apartment

I

The second floor with a shiny red door

Set back from the road our school bus rumbled along 

when thick forest still rippled down the hills. 

Two skinny little boys emerge after the turn waiting

to climb aboard. Angry wet eels dripping up the aisle 

Woodsoaked, concave, Appalachia faces.

One bedroom with ugly brown carpet, galley kitchen, 

palatial rooms and a washer dryer. A mansion. 

II

A grey cave, smooth wood floors, one bathroom,

three women.

Walls pressed into pyramids of brick soaked light. 

Slivers of space. 

The neighbor’s kitchen sink; their cat for company. 

A narrow closetless room painted 

easter egg green. 

An architecture of clinging

to Jupiter’s island. 

III

Solitude. Bay window. Shipstern. Studio. 

Ivory curved intestinal radiator

Creaking, worn wood floors, unpainted 

bathroom door. Tree kissing fire escape. 

TALL STREET FACING WINDOWS. Naps. Quiet.  

Cove shelled dividing wall. 

AN ENTIRE WALL OF CLOSET SPACE. 

Transplanted to mainland. Harboring

port along the river. Lowtide.

IV 

Flat panelled planes of sun. Heavy 

hammered lanes of light. 

Sandy bottom desert waves. Steps from the beach, 

the bustle, the crowd, the Pacific bellowing

beyond acres of white. Vendors, 

shops, muscle beach. Hotbox, fruited flat skies,

sandwiched, bellied. A whale mouth street 

of endless summer holiday. A neighborhood

of canals, palms, thighs, wonder.   

V

Complex. Third floor. Community. 

Three women (again). Black leather couches (again).

Hand me down furniture to soft sock footed carpet. 

A large bedroom, books shelved on the floor.

Your own linoleum bathroom, gold-plated frosted-glass shower. 

Balcony blessed sun come over mountain 

line. Contemporary 

modern artifice, peelable, duplicitous. 

Post graduate haven. Professional facade.  

VI

Matte blue sky today and today and today and

today summer long. Forever fertile in paradise.

Hollowed white bungalow. Gravel

yard, wood fence, light shadow passing

pedestrian. Lush green quiet

Empty bicycle blocks. Beach. 

Sun drenched piano keys. 

Backyard washer dryer on

California Avenue.

VII

Frigid freezer of shag carpet underground club 

Feet of snow and ice, frozen

laked town of the middle west; play pen. Family 

dinners, gray skies, cold wooden

houses, sidewalks, baby sitting. Cave

dwelling adolescent patina: futon,

single bed, open concept, cinderblock, 

well positioned poster art. Pass words. Hand shakes. 

Climbing at walls in winter hats and snowpants. 

VIII

Glossy gray kitchen cabinets, laminate light 

wood floors, no legal second exit: the district underground. 

The tangled green garden and strange fit 

 of another’s city, upgraded abode of new spring love. 

The back alley fenced in becoming

multi colored, multi roomed, new kitchen appliances

lining the hallway, bathroom in a back corner, 

caved in concrete floored, security deposit stealing 

grave of love. 

IX

Mountain views. A little (gasp) yard. 

Wide smiling porch with blue wood chipped floors. 

Ripped window screens, inescapable laminate

pasted in tub, the ant return 

each spring. 

East facing plateau. Tree bound, circle wrapped walking trail 

down a gravel path. Hills, geese 

deer, copse 

cloud and sinking sun. 

April Fools

Recently I have started swiping left on my phone. As if instagram wasn’t enough of a distraction, I sought yet another way to waste the hours of my life. Swiping left brings up a range of corporately culled news articles. The top story on the screen always seems to be governmental or presidential in nature, which seductively attempts to legitimize your time wasting endeavor, but as you scroll down, the stories blend into a mixed bag of celebrity gossip or whatever hodge podge compilation a staff writer has managed to condense into a three minute read. 

I found myself reading one of these stories last week; a list of anti-suffragette cartoons from the early 20th century. The suffragettes were overwhelmingly ugly, brutish and masculine. Taller than their husbands, ruddy faced, bespeckled, flat chested or overweight.  A woman voter?! Why, Men would be Left at Home! Alone to tend Children and watch the Soup!  These befuddled, neglected husbands wore wrinkled shirts and sad faces; sat in rocking chairs holding toddlers, stood over a boiling pot while two or three children ran amok. All abandoned by the devil suffragette who was breezing “Off to the Movies!” leaving a home in disrepair; purse in hand, head high, taking leave of her husband whose shoulders slump with domestic obligation. A run of three posters showed voluptuous women with sensual mouths dolled up as sheriffs, cops, mayors – Would You Elect Her?? – the posters decried. Can She be Your Sheriff? Can She Hold the Key to the City? A small shin sized man drooled and ogled his affirmative. Several cartoons depicted women at rallies, or with pickets; ugly, red faced, yelling. Most prevalent throughout:  Suffrage for Women = Down with Men.  Liberation hinging on oppression. Sound familiar? 

