{emily’s sabbath, reprise}

Waterloopbos 1

no sermon, no sexton, birdsong from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long.

It is rare-to-never that I think of a poem I’ve written in conjunction with a Moment I am having, but I did in this woods! It was sublime… to the point where I am studying the Dutch language and planning to emigrate. It was an AMAZING trip. Good to be home, though, and starting work on this novel again. Fingers crossed to finish by November!

{remember when we thought we’d be throwing down a Tubman $20?}

And remember when this annoying man decided that wasn’t necessary? *sigh* I’m going to repub this blog post from 2016 because I LOVE Harriet Tubman, and our chamber group is singing the song Harriet Tubman for our concert this month, and we should remind ourselves of who she was, so we remember who we could be.


“Come with me if you want to live!”

harriet_tubman

Doesn’t that seem like what that cover says? The gun, the hand reaching back. The utter seriousness on her face. It’s the quintessential Terminator-style scene — a savior arrives, guns blazing, demanding exact obedience in return for leading the underdog to safety, and then melting away into the sunset. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; it’s a story we’re practically demanded to love.

People who have looked at the paper money of other countries realize that American paper money loses points in the category of “interesting.” Not only does it hardly have any color but green, there are absolutely zero women on it of any shade. And now to discover that our first paper money woman (making sure to give Sacagawea her due) is to be African American, too? Wow. (Jury’s still out on how ridiculous it is that it won’t be for another twenty years, but xkcd said it best: C’mon, Treasury Dept.; this is a minor problem you could solve. Really.)

Ann Petry cover twenty

(Though I searched, I can’t give credit to the artist who put these two mediums together, but full props to them, and please let me know if you find them.) I was commenting that if the cover to the 2007 Ann Petry Harper Trophy book was made part of the design for our cash, we’d all hoard twenties, like the Sacagawea dollar coins got snapped up and mostly reside out of circulation. Tobias Bucknell tweeted back that he’d spend nothing but twenties. Which made me laugh. $.50 library fine? No, let me drop you a Tubman on that. No, no, a whole jar of change is fine. It’s fine…

Of course, not everyone is a fan of Harriet Tubman stepping out of history into contemporary life. People have been screeching that she was a METHODIST! (Oh, dear Lord, no! Not a religious person! We’re post-religious!), and that, additionally, she carried a pistol AND a sword. (ON HER PERSON! Whaaaaaaaat?)

Displayed at Florida A&M on loan from 5th generation of her family

Oddly, you’d think fans of history would know that there’s a lot of tradition surrounding religion in America; especially back in 1860, after all, as the country had only recently descended from Puritans who left England for what? Religious reasons, and five points to you. Ms. Tubman’s owners had been Methodists, and it was what she knew. Surely we cannot fault her for that. Also: many abolitionists before or during the Civil War were not necessarily pacifists (John Brown or Nat Turner, anyone?) and though she was a humanitarian, Harriet Tubman was also the soldier who was famously quoted as telling slaves who thought after their initial escape that they’d made a mistake and should turn back, “You’ll live free or die a slave.” The gun she carried at times (she was drawn carrying a sharpshooter rifle on posters by irate slaveowners demanding her return) certainly gave that statement some weight. While I doubt she was unsympathetic to their fear, she couldn’t allow anyone to give away the position of the rest of those who were going to keep running. She carried a gun not just to avoid capture herself – she had a $40k price on her own head (well, Araminta Ross did, which was her name as a slave; she changed it to Harriet Tubman herself), which was a megabillions fortune in those days – but to make sure her little train on the underground railroad didn’t leave the tracks or lose a passenger. 1,000+ slaves and she never blew her cover, never lost an escapee. That is nothing short of miraculous, you know. A short, middle-aged woman (she was 38-44 during the Civil War years) who couldn’t read or write and who’d had a severe head injury during slavery, and she managed all of that.

