“A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
Eternity flows deftly through these pandemic* days enfolding in her stream the many with whom we contemplated Knowledge and Mortality
Looking back, we ponder amazed at love among our relations and friends ……….a love that blossoms still, as fragrant, as gentle ……….as a dewy rose among thorns and thistles
We thrash and crawl and climb ………puzzling over the sea and fire that stalks us Our hearts are cupped in one another’s hands, ……….talking drums, they communicate across ……….time and space Our measured moments grave lines ……….in real and phantom fears, ……….they fly, they hover, storm clouds above us
In words of jade, our softest speech is elegiac Our tears merge into raging rivers Our smiles mask our grief and yearning Our laughter is love grown wild and reckless
We see one another in a thousand shapes and dreams ……….and in nameless faces Our sighs ride the ebb tides of Eternity …..Another moment: …..and even the sun will die …..but our lotus song will echo on …. ……….We have lived! We have loved!
* pandemic days: COVID-19, environmental degradation, hunger and starvation, poverty and lack of healthcare, nuclear proliferation. Will we succumb or evolve to conquer? Either way, nothing can take away the love we’ve given and received or the life we’ve had.
“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, Gigi and the Cat
had we homÍnidos our wits, we’d
have had his cojones clipped before
some mean perro changed him into
a crippled capon, that tomcat, he
was boisterous and adamant
and ready for trouble, it wasn’t
just his maleness he lost, it was
his life, poor thing and he left
the other mourning and
coughing up chicken bits and
hair balls, too woebegone to steal
fatty succulents from Mexicali Rose
while she was busy adjusting the
barbeque grill, flirting with Brian ~
those two spiced their tacos
with a bit of kissy-face touchy-bod
in the heat of the heat of that
summer in ’86 when we celebrated
Cinco de Mayo in the park off
Alameda de las Pulgas and a new
little furry calabaza came into our lives,
half-starved and dehydrated with a
heavy chain-choker some gamberro
put around his neck . . . el idiota!
Brian freed him, we rushed
him to the vet hospital where
they repaired the damage and
he became el hermano pequeño
to the black and white, the essential
practical cat, forgetting her
tom and her mourning, letting
sweet boy stroll into her heart
“This virus is teaching us that from now on living wages, guaranteed health-care for all, unemployment and labor rights are not far left issues, but issues of right versus wrong, life versus death.” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, American Protestant minister and political activist. Rev. Barber is the author of several recommended books. His Amazon page is HERE.
The dreams can drive you crazy sometimes
The ones that envision a just world, one
Where equity is the backbone of endurance
A vineyard of bliss, so to speak, a garden of joy
Relative to the greed times of unworthy living
In a penthouse with a golden toilet, while
Others sleep on cardboard outside, urinating
In the streets, begging for lunch and walking
Barefoot in the snow, betrayed from day one
By the false ideal of rugged independence,
Of monied might is alright, of resource hording
By the richest and unconscionable trafficking of
Children for the unhinged pleasures of the elite Oh my God, how did this happen? and who
Might have thought that the munitions factory
Of a deadly virus would bring us nose to nose?
How COVID-19 recognizes no bank account or
Prestigious position, just drops its noxious tidbits
Indiscrimanently, into lungs of princes, prime ministers
Those sleeping rough on city streets, its travels
Enhanced by an uneven distribution of access
To water, healthcare, space, living wages,
Paid time off, the rudiments of a civilized life
Girded by compassionate societies, lessons
Learned, we await implementation, and
Dare we move beyond yearning to hope
Originally published by Brave Voices and as The Poet by Day Wednesday Writing Prompt
“Kleitos, a likeable young man, about twenty-three years old with a first-class education, a rare knowledge of Greek is seriously ill. He caught the fever that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.” Kleitos’ Illness, Constantine P. Cavafy
Bronchi- and alveoli-seeking respiratory droplets
Float on the air, a nightmare of guided munitions
Always a reckoning when such assassins are loosed,
And now the vineyard of joy is dead and gated, the
Elders are on lockdown, prisoners of COVID-19,
Of a government that moves too slowly, and this
Virus that moves with speed, children sent home
From school, the workers forced from their jobs, a
Run on TP, tissues and hand sanitizers, breezes
Caressing the face, now just a memory like love
And blisses, handshakes and bracing bear-hugs
Like social networking of the off-line variety
“The coronavirus pandemic is a world-changing event, like 9/11. There was a world before Covid-19. And there will be a world after Covid-19. But it won’t be the same.” Oliver Markus Malloy,What Fox News Doesn’t Want You To Know
They’re heroes, you know, real heroes
Not the ones in capes and caps, No!