To require professional women athletes to organize and strategize and somehow create the maneuvering to secure their own paychecks – feels a little like DEI employees – largely black and brown – being the ones to teach white people in corporate america, higher education and government how to treat them better, how to “be nice” to people of color, how to value all that is not white. After lunch let’s learn how to dismantle white supremacy from your mind, from your policies, from hiring practices, from jokes and sentences and words – and it will be the oppressed to teach you. 

I am thinking more of the WNBA – a league that is predominantly, overwhelmingly black and lesbian – and whose players have been told, among other things, to stop complaining.  Stop complaining about the pay gap. You don’t bring in revenue (if you weren’t aware) which means you aren’t valued as a product, as a commodity, as entertainment.  You need to organize and strategize and take action. Tell companies and investors that they should value you. They should care. Make them. Hold corporate sponsors accountable to tell your stories and invest in the longevity and profitability of your place of employment; your product; you.  Go and be the DEI employee, on top of your professional athletic career and commitments, and teach those people how to treat you, how to value you. Don’t just complain. Then all the focus goes to your complaining and nothing gets done.  

Another unsolicited, elucidating argument criticizing women for their own good. 

This player rightly holds corporations accountable with their empty “women’s empowerment” messaging but I wonder if he understands this extends to his own employer, the NBA, and why he couldn’t make this argument on behalf of WNBA players, advocating for them and encouraging those in power (himself included) to use their leverage. Why instead does this twitter episode become some type of tactical critique?  

And why the harping on complaining? Why is it problematic when women complain, when women are angry, march, lead, decide, speak?  Why is he uncomfortable or annoyed or disheartened by women complaining? He claims it’s ineffective and instead there needs to be an action plan – developed and executed by WNBA players –  in addition to being professional athletes. Teach them how to value you. On top of all the time and energy and effort you put into being a professional athlete, which, he concedes, he does as well and therefore understands. 

In an Audre Lorde interview taped for public radio in 1982, her interviewer talks about being out on the road, in various small towns and small colleges, in the muted corners of this country and really feeling hopeful. Hopeful in 1982. Sound familiar? She says, the young people, the young women, it seems are really getting feminism and equality – they’re really understanding what this is about and demanding more. 

Audre’s response is underwhelmed.  She shares her repeated shock when the students she teaches, each wave, each generation, without fail, continue to come to her wet behind the ears not knowing their history, not knowing the fight, not knowing who came before and what they fought for and what we are fighting still. She wonders: why did no one tell you?  Why didn’t your big brother or big sister let you know what it was? Why are our stories and our struggles not being shared?  Why is it we keep having to remake the wheel, one generation after another?  

This is why you COMPLAIN. Because the entities who invested in the NBA, who wrote the checks or moved the money, motivated not by a desire to pay players based upon their worth, but to create an industrial entertainment complex making them wealthier than some nations, don’t care about NBA players and they certainly don’t care about their stories. They don’t care about Lebron James and Akron and his single mother. They care about profit. Revenue. COMPLAIN because you are speaking for those single mothers, the ones who worked more than one job and kept the lights on and went without so their children could have and the millions of invisible women who never get their stories shared because those stories don’t bring in REVENUE and those lives aren’t valued until their SONS stand in front of important people and receive awards and SEE THEM, SHARE THEM, THANK THEM. AND THAT’S ONE WAY TO USE YOUR PLATFORM.  This is not about a game. The gulf male athletes see between themselves and a female athlete speaks only to the success of systems designed to keep us apart, in a hierarchy, in a box, with a dollar amount attached, terrified of someone ripping it down or setting it on fire. Because who would you be then? 

COMPLAIN. RAGE. Be misunderstood, be labeled angry, or confrontational, or difficult, or overbearing. RAGE. COMPLAIN because you are changing the world while some people think this is about a paycheck. Rage for the 12 year old girl who is shooting in her driveway or in the after school league and who has NO IDEA the extent to which she is not valued, she is not profitable, she is irrelevant, simply because she’s not a man. RAGE and COMPLAIN so that she will grow up and hopefully, hopefully know what you are RAGING against.  She will walk armed knowing that this world is not fair or free but that others have come before her to fight it. She will be prepared to make choices and live with their consequences because being quiet, or polite, or a mother, or a wife will not make her safe.  RAGE so that another generation doesn’t have to walk into any gym not knowing the fight, not knowing who came before, not knowing the very real violence threatening at every corner. COMPLAIN and COMPLAIN and COMPLAIN for her. COMPLAIN LOUDLY so she will grow up knowing she can RAGE and rest as needed. This is the world she lives in – not some false, flowery other. BE ANGRY and COMPLAIN to EVERYONE and tell most of all HER. AND HER. AND HER. 

coming to meet

2010

I am wondering, as this day cuts off the tops of buildings — not so much cleanly but as if piling on a sheer plush underskirt to hide their sky facing prows, shutting the closet door of the world beyond this island — at how we will proceed and the place we will land and what our unpromised, unlived, nonexistent days will look like should they be allowed to surprise at all.  