Her heroism merely showed
A dame adept and of strong will
(Rethought her planning on the fly,
Refused to cower or stand still.)
Intuiting through trap and maze,
Eluding landmines laid for leagues
Tenacious, and her cunning ways

Transfixed her charges through fatigue.
Undaunted ’til their fear broke through –
By balking some made to return – “If
Manumission’s not for you?
A bullet will ease your concerns.”
Nursed and cooked, too; soldiered, spied: “hero” the word, exemplified.

So, she was many things: nurse, cook, soldier, spy — and veteran who drew a pension after the Civil War. Many, many people don’t know that. She wasn’t just some nice lady with a lamp showing freed slaves the way from shackles. She also demoralized the Confederates, blew up their mines on the Cobahee River, served as a raid commander under Colonel James Montgomery, in concert with the African-American 2nd South Carolina regiment — and she carried on as if her color and gender were beside the point. Many people know a bit more about this story from Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” It’s a neat little reenactment, but if you’ve not seen it, be warned: drunk narrative with swearing:

Despite the wandering, this is quite accurate, which means this lady knows her history stone cold sober. So should should we all.

{a very minor royalty}

So, there was a skunk on my walk this morning.

Other than the skunk that lived by the canal behind my Martinez apartment (where the guy downstairs yelled, “Bad skunk!” every time it a.] ate his outdoor cat’s food, and b.] sprayed his cat), whose presence I never saw but only smelled, I’ve not interacted with skunks. Most people don’t, at least, not pleasantly. They’re small, slow, and nocturnal, and wisely avoid humans like the plague we are.

There was, of course, Warner Brothers’ Pepé Le Pew, the skunk of my childhood whom I hated with all my soul. A serial assaulter, his insinuating pseudo-Frenchness populated my nightmares. (HOW someone thought an animal who wouldn’t take no for an answer and violated random black cats was a good comedy starter for children, I do not know.) There was also my friend Dan’s skunk, and “Kitty” as he called her, stomped her slender feet every time I came over. Foot stomping, incidentally, is a prelude to aerosol warfare, and you can trust that I hustled out of any room that skunk was in while she probably snickered. Knowing who provided her canned cat food, Kitty never sprayed; hand-raised and thoroughly spoiled, she was a professional saber-rattler, a little stripey punk who lived to pester her owners for nine, fat and cranky years.

I hustled out for a walk in the early hours of this latest “pineapple express” which meant that, as the mist suddenly thickened into fat drops, I was hustling along at nearly a run. Skidding to a stop after meeting an ambling form low to the ground was… a lot of windmilling arms and panicking. I wasn’t sure if I should go forward or back, and waited to see if the little queen of the road was going to cede half of it to me without argument. She wasn’t too vexed until Himself shone his flashlight on her.

NB: Should you ever meet a skunk in the wild, don’t do that. Queen Stink Was Not Amused. She got TETCHY. Her half-raised tail and a head-down position indicated mounting aggression, and I froze, whispering, “Would you stop blinding her? Do you want to try out that Mythbuster’s peroxide and baking soda recipe before work?!” As soon as Tech Boy’s flashlight went off, her tail went down, and she went back to digging out whatever grubby salamander she was after, as if she’d never even seen us. We waited in frozen fear, and… she utterly ignored us.

We had to walk toward her to pass her, so as she walked waddled toward us, we walked toward her… and, like duelists who are pacing off to turn and fire, we just… kept… walking, sneaking glances over our shoulders.

Queen Stink didn’t bother looking back.

{thank you for being here}

Content warning: suicide.

A few years ago, Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It offered a lot of people encouragement. Here is a snippet of an interview where she talks about some of the research for the book, and makes a good point about the impact of a suicide, and peripherally, why she wrote the book.

Dear ones, thank you for being here.

{this is both hysterical and disheartening}

“Some Little Bug Is Going To Find You (Someday)

In these days of indigestion it is oftentimes a question
As to what to eat and what to leave alone.
Every microbe and bacillus has a different way to kill us
And in time they all will claim us for their own.
There are germs of every kind in every food that you can find
In the market or upon the bill of fare.
Drinking water’s just as risky as the so-called “deadly” whiskey
And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is gonna find you someday.