The ones in scrubs, masks, nursing clogs
Daily on extended shifts, exhausted
As fate would have it, often succumbing
And when not, still the concerns for
Possible transmission to family, to friends
To strangers along their commute, and “I worry for my parents,” says one
On his steadfast mission, another
Fears for her unborn child, six months
pregnant, with rounded tummy she works
For her patients, for colleagues, for the
Greater good, while a president sets
A precedent for lies, misinformation,
Stupidity, cruelty, self-absorption in the
Face of a nation in need of solidarity,
A peoples at risk, a worldwide community
In want of coordination and collaboration
They put him to shame, the heroes of
The pandemic, honoring their trust,
Donning their scrubs, masks, nursing clogs
Daily on extended shifts, committed
Compassionate, self-sacrificing, latter-day
Heroes of the human condition, heroes of
A world that will never be the same
“Remember that each day is an opportunity given to us by God.” Fr. Dan
“Thank you Fr. Dan for reminding us.” The students at Holy Ghost Prep
Cousin Dan’s students at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Pennsylvania asked him to do a video and this is the result. It has been making the rounds on Facebook, well received. So here it is for you, an island of peace and uncommon good sense for troubled times.
My cousin is a priest who has lived and worked in Algeria and Dubai and until recently was teaching theology at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He asks in a feature article for The BeZine, What Have We Done that People Can Pick-up Weapons and Kill.
“We have become our own worst enemy. Whenever we separate the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’, whenever we accept blind generalizations and cease to see a unique individual before us, whenever we forget we are all victims of carefully orchestrated deceit and deception for wealth and power, the force of darkness wins. Bullets will never win this struggle, only the heart and mind will.”
While we are being directed to quarantine ourselves in the sensible effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, it is easy to forget that home is not a safe place for everyone. Domestic abuse happens and the stress of these times is likely to exacerbate that impulse. Here are some resources if you are in this situation or know someone in this situation. A link is included for a directory of every country’s domestic and sexual violence agency,. These are courtesy of Maggie Royer, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Persephone’s Daughters Magazine. [Recommended]
Courtesy of Maggie:
1. We are spreading awareness on our social media pages of the unique impacts of COVID-19 on domestic and sexual violence survivors using the hashtag #MakeHomesHavens. Please feel free to use this hashtag and share information as well from our Twitter: https://twitter.com/persephonesmag
2. We are building a By Survivors, For Survivors COVID-19 Self-Care List. During this time, media coverage of the virus is overwhelming and may trigger panic and anxiety among survivors already experiencing trauma. How can we take care of ourselves during this time? If you identify as a survivor and would like to share your self-care ideas here anonymously, please do! We will compile and share via social media, website, and newsletter.
3. Our March newsletter will focus specifically on providing calm and peace from anxiety. We know this is a time of uncertainty, and our newsletter will reflect ways to cope with that.
4. We are sharing links to coverage that focuses on how the virus is impacting survivors. Please read and share.
5. We are offering information for how to support your domestic and sexual violence programs during this. For a directory of every country’s domestic and sexual violence agency, please visit Hot Peach Pages. Programs may need the following support: financial donations, in-kind donations of sanitary products, toilet paper, disinfectant, and cleaning supplies, and as always, your calls to legislators to support their work.
PERSEPHONE’S DAUGHTERS is published online, in print and in film. This magazine’s content is based on a mission to empower women / femme individuals who have experienced various forms of gendered abuse (sexual, emotional, physical, racial, verbal, etc), or other forms of degradation (harassment, catcalling, threats, etc). Persephone’s Daughterswelcomes all identities.