And there is a wondering after the vacuousness of life spent with someone.  A pausing to think – where is he at this moment in his day?  A knowing there will be a later reporting, a progressive, polite offering of the hours and possibly even a ranting rage at some indignity, at some frustrating person or unfolding of the crosshairs, the mess inherent in crossing over, leaving the house, speaking, doing, breathing in, of all places: New Jersey.  One in the same to be sure in every life.  In everyone’s day, in everyone’s doing. These errands. For this is what it is to live, to do, to have life as it were.  And it makes one wonder at the point of things. Why we try at all. Why we spend so much of our day in an office, behind a desk, running a floor, pushing others and telling them only what they’d like to hear.  The sirens floating up from the street sound like the essence of children, their playful reminder, throwing a ball over all our heads, laughing across this strange glass grid, bounded by fog.  

It seems quite possible to lean into a life.  To hang on with determination to the only thing that matters — doing what one wants, or feels called to do.  Following this road, uncertain though it may be, and always unknown — for it can be no other way.  Likely this last year in New York has helped not simply with writing, though I thought it would give material. For a time, I believed what someone said: that the city would spark my imagination, would give life and limb to characters unbeknownst to me.  Better still its offering.  The unknown.  It’s terror, it’s unending arrival, it’s sand and fog.  The calming perpetual presence of life.  Of the after part of life.  The many sides.  The deep; the deepest places of unrest.  And so. Will it be a home?  What is couched inside the dream?  

2021

Dearest, 

How proud I am to return to you tonight, to stumble upon your musings from the other side and recall your leave taking for New York. To do a thing you were once afraid to do, if only to have lived through that fear. Today I write you from a dream place you imagined into being thirteen years ago. Before moving to New York you conjured up exactly where I now sit, in a letter to a long ago love. You wondered: do I dare to lead a seemingly insignificant life, outwardly strange and lonely, if that life shelters deep meaning for me? Do I dare live in some mad little town, a dog for company, if it means I can shuffle across wood floors, wrapped in my robe to coffee, have time for a hot breakfast and in return? The day stretched out before me to write. To live. 

New York was simply one line item in this accounting of dream; in truth it was an easier sell.  Most can support the romance and courage impelled by New York.  But solitude and oddity for a woman, seemed pitiable; especially when she does not have the full weight of Manhattan as her Reason.  And thirteen years ago, that was your deeper fear. 

But you have arrived. Your dream (you titled that letter, The Dream, remember?) is present, awake, alive. This small unremarkable city, decades past (or still waiting on) its prime, is quite an apt place for it. The receiver of that letter lives here as well.  And who could ever have envisioned that? But I know now the writing is what mattered, and you. The recipient has long forgotten; you have not. You and the writing will travel light when it is time to go.

Zora Neale said it best: Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly

So here you are. Another love letter, from me to you. 

Love, 

C

someday summer

For the evening where we’ll wash away the day dressing ritual while the city sky burns into a pearl you pick me up come to my concrete stair and ring a bell send a message do you shout arms wide in the street or extend a single rose when I walk out the door of the building leaving my apartment in disarray clothes on backs of chairs tossed across beds bottles on counters tubes of color scattered along the sink thank you I’ll smile and look down at the red petals outstretched bring to my nose my lips my cheek and you will bow inside your tiger eyes take my arm to circle yours close together on the sidewalk before letting space intercede standing apart and staring in silence then back again your cheek to mine a slow spin rocking now left and right left then right the blue sky city falling around us deepening dark lines heavy shapes lit with coming night children scream in the park kicking a ball evening dog walkers sidewalk sitters cars stalking slowly for parking waiting to cross I’ll smell your newly smooth face your soft dark beard on my cheek bring you to my nose and maybe close enough to light my eyelash on your jaw press my lip into the warm flesh of your ear want you here on the street rose in hand wrapped around your back broad in linen brush your collar then lower your head your mouth to the thin edge of my shoulder you hum you sing slowly softly keeping time to our steps we pull apart and swing arms hands still connected we laugh a little and stare away then back again spinning into one another’s face I’ll say nothing and hope that you will stay the quiet keep talking with your eyes letting the night move through me each limb each lung this my city street all at once home and it sings it moves each leg forward it drips along my spine it circles my waist it spirals down each thigh it rises up my back and its warmth pours from my chest you look tonight and every night like the dark and gliding end of summer could it be anywhere you are we are there on the street heading to the subway out into the night where the rose will dissolve forgotten in the crush will be tucked behind my ear into the city we go a dark room with blue notes and ivory then back into the melted thrum for more gazing at the pouring electric light to laugh to turn home around try this you say I know but try when the city is hot you’ve got to taste hot chocolate you’ve never had it then you have and you find a roof somehow see the city inside one small point of light stretched on its sides breathing the night waiting watching knowing the weight of arms and legs and toes waiting home for the moon for dawn waiting home the valley between each rib the width of your hands painting brick and steel murals for the far reaching kiss for the color of breath for the good.

this is not art

This is what I used to write to myself, in the evenings before bed.  After I’d eaten dinner and maybe watched a show.  Turned off the tv and then lit a few candles because I could tell something was coming.  I have been afraid to write in this way, here.  Usually my writing, so confessional, so personal, I’ve kept only for myself and with a “blog” have tried to write something that resembled art or at least my attempt. Writing that was hopefully entertaining, deep, critical. Something.  Some mask, some version, anything other than what I normally write which is this.  Just me. The more people I told about the blog the less I felt I could write as I usually do.  The unrolling, unfurling, personal, person; just me.  