The inviting green cucumber, it’s most everybody’s number
While sweetcorn has a system of its own.
Now, that radish seems nutritious, but its behavior is quite vicious
And a doctor will be coming to your home.
Eating lobster, cooked or plain, is only flirting with ptomaine,
While an oyster often has a lot to say.
And those clams we eat in chowder make the angels sing the louder
For they know that they ‘II be with us right away.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Eat that juicy sliced pineapple,
And the sexton dusts the chapel
Oh, yes, some little bug is gonna find you someday.

When cold storage vaults I visit, I can only say, “What is it
Makes poor mortals fill their systems with such stuff?”
Now, at breakfast prunes are dandy if a stomach pump is handy
And a doctor can be called quite soon enough.
Eat a plate of fine pig’s knuckles and the headstone cutter chuckles
While the gravedigger makes a mark upon his cuff.
And eat that lovely red bologna and you ‘II wear a wood kimona
As your relatives start packing up your stuff.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is gonna find you someday.

Those crazy foods they fix, they’ll float us ‘cross the River Styx
Or start us climbing up the Milky Way.
And those meals they serve in courses mean a hearse and two black horses
So before meals, some people always pray.
Luscious grapes breed appendicitis, while their juice leads to gastritis
So there’s only death to greet us either way.
Fried liver’s nice, but mind you, friends will follow close behind you
And the papers, they will have nice things to say.

In my copious spare time (oh, hahaha) I’m helping find selections for our chamber’s comedy concert, and this song will NOT be one of the selections I suggest…! All I have to say is that 1916 was hardcore with their humor… but these people knew from epidemics, especially since the influenza one reached peak fatality only two years later. Oy.

{december lights: small & pinned down}

Oakland Museum of California 114

From A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard: “Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

May you live all the days of your life.
Arise. Shine.

{december lights: growling, fainting, rusting, sighing}

Glasgow City Halls 08

The City of Glasgow has an intriguing coat of arms – which features a bell, a bird, a fish, and a tree, elements of four stories told about the city’s 6th century patron, St. Mungo (or known to some as St. Kentigern). The City motto, indeed, is There’s the tree that never grew, There’s the bird that never flew, There’s the fish that never swam, There’s the bell that never rang, (Clearly, in ancient Scotland, ‘swam’ and ‘rang’ rhymed. Or not), telling of St. Mungo’s miracles in Glasgow. If you want to know the legend of St. Mungo, you can find them, for myself; my chief amusement was finding variations on the coat of arms, and its symbols etched into public buildings and included in art glass. I found this bit of poem outside City Halls, the lovely, high-ceilinged 1841 concert venue where the BBC Scottish Symphony plays.

Praise for the tree that growled but grew

Praise for the bird that fainted but flew

Praise for the bell that rusted but rang

Praise for the fish that sighed but swam

Growling or sighing. Fainting. Rusting. This is how we go, these days. We are tired. The winter holidays are wearing. We would all like a nap right now, please and thank you. Even if we’re not quite Bah, humbug, it’s easy to get trapped in feeling like we must smile and give and give and give this season.

We want to sleep, but – we birds must fly. We trees ought to grow, we fish have to swim. We need your song, bells, while it is dark. Soon, the Light is coming. Arise and shine.

{december lights: the dove is never free}

I didn’t grow up with Leonard Cohen songs, but poetry friends have been urging an acquaintance upon me for some time. His “Anthem” from the 1992 album The Future has words that reverberate today.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in.

If you’re cracked, damaged, imperfect? Arise and shine. That’s how the Light gets in.

{thursday thought: lux aterna}

Night

Stars over snow
        And in the West a planet
Swinging below a star —
        Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far —
        It never will be far.

~ Sara Teasdale

And we close this month on the threshold of this beautiful truth. Indeed, it is equally true that if you look for unlovely things, you also find them, but aren’t we lucky not to be THOSE people, scrying the world for the ugly?

Polish the lamp, trim the wicks, spark the flint. Arise and shine.