a very tactile person—about seeing beloveds but not being able to hug them. It's a feeling I don't get when I FaceTime with others, though there's a tinge of emptiness in doing that, too.

But until we feel in our bones and guts that it's safe to gather, drinks will be made for one couple. These chairs will be lounged in only by us. The garden will be visited by no other humans, except maybe in passing. The backyard fires will be warming just two.

5.19.2020

still sheltering

After a couple of months sheltering in place, and despite a rising coronavirus death toll, states are beginning to open again. Folks are lining up to get into their local barber, salon and drive-in. I heard that the ice cream stand up the road a spell was packed last weekend. I'm beginning to see groups of kids riding bikes together. Glorious weather is drawing neighbors outdoors. And while I miss our friends terribly, and long to gather with them, I'm still skittish.

Some folks are comfortable hanging outside in small clusters, their chairs spaced at what is thought a safe distance. Others are bringing childcare workers back into the fold. Many have continued to visit their extended family members—parents, grandparents, sons, daughters, in-laws. Some families have been "quarantining together" with other families all along—albeit not under one roof—citing their trust in one another despite evidence that wider circles exponentially increase the risk of getting the virus and spreading it to others.

Sunday, when I visited my friend outside for the first time since autumn, I kept my distance. He sat on one end of his ample porch, I on the other. When he sneezed, I pulled the collar of my jacket over my nose, envisioning the droplets hitching a ride on the wind. For months he's been receiving visitors on a daily basis, some of them frontline healthcare workers, others employed in various essential businesses potentially exposing them, and him, to the virus. So visiting him makes me a tad nervous.

As I watch the news unfold, I wonder how many of the brazen gun-toters protesting government shutdowns know that perhaps as many as half of infected people experience no symptoms while actively shedding the virus. Have they heard that small droplets can hang out in the air eight minutes, perhaps longer? Do they understand that wearing a mask is meant to protect others? When I explain to people why I am keeping such a distance, I wonder if they think I'm too zealous. Do they get how vulnerable Calvin is, or what a clusterfuck we'd be in if Michael or I were to get seriously ill? I mean, who would take care of Calvin if we were laid up, or worse? These questions lead my thoughts to little Charlotte Figi, a girl a lot like Calvin who died last month from complications of what was undoubtably Covid-19.

I feel there is so much we still don't know about this thing. We don't have a vaccine. We don't have a decent treatment. Immunity may be elusive; five sailors who fully recovered from it have recently become reinfected. And so, even though I'm eager to visit friends and host gatherings of our lovelies, for now I'll keep sheltering in. I'll continue to spend my days taking lots of short walks around the neighborhood and long car rides near the water with Calvin. I'll keep spending my mornings savoring time to myself in the woods walking Smellie and in the garden soaking up the beauty of flowers, hummingbirds and bumblebees, and dreaming. I'll keep looking forward to evenings with my husband who, thankfully and for a multitude of reasons, is the best person with whom I could ever find myself in quarantine.

Simpson's Point

5.15.2020

listening

Above the tick-tock of two old clocks, the rattle of storm windows, and the knock of radiators, I swear I can hear gas hissing through copper lines to the furnace downstairs. Outside, crows caw and cars rumble past, the traffic having picked up some since cities and towns are slowly opening, even as bodies pile up. In less than three months, there's been a staggering eighty-seven thousand coronavirus deaths—and counting—in this nation. The collective mourning must be deafening. Is anybody listening?

Through the southern windows, sun fades the back of the green couch where Calvin sleeps in our laps on the days after grand mals. He pulls my head into his, wants them nested together. I gladly accept. It gives me time to rest. Smellie pads over and plops her head on my leg where there's a free hand that can pet her. This will be how we will spend much of our day together.

If I were to sit up from here, I could nearly spy the gray fox if it were crossing our backyard. She's a wild-looking thing, low to the ground, grizzled and lean, a straight line going from snout to tail when she's hunkered down on the hunt. Once, I heard her screech like a woman or child being tortured. It gave me shivers. Though small—about the weight of a cat—if backed into a corner she might give our dog a run for her money. Luckily, Smellie's got seventy-five pounds going for her—the same as Calvin. Nature is crazy.

Peeking out the side window, I watch our neighbor's fifteen-month-old daughter who's already doing cartwheels around Calvin—walking down the sidewalk without holding her mother's hand, picking dandelions, tossing balls, waving at strangers. Recently, I wrote to someone about Calvin, telling them he's as much like a baby or toddler as a teen. Some things never change.

I'm almost drifting off when Calvin comes to. Such is the story of my life in this house. Rarely do I get more than a few minutes or hours of uninterrupted sleep or solitude, especially now. Never enough time to dream satisfyingly except when I'm walking in the woods with Smellie, hearing the woodpeckers drum, the songbirds warble, and the wind rush through the trees like a collective voice telling my mind to hush and not to worry—it's listening.

The end of the day finally arrives. In a cool shadow, I hear a bumble bee bounce off a window. They're huge this year for whatever reason. Earlier, I was able to dig three holes in the back corner of our yard and plant some arborvitaes. They look happy, as if the've been there forever, like trees yearn to be. As the sun sinks, there's almost no traffic. I notice again the clocks ticking and that same buzz or ring or hiss, though the furnace isn't running. I think it must be so quiet that what I'm hearing is just myself listening.

Photo by Michael Kolster