But, when I thought about it tonight, when I write these late night letters, I am usually writing to someone, even though I show that writing to no one.  There is always someone I’m talking to; I suppose, most often it’s myself. I’ve decided to share that writing here, because it’s Wednesday and because I’ve missed it. Missives. That’s what I write. 

I dabble, a bit, in astrology, more interested and curious than knowledgeable. Drawn always to the stars. To their perch in the blue black just above the line of dark trees that rimmed the end of our street. I remember visiting the planetarium at the local university as a child on a field trip. I remember feeling rebuffed by the boy I liked, he was more interested in a red-headed classmate, but I totally forgot his preferences when I sat in my creaking folded seat and gazed up at a night sky loaded with stars and stories. I wanted to be the woman in Cosmos but by the time I was in trigonometry I was completely lost.  I kept always wanting to know why and what for and when and how; how did they come up with this formula?—and that never seemed to be part of the lesson.  Without context, history or meaning the numbers and formulas and rules remained elusive to me. I have always been drawn to systems that (at least attempt to) imagine why and what for and when and how. Tomorrow will be the new moon in aquarius. So far I’ve learned that a new moon is symbolic of new beginnings—the dark sky, absent of a moon is a dark womb, fertile soil, a primordial sea— a time to plant seeds.  And in my birth chart, aquarius is in my tenth house, the house of career or the work that we do in the world. So, say the stars, a new cycle is beginning for me in that house, a new shift, a new direction.  And I have no idea what it will be.  I’ve been in this space of not knowing for a while now and it has been wearing on me. 

But tonight I listened to a woman’s words and found comfort.  She said that all my ancestors have lived and breathed and waited for this exact moment that I was living.  And that I was now the new ancestor. That there was nothing to fear. That trusting the unknown is the path of the heart. Though you are swallowed by the unknown, trust it, watch it, be inside it.  

I have left many jobs and started many others over the years.  All had their purpose. But I know something is different now.  Something has changed. All this time apart and alone has summoned a shift. I can feel it, I can feel myself inside this moment and for weeks now I’ve been hoping that I would not make the same mistakes I made in the past. Make a choice based in fear and the smallest parts of myself.

I have ebbed and flowed, having some good days and many heavy days.  

I do not know what will come.  

But to think of my life as a precious thing, a thing so many have waited to see, so many have hoped for, loved for, longed for, imagined, dreamed…  

To think of my life as a new beginning, to start a new path for those others who will watch the stars, who will live their lives and love and long and dream…   

Hearing her words made me feel as if, maybe the thing my ancestors would like to see is just me, on the page. Just me.  Not poems or stories or experimental art making bold statements twisting language into something new.  What would I do, what would I let myself do, if I believed that my ancestors were waiting and hoping and dreaming for the day when I would be here to wake up into a dark night and be alive? What would I do, if I knew someone would look back and say, she was a human, she sang to the stars, she longed, she loved, she lived?  A blog begs to differ (not that many read this) but no one will really know what that living is.  What that means, what that feels like, and certainly no words will show it.  There is some delight in disappearing, but really what i mean is, there is a delight in waiting, in watching, being inside the unknown and letting it come.  In my dreams tonight I hope I see the desert, I hope I see a red setting sky, I hope I see stars.               

Field Trip

The trip was to Monticello. A field trip. Was I in the fourth grade? Maybe. Or the third, or the fifth? But the fifth seems too old. It was a muggy day and rain was likely, or it had already rained on the way down to this home further south and east, nestled in plentiful green hills. Either way, I wore a raincoat.  A poncho, with a half-zip and a large pocket in front. And though the jacket was oppressive, a nuisance, in the way a humid afternoon spoils a cool spring morning, or moving slowly with a group of children through an old house, I kept it on. I was so painfully skinny, at least the tent-like triangle hid my narrow shoulders, my caved-in shell of a chest, my tiny birdlike elbows. Two reed-thin legs poked out from beneath the voluminous tarp – this had to be borne – I was growing ever more aware of, and anxious about, my scarcity and hoped the thin plastic would be an adequate shield. I was at the very beginning of those face shifting years. From baby roundness and pleasing proportion to wandering eyes and nose and mouth. Teeth growing too large and disheveled for a delicately small jaw; nose and eyes tipping and rolling atop waves. All of this perched on an assemblage of spindly little limbs, a jumble of lines connecting a concave form. What was becoming quite the hindrance on that humid afternoon was my hair, pulled back into a ponytail, unfurling into a tangled flower of curls, growing my head to vast proportions. I wanted to be bigger everywhere but there. I had outgrown the two braids that once draped down on either side of my face; however, the acceptably sized pony tail of this morning was now replaced with a mass of dark brown curls egregiously thirsting after the water in the air. 

A field trip is already an interruption of the day’s familiar routine but by afternoon the excitement had worn off, or maybe that was my abrupt decision in the moment, after.  Perhaps we had already toured the house by then, or maybe we had yet to go inside.  I do remember being outside the large home, near the row of small houses, shacks really, lined up along a dirt path, though the word “alley” comes to mind. A barrier between, just behind or beside the main (“main”) house belonging to him, his family, his wife, his children.  The reason we were there. 

The shacks, the homes were tiny, little more than rooms enclosed by a roof and walls, a door, maybe one window. Maybe. And I remember they were colorless, dark, nondescript. His house had enormous white pillars, gleaming, they seemed to surround the entire structure and the home itself – it was hard to know if the shacks were behind or away or aside, perhaps they were down below? – seemed shaped almost like an octagon, or an octagon embedded in a cross, ringed with pillars, it seemed hard to pinpoint a definitive front entrance, it seemed like a lighthouse, facing everywhere, seeing all and radiating certainty.

The home was filled with architectural ingenuity and interior nuance, detail, design, intrigue. Its floors were covered with rugs, walls lined with hundreds, maybe thousands, of books, flowers, paintings and the light from outside poured in through tall windows, over heavy wooden desks, sturdy tables, ornately carved pocket doors. We stayed behind the velvet ropes and spiraled through the rooms. 

It was near the row of slave houses, down below and behind the path just off the way from his house where it happened.  Three kids were walking together – we must have been released to a conditional freedom outside on the grounds, the slave quarters not part of the guided tour – while I stood apart, alone. Loud enough for me to hear, full of giggles and laughter, children echoing adults, they said, “I bet she can’t get a comb through that hair.”  Shame swallowed me beneath my tent and I pretended not to hear. And the shame doubled, a rising flame, as I walked alone, apart. It is very possible none of us were older than 10 years old.  

On that afternoon I would draw the lines around myself to make this understandable. I would gather in equal parts my child-like empathy and anger; I would let them pelt my turned back. They had each other and I had myself and – and – we were all little black children. We were. But it is only now that I can see into my memory: the white pillars and the refined rooms heavy with possibility and plenty, the diminutive row of shacks, the green hills – so many beginnings began here on this land. How could those children have thought any different?*

The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf skin, or in the scarf skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? 

                      -Thomas Jefferson

*PS. Please read Just Us by Claudia Rankine.

Watchman

The stairs descending into our basement bisected that lower level into two equal halves. To the left was the finished portion and immediately to the right of the bottom stair, a door exited onto a small brick outdoor patio. The right side also contained the unfinished half of the basement. What might be called a mudroom was the pass through between the right side of the staircase, the door leading to the back patio and the door leading into the large L shaped room containing the washer and dryer, a miniature basketball hoop, a corner filled with tools and an old fridge. 

The purpose of the intermediary nook was simply to be ignored. A stray collection of furniture arranged as a mock sitting area filled the walls. A tea stained, peacock, wicker chair flanked one corner and a tall bookshelf of the same stiff material stood against the wall cut off by descending steps. A small side table may have been clustered in this friendly set; all were definitely out of place in our home decorated in the straight lines of sensible shaker furniture. An assortment of knick knacks with no unifying theme filled the bookshelves. Though there were more, I remember only a small copper colored buddha, a snow globe, and two dusty old books on the highest shelf. One day I must have slowed enough to acknowledge how unacquainted I was with this corner no one seemed to notice. After examining most of the trinkets on the shelves, I brought both books with me to the frail chair that shifted with a dry hiss as I sat down. 

Sitting there was to see the house from a completely different vantage. The stairs poured down at an angle from the ceiling; a few plants sat mutely in the corner gathering up the light that fell from the top half of the door to the patio, which needed paint. From this seat I imagined the furniture watching us go in and out of that door, flying into the playroom, running down the stairs; all those years and I’d never known this was here.  The dust motes tumbled slowly and the house rumbled in silence. I’d stumbled upon a strange vista; out of time, out of space. A rent had been created in the sameness and structure of the known.  Hiddenness was all around me.  Here, in the neglected, forgotten, leftover strange, was a crack – a fissure. 

I would bring both books – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird – down to that chair and both would impassively shun me. The words in Tom’s mouth hung too far apart and I could not string them together to sense, or to care. Mockingbird was much the same.  I did not understand what I read, the story poured through me like sand and I caught nothing; unwilling to bear that feeling of losing more than I gained, both books were returned to the shelf and I left that corner of the world.  Not yet ready to see what it offered. 