Online Sunday Stories feature personal accounts of those surviving abuse. There is also a film submission category that aligns with the mission. Accepted works are featured online on Film Fridays. Of note is a post-election mini-issue, a writing and art collection by people who are negatively effected by the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. Proceeds from the sales of that collection go to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which provides services, legal help, and advocacy to unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing trafficking, conflict, poverty and more.
Thanks to the support of my world-class son and a stellar medical team, I’ve lived for about two decades past my original medically predicted expiration date. Every year or so I feel compelled to get on my soap box – though the topic is off-theme for my poetry site, The Poet by Day – about lung disease, its increasing prevalence, and its debilitating effects. This post was originally written in 2016 for The Poet by Day. At that time, I needed oxygen for activity only and carried a small tank or two in a backpack as above. As expected, over time the disease progressed and years of insufficient oxygen resulted in other complications: pulmonary hypertension and right-sided heart-failure. These are further complicated by a rare blood cancer (not curable but managed). These complications result in my being home-bound and often bed-bound for days.
I am now on high-flow oxygen (15 liters) 24/7 and am attached to two linked stationary oxygen concentrators at home and have large portable tanks for doctor visits and to get around the senior housing facility that is my home. These are moved around with specially-designed carts. My son must come with me to doctor appointments because it takes four tanks per trip, which is too much for me to handle on my own.
At the time in our history when we started to see nature as something apart from us, when we gave up our shamanic instincts and in our hubris separated them from our growing science, when we devolved from stewardship and one-with to ownership and power-over, we set ourselves up for a world of multifaceted pain and disruption. One result in modern times is environmentally induced disease caused by xenobiotic substances that result in cancers, autoimmune disorders, and interstitial lung diseases (ILDs).
My concern here – as a powerful and noteworthy example of the impact of industrial pollutants and of wars and other violence to the earth and its inhabitants – is interstitial lung disease. I have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an ILD that can be caused by smoking. I am a lifelong non-smoker. Everyone – EVERYONE – is at risk of ILD, smokers or not, and so are other animals. We know that in the United States and England alone, the numbers suffering from ILD are growing. No matter where in the world we live and what we do for work, we all need to recognize and acknowledge this as part of the complex package of environmental injustices.
Our lungs are the only organs that are exposed and immediately vulnerable to industrial pollutants and inhaled chemicals, dust and other particulate matter in the air. One study tells us, “Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in humans worldwide. Environmental factors play an important role in the epidemiology of these cancers.”
Consider the two hundred ILDs: These are diseases that affect the tissue and space around the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs resulting in scaring (fibrosis). We – and other animals – can’t breath through scar tissue, which is not permeable. Hence the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is inhibited. The result is a slow, horrifying and painful death by suffocation. This is mitigated for people like me who have access to healthcare, supplemental oxygen and medications like prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil and, when the time comes, palliative care and ultimately hospice. People living in poverty, in war-torn areas or working at risky occupations in third-world countries, get no such relief and no palliative care is available to them in the final stages. This is unimaginably cruel.
While the most common interstitial lung diseases are considered idiopathic, they can result from exposure to certain chemicals– including medications – and from secondhand smoke and occupational exposure to agents such as asbestos, silica, and coal dust. They may also evolve from an autoimmune reaction (hypersensitivity pneumonitis) to agents in the environment, some of which might be naturally occurring and benign for many people.
Forbes Magazine cites lung disease as one of the continuing legacies of 9/11, the result of “toxic collections of airplane fuel, asbestos, fiberglass, metal, plastic, garbage, waste materials, fecal material, human remains and who knows what else.” In reading this description, one can’t help but think also of the people of Syria and other regions of war and conflict. It is not uncommon for soldiers returning from war to report newly developed respiratory disorders.
Industry, war and conflict, greed and denial, all combine to put the very ground we live on at risk, the air we breath, and the precious functioning of our lungs … We rightly worry about and advocate for issues of deforestation, pollution, hunger, dislocation, destruction of property and other issues of environmental injustice. Not the least of our motivations, concerns and advocacy must be for the sake of our lungs. It’s a fight for the very breath that enlivens us.