I ended up in this chair because of the Capitol building and the violence and America’s response in the main.  The silence around it in my personal life.  The How can this be and Who are we and How did we get here. The abounding emotional timbre reminded me of a book: Go Set a Watchman, published in 2015 and written by Nelle Harper Lee.  The world was shocked to learn the author of To Kill a Mockingbird had another book, hidden away all these years. When Watchman was found by someone in 2014, the typed manuscript’s first page listed Lee as the author, her address at the time: 1539 York Ave, NY, NY and the date: 1957.  Though all had thought Mockingbird her first and only novel, Watchman was in fact her first – rough draft though it is – and in it this same cry of the main character, Jean Louise Finch, seems to echo with many in this current moment.  The horror, the betrayal: Atticus, her family and all of Maycomb, grown horns.  She realizes that she stands apart from them – from all that she’s been raised to believe true – insulated by snobs and hypocrites.

In 1960 Mockingbird became a critical and financial success because America the child was only willing to embrace a child’s tale of race.  But, in hindsight, how desperately they needed Watchman.  Watchman is flawed – but it’s also a draft – absent of the three years of reworking, revising, rewriting that resulted in Mockingbird. Watchman is harder, more repellent, and closer to the truth. Set in the volatile 1950’s – it is a story about precisely what is shattering as it’s shattering; an old order breaking apart, a new order gaining strength, and how ordinary people respond to that change, how they understand themselves and the world they inhabit; how they seek to retain control. 

I wonder if Nelle could have written Mockingbird had she not written Watchman first.  Could Atticus have been immortalized as America’s hero unless he had first been revealed for what he actually was: a man committed to the prevailing conservative, segregationist ideas of his time.  An everyman.  I don’t think Nelle’s publishers believed America was interested to see itself in that mirror. 

Before Watchman was found and published, I chose to believe that Lee led a peaceful life after Mockingbird; after writing a Pulitzer Prize winning first novel that was made into an Academy Award winning movie she was financially set for life and could now do as she pleased.  Mockingbird was so well received her next novel would likely be a sophomoric slump. However, Nelle was also writing in a moment when order was shattering and shifting into new order and Watchman reveals a writer, a Southerner, who sees herself outside and apart of the world she loves, a world that is dying away. Watchman does not divulge what comes next.

So much of that world was peering over Nelle’s shoulder, crowded into her head, perhaps it was impossible for her to write freely.  To write her self.  I went back to Watchman in search of Jean Louise/Nelle – to see any inkling of how she saw herself, how she wrote herself, once she finally stands apart. But there’s nothing there. There is only an abyss.  A neglected room, dusty and quiet, shattered and strange.  Here, here is where she would have had to begin, to write herself.  That crack, that fissure – I didn’t know at first why that mattered, why I started there. That strange island of a place; that brave, new, dark.  Sadly, unfortunately, her publishers had other ideas and Nelle herself wanted to be the “Jane Austen of the South.” She never was – but she never needed to be.  She had what every writer needs – unlimited time and money in this manacled world. Yet, she never wrote after Mockingbird.  

When Nelle’s world shattered – when her idea of family and truth and right dissolved into nothingness, when all revealed themselves in their humanity, in their smallness, in their ignorance, who was she then? When order shifted to new order – with whom did she identify? In the book all we gather by the end is that Jean Louise is an individual – she stands apart as the watchman of her own conscience – therefore she can bear the betrayal, she can bear the abhorrent views of her loved ones, she can come home again. Maybe by the second or the third or the fourth book she would have been able to bear the strange new vantage, the detached, ambiguous quiet; she would have made a new song from this place. Less popular perhaps but beautiful.

Last night I started writing some thoughts about covid and white supremacy. This way that we are living in different realities. Maybe it’s out there but there’s nothing we can do about it. Or, is it really out there? I don’t think it’s even a thing – I don’t believe in it. What can we do? We can’t see it, so maybe it’s not real. Is it affecting my day to day? Am I sick or dying? It’s terrible how many people are dying. We watch the news and the stories told but don’t follow the advice, the warning, the urgency. It doesn’t affect me. We are left with ambiguity. We are left to our own choices. We see through our specific experiences, cradled in our own reality.  There are boundaries, borders, and sickness. Out there. Violence may or may not happen to us. Or we are oblivious to certain violence. We don’t know what we’ve lost.  Or we are protected. We are safe. Our experience tells us otherwise. We keep quiet. Better not to say or to see or to tell. Because of course white supremacy isn’t real. I’m not racist. He isn’t racist. Race doesn’t even exist anymore. Of course there is an America apart from the virus. Of course there is an America apart from white supremacy. 

After watching The Crown recently I wonder, who is America’s Queen? What is America’s inhuman symbol?  Nearby a billboard sits couched by trees with the image of a folded flag being handed to a little blonde girl at the funeral of a serviceman (or woman). The words: “More Than A Symbol” are in large bold print. What or who is that placeholder apart from the government, who lives above and beyond the politic, the people, who we aspire to be, to protect, to serve? Or maybe, because She the Queen exists in all her perfection, we are absolved.  Because she is, we are; transformed into believers, loyalists, secure keepers and defenders. The pure thing is real, is outside ourselves and can be taken away. 

I think most Americans have told themselves the believing story that Democracy was our Queen. Freedom, our Royal Family. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit the holy trinity wrapped up in a flag. But when those vaulted beliefs were being written and signed, men and women were chained, were chattel.  And that story certainly didn’t apply to women. Or poor men, for that matter. Or the colonized. The response is always – but the laws were changed; the property: freed, the woman: given the vote, the boot straps: there for all. 

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee before a football game a national calamitous roar unleashed against this one man. Somehow his protestation became disgraceful action, a disrespectful gesture against our military, our police officers (whose lines have increasingly blurred), our knights templar protecting the holy grail of our Queen. But from whom? And who is our Queen?  

I think America’s Queen is white supremacy. She is two faced. Some are privy to this. Some are not. Some believe our Queen is Democracy, Freedom and on and on. Perhaps that is one of her sides. But when the European immigrant arrived on the shores of this country, they did not aspire to be black or brown or red or yellow: the hunted. The immigrant quickly ascertained.  They aspired to be free. To be the hunter. The Irish, the Jew, the Italian  – none were white at first. Laws changed over time, perception changed, generations morphed, reality shifted and those men and women made very intentional choices to assimilate, to survive, perhaps not fully knowing the high price of the American brand of freedom, the cost of this ticket – to kneel prostrate at the foot of our country’s Queen. It was not simply a matter of jumping the legal red tape, or leaving enough to your children and hoping your descendants would one day be absolved of their ethnicity, their country of origin, their accent. Our Queen too is above the law.  A Symbol: she lives everywhere. She resides within. She will protect her chosen sons should they pay the price.  

I wrote the following paragraph last night: 

Trauma stories – virus stories – half truths – avoidant truths – all that we do not tell, do not say, do not investigate, or ask.  I asked my grandmother, tell me about your life. She shared nothing.  Transmission. Transmission of stories – of virus – of disease. Of reality.  Do we see ourselves as a threat to one another? Have white americans ever encountered themselves as a threat? 

And here we are today. 

In an interview with Nina Simone a white male journalist asks her “what’s free to you?”  Her quick response: “What’s free to me? Same thing it is to you, you tell me.”  And the turn in Nina’s neck, the dark in her eye is playful and light, but frank – reprimanding a child. She looks away.  “It’s just a feeling,” she says, shaking her head back and forth, eyes closed. “It’s like, how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love, how are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love, how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life.” She turns her face directly toward the journalist and talks about the feeling of being on stage, then she turns her shoulders square to him now – she has it:  “I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. If I could have that, half of my life…” She is captured by the thought, amazed at it, turning it over in her head. Freedom. 

Colin Kaepernick. Kneeling, was he afraid? Was he free?  Many saw a black man disrespecting the supremacy not of a flag or a country or defenders of law and order, but the supremacy of whiteness.  Asserting his dissension against our Queen W.S. But that story likely did not make it to the conscious rational part of the collective white brain. His actions were unsettling. Wrong. A threat. A violation. Reality determined: he was a man who disrespected Queen Democracy and Freedom and by extension the Police, the Military, the Flag, the United States. Though, Queen Democracy and Freedom protects his actions; she kneels right back to face him and asserts, mirrors, embraces him: give me liberty, or give me death. 

Colin kneels in a country who bound, chained and sold black bodies. Lynched black bodies. Castrated black bodies, burned black bodies alive for sport. Traded those images of lynched and charred black bodies on postcards. Kept those mementos in drawers and chests and bureaus. Kept them in their minds. Kept them why?  Freedom or fear? Now, less horrifying events. More personal. A childhood. Families and mysteries and secrets. A home. The minutiae of a lifetime, the accrual of reality, of perception, the unspoken stockpile of years in the mind.  Are they keepsakes of freedom or fear? Stop looking elsewhere, otherwise, away. Stop looking away. Looking away cannot save you.

We stay home and apart and wonder (I hope), what is the point of it all if not to live our lives freely? If not to live our lives together? And what does that really mean? How does that feel

“…we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”   v.woolf

Karintha

Tonight I wrote my father a letter.  

I’ve written other letters before. Years of letters that I’ve never sent. Exercises that were meant more for myself. Followed by waiting. 

I’ve been writing this particular letter since June.  I left it alone in July.  I returned to it in November.  Waiting. 

A few weeks ago the I Ching’s reading said – before you take the action that will create a new world, go within first and make sure you are ready to meet it.  I think the hexagram was called Revolution.  

I wasn’t ready to hit send that day. 

And lately I’ve been rushing through the readings, distracted and irritated – just looking for the words “for the love, send it today.” To no avail. 

Stage 9 (an ending – a finality – finale) of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is atonement with the father, which as I remember it could have been replaced with “Slaying the Dragon” although I may be projecting. The role of the father was to be the passageway or gatekeeper ushering the child from the small, safe, home world, to the greater adult world of responsibilities. Job, profession, school, city.  The great big world of out there. There is a fairy tale where a young girl is sweeping behind her house and the devil in disguise traps her father into not just giving up his daughter to the devil in recompense but with both her hands cut off.  The father doesn’t put up a fight.  It is the father, not the devil, who cuts off his daughter’s hands before handing her over. 

It always seemed I would have to slay the dragon that was my father or I would forever sweep a square concrete patio, shoulders slumped, in the backyard of a home – perhaps not physical, but living in someone’s sad, mute mind.  And then become a story pulled out of the ether by a poet. One of Jean Toomer’s women pinned with a nail to a porch in Georgia.  Unspeaking.  Unsinging.  A living corpse, raw skull and bone, losing the memory of my own face. When I read Cane I wondered at those women and how many were my grandmothers, my aunts; were me.  

If my father was the keeper of the passage – the interlocutor meant to usher me into the great wide world of beyond the home – he certainly imposed quite specific rules and standards of survival.  There was much to be feared.  Difference.  Independence (meaning, independence from him). And writing.  I remember being 24 or 25, employed in my first job after college, and the local newspaper had written a story about me.  There was a part of the article that my father objected to: I’d told the journalist that I’d considered quitting basketball after I tore my acl in my senior year of college – that I was ready to be done with a game I’d had a very complicated relationship with up until then – a game that felt more like a job than a joy.  Instead, I’d redshirted and played a fifth year, earning my masters though the master’s degree was something I could have earned, for free, without playing basketball.  My father cautioned me about being so transparent. Made it seem as if I’d done something wrong to speak so candidly. That once something is written, it can never be erased – it’s always out there for the public to see.  

So the father cuts off his daughters hands. For her own good. Lest she make a mistake. Lest she bring shame.  Because that is the price; that is what the world asks.

In the fairy tale, the girl becomes a woman who begs on the street after she outsmarts the devil and secures her freedom. She learns to live with no hands.  She has many, let’s call them, adventures. She marries a king and he buys her silver hands. She eventually has to escape (there’s a plot to kill her – a lot of mixed messages – culminating in: woman be damned) with her babe wrapped to her chest, to a dark and tangled wood and is taken in by the kind people-of-the-wood who wear all white.  She stays with them for seven years (roughly the time it probably takes to write her first book and work with a therapist) and in this time, she practices many things, much magic and craft and healing and work, and regrows her hands. She sets the silver hands the king bought her aside. 

Three years ago I visited the city where I am now.  Back then I was hoping it would be the place where some kindly people of the wood would take me and my (Miles) in.  Where I could land and build the parts of myself that I lost. On that visit I did stay with a family and every night I stayed here I had nightmares about my father that woke me from my sleep.  

Tonight marks an end – 9 – finale – final – before the next cycle of beginning. The end of the longest year.  The dark twisted end of a three year cycle meant to teach us how to endure. Three years that have asked in retrospect: what structure in your life has been demolished and what perspective has that given you on your life? 

Everything has been shattered except the essential. And the essential is: to go on. 

Her hands will show the way and they will make this world anew.

at rest

It’s been awhile.

And this post is coming off the cuff because it must. I have avoided writing -I’ve been a bit of a coward, worrying over what someone, anyone, any of the many someones would think of what I wrote. And there has been a lot moving and shifting and changing. And even more, I have been keeping myself hidden from the theater of politics. This summer burned too hot and I’ve decided to move back from the spectacle. Because it’s easier for me not to know and it hurts when the people I love hold their beliefs like a knife to my throat. I stumble upon them and they just don’t know that I see; they do it in dream and smile. Hitting like so many signs planted in so many yards that might as well scream: your kind.

And now this year has become violently personal. Hard and long weeks inside days. Constant moving and changing and deciding and communicating and arranging and packing up and buying groceries, ordering takeout, taking the dog out, over and over. Days of doing inside nothing certain.

This year has been a spiral of this and now it seems only to get deeper, darker, more mad; a falling apart of tears, a ripped sky, a weeping seam.

So of course, I put down Anna Karenina. Though it was good company for awhile, my Russian diversion wouldn’t stick. I have left high society, love and lust, and contemplation on communal life. I am there no more. Sometimes, for no reason I can understand, the book leaves.

I am staying in the home of a good friend and what I always do in a new place is go to the bookshelves. This one happened to be in a drawer – what was I looking for? And there it was: A Wrinkle in Time.

Of course it would be this book – this mysterious October stormy night book of a world beyond and inside and within the world. A world-unseen-by- most-world. This book had always confused me as a child; it seemed beyond me somehow, illusive and strange. Something about it hung beyond my knowing; some mystery that I could never manage to grasp by the book’s end.

Meg, so perplexed by people – by their rudeness, their violence, their disdain, their interests. Meg the oddball, the one who is not this or that, the unpopular, the plain. Meg the raw talent for games, for math, for rules, for order. Meg unraveling against a world that is falling apart – ripping away from the known and becoming: magic but science; the stars and the planets and the years; and always mystery. Always some edge, some boundary, some slippage of time. Some perplexing, anxious, reverberating beauty.

a willing suspension of disbelief

That was the line that stopped me tonight. Because I know those words much differently now. Again. At once. And tonight, in the midst of the world falling apart, the sky shifting the purple and black of its jaw; the hanging balance, the happy medium no longer; the split wide openness of me needed to walk into the dream of this book whispering a childhood. It was likely the only way I would sleep.