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” Stella Young, was an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair for most of her life. When she was fourteen she audited the accessibility of the main street businesses of her hometown.
Throughout the month of February 2020 The BeZine blog is featuring a range of material on illness and disability in concert with Kella Hanna-Wayne’s YOPP!, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people and reducing oppression. Our intention in doing this is to give voice to those with illness and disabilities, to raise awareness of the issues and outcomes, and to offer workable alternatives for those who have to manage in environments that are not conducive to inclusion.
We’ve already had some question with regard to terminology: disabled v. differently abled. We respect each contributor’s chosen terminology, which will be reflected in their posts.
Kella and I are disabled and we both prefer that term over differently-abled. Here are my reasons:
There are things I – like many others – am absolutely unable to do. Period. End of story.
“Differently abled” is inherently meaningless in this context. All human beings are differently abled. Some are better at music, for example, and others are better at accounting.
Almost everyone has some degree of disability, especially as aging progresses. If you wear glasses, you are disabled and, depending on your occupation or interests, you might be unable to function without glasses.
A reference to anyone as a “differently-abled” individual, is a cruel euphemism. In my own case, for example, it diminishes the reality of my 24/7 life, which involves being on high-flow oxygen, being unable to lift anything heavy, being restricted to certain living conditions, often being restricted to bed, dealing with chronic bleeding due to a rare blood cancer, and living with extreme fatigue.
“Differently abled” implies a norm that does not exist. There is no one way to feel, to communicate, to educate oneself, or to ponder and create art. The implication is that anything that deviates from the fantasy norm is less than ideal, possibly even somehow wrong.
“Disabled” is not a disparagement. It’s truth. It’s accurate. Implicit is an acknowledgement that there are productivity and quality-of-life challenges that have everything to do with social, political, and cultural assumptions and structures and nothing to do with any one person’s atypical body or mind.
Finally, “differently-abled” is a stigmata that ignores the kinds of accommodations (including some life-changing technologies) that could be made available to help those many with atypical bodies and minds to lead fuller, richer lives and to contribute their energy and talent to help others and their communities.
This is the short story, the down and dirty of it. Input is welcome from readers and we hope that you will enjoy and benefit from contributors’ posts throughout the month. We are still open for submissions to the February blog-post series on illness and disability and for submissions to the March 15 issue of the Zine, themed “Waging Peace.” Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com.
In the spirit of love (respect) and community
and on behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines, Jamie Dedes
The BeZine, Managing Editor
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Warsan Shire,Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth
The wandering waters, dripping
Into rising seas and land now lonely
For his human foot, which finding
No room at the inn, wanders
Like the waters, violated like a fish
On the deck of a boat, gasping
Soul bludgeoned, human skulls
And fish entrails, politicos and
Pundits examine like I Ching coins,
Accidents of birth, plight of place
A remote sliver of moon surveils
From the starless sky, unmoved
Dedicated to my friend, Mbizo Chirasha, Zimbabwean Poet in Exhile. Please connect with me if you are able or know someone / some family able to host him in Germany. Thank you! firstname.lastname@example.org
“Because, underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an “issue” to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.” Naomi Klein (b. 1970) is a Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization and of capitalism. On a three-year appointment from September 2018, she is the Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University.
the ghosts of our parents search vainly for wildflowers near the beach at Big Sur
they were deaf to the threat in thunder,
but we were struck by lightning,
heaved in the rain and waves and
the overflow from the melting ice
the computers went down
their screens black as the wicked water,
in whirling chaos they morphed into drums
every fetus turned in the womb,
the men went to the mountain tops
and the women sheltered in caves
the souls of saints and sinners
were run through a cosmic wash cycle
after the spin dry, a new wisdom
but the shades of our parents remain,
they’re waiting for us at Big Sur,
waiting by the Santa Lucia Mountains
“Every day brings a choice, to practice stress or to practice peace.” Joan Borysenko, the author ofA Woman’s Book of Life
a shadow walking
in the quake of my steps
a tattered pad and pen,
old hands taking notes,
random thoughts and
oddly paced prayers,
misspelling the past,
scribbling the future in
lines dim, ungrammatical,
lacking any cadence
in a waking moment,
i amend the notes, seize
the present, edit history,
writing complete sentences,
a latter-day revisioning
For those who weren’t able to share their work in honor of 100,000 Poets and Others For Change – or even fave pieces on theme (Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice) by other authors – YOU still have time to do so but toMORROW is the last day. Instructions in the post explain how to share your poems or other art … check it out …
“Rise, awaken, seek the wise and realize. The path is difficult to cross like the sharpened edge of the razor, so say the wise.” Katha Upanishads, verse 1.3.14
SURPRISED TO HAVE MADE IT TO SIXTY-SEVEN
In gratitude today, I celebrate sixty-seven years of life, forty-seven years with my world-class son, and sixteen years of survival beyond my medically predicted expiration date.
In 1999, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and given two years to live. (No, I have never smoked in my life.) Thanks to the boundless patience and kindness of my son and the compassion and good offices of an extraordinary medical team, I’m still here, sometimes home-bound and always bound to toting an oxygen tank. These complications don’t keep me from enjoying the CitySon Philosopher, my beautiful, smart, fab and funny daughter-in-law, and the friendship of many including my friends from our Group for people with life-threatening illnesses, my neighbors, the members of our spiritual congregation/social justice network and my arts community of poets, writers, artists, musicians and bloggers.
Regarding the latter, I hold Jingle Yanqui (no longer online) most especially in heart. Her vision for forming a cohesive and supportive online poetry community has facilitated a network of poets I could not have hoped to manage on my own. It makes up for being unable to take part in off-line poetry readings and groups.
Without a doubt, I cherish the friendships and shared values among The BeZine core team members and guest contributors. They rock … and they’re helping to rock the world into peace.
Celebrating poetry, prose, music and art with you through your books and blogs numbers among my most treasured gifts. Thank you for your honesty, for sharing your wisdom, your joys and sorrows, your laughter and pain and very human folly, your faith and despair, the rough knobby wool of the human condition. As my workload and commitments have expanded over the years and my disease progresses, I don’t get to visit as often as I like … but I do peek in on you and you continue to endear yourselves to me.
LESSONS FROM THE SHARPENED EDGE OF THE RAZOR
Over the past few days, I have been thinking about life lessons learned from years of living – as you do too – on the razor’s edge:
We are not meant to compare ourselves with others. Our beauty is absolute, not relative.
Freedom is a state of mind. It requires a recognition of Madison Avenue values and programming and a disconnect from them and from any other received values that are not consistent with our own inner truth.
Committing art is spiritual practice.
We are meant to immerse ourselves in beauty: family, friends, flowers, music, poetry …
As long as we live on this earth, we have to make a living, but we were not meant to be wage-slaves. Find the balance between making a living with making a life.
Health is a relative thing: We will always be more-or-less healthy. We may have to modify our activities because of health challenges and/or aging, but as long as we’re alive, there’s no reason not to stay engaged.
When we receive a terminal diagnosis, it takes time to process and to deal with the shock. Eventually we find our way to peace and continue our lives, albeit within the limits of disability. The terminus – as you can see from my experience – may be a long way off.
The only difference between people who are living with a terminal diagnosis and those who are not is that the former are no longer in denial.
Don’t turn good time into bad by worrying about what is an inevitable part of life. There comes a point when we accept that things are just the way they should be even though we don’t understand the whys and hows.
As long as we insist on identifying with the painful experiences of our lives, with the insults received at the hands of others, we feel desolate and somehow less. The order of the day is reframe and reinvent. The need is to rewrite our stories.
People who are at peace with themselves are never cruel. If someone hurts or has hurt us, it’s because of their own pain.
Best policy: let go, trust yourself and get on with life.
Consciousness is not the mind attached to the brain. It is a Light independent of the physical. We may not always have form or human personality but we have always been and we always will be. The challenge is to be a worthy spark of Being.
Love – true love – is not romantic love. Love is found by seeing the reflection of Being in ourselves and all life. It is the ability to recognize the sacred everywhere and in everyone, even in our frail and fallible selves, in the most unfortunate conditions and the most unfortunate people.
May every day be a rebirth for you in the light of Love.
the unconscionable dance in the canyons of power,
lined with megalithic buildings, the edifice complex
of the spin-meister’s lie, that the demigods can do
anything – anything – walking this asphalt valley
a parade, flailing lemmings trussed and trusting their
die-cut dreams to the pitiless whim of the military/
industrial/medical alliance, whose war-cries are of
greed and arrogance, believing they’ll live forever,
today’s sovereignty, tomorrow’s guarantee. But it’s
all delusion – cultures die and the hope-crushing
architects of cuts and austerity measures are like
the rich man in the Lazarus story, there’ll be
some kind of backlash, some kind of hell to pay …
“Rich Lazarus! richer in those gems, thy tears, Than Dives in the robes he wears: He scorns them now, but oh they’ll suit full well With the purple he must wear in hell” Richard Crenshaw (c.1613-1649), English cleric, teacher, metaphysical poet, Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, Delights of the Muses (1646)
I was definitely the product you’d expect from the odd and awkward situation in which I grew up and surely I showed little talent, no free thinking and no genius or particular promise. The poem is not good – some youth write profoundly beautiful and wise poetry and young people today are far more savvy than I ever was – but it does illustrate that after fifty years or so writing will improve. We writers often have our doubts, but we are an unrelenting bunch. We write, write, write. We enrich, reform and reframe as if every word of ours will spark more Light in the collective unconscious, which I rather think they do.
Make of Me a Tree
I am young, Lord,
but my heart is true,
Make of me a tree
Make me strong and supple
That when tempests blow,
I shall stand unyielding.
Let me be humble in the
Praise of Your Majesty
And testify to Your greatness.
When rains besiege
Let me be shelter
To those who have not found Your Son,
Yes! I am young
but my heart is true:
Make of me a tree.
– Jamie Dedes
That’s my cousin Dan in the photograph, six years younger than me, so about 8 in this photo to my 13,. Dan was inspired by the poem to paint a lovely “portrait” of a tree. These days it’s Father Dan – Rev. Fr. Daniel S. Sormani, C.S.Sp. – a theologian and professor at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Dan always showed real promise. Like my son, Richard, and Dan’s brother, Christopher, even as a toddler he was smart and funny. So many of you appreciated Dan’s piece What Have We Done That People Can Pick Up Weapons and Kill?Come March, Dan will be back in the United States. We will get to visit for the first time in forty years.
And, yes! I did want to become a nun. I was told there would be family background checks and I feared rightly that there were things in my parent’s history that would embarrass my mom. I became a now-and-again wife, a mother, a writer, a poet. No regrets. The life mission is essentially the same though the vehicle of service differs and the actions are grounded in ethics not creed, which is not to imply that the two are necessarily exclusive.
Note: The photograph of the two of us together was taken at a fundraiser our mothers were helping with for the Guild for Exceptional Children in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York. This remains a worthy effort and worth your time if you happen to live in that area and are looking for a place at which to volunteer or are in a position to make a donation.
‘Twas All Hallows’ Eve, and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, even our pet mouse
Oh the pumpkins were carved with very great care
In the hope that trick-or-treaters soon would be there
The children were agitated, not one in her bed
As visions of sweet treats danced in their heads
Dad and I in our costumes and me with my cap
Had settled by the door listening for the first rap
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
We sprang to our feet to check on the matter
We threw open our door to offer sweet stash
While witches flew by, all glitter and flash
And the moon on the rise and the dark ground below
Gave lustre and bluster to ghosts on the go
And then what to our startled eyes should appear,
But a miniature ballerina among goblins, one bear
Now, Alice! Now Ernie! Now Jimmy! Now Chris!
Come little Tony, big Brandy and Trish
To the top of the stairs, don’t any one fall …
Now dash away dash away dash away all
The Wiyot lived in the Humboldt Bay area of Northern California and they live in my dreams. For about a year-and-half we made our home in Humboldt County, an area about 200 miles north of San Francisco on the far North Coast. It’s a place dense with redwood forests, wild rivers, and creeks that run dry in the summer and overflow in the winter. If you live in a rural area or grew up in one, you might take such things for granted. Having lived in paved-over cities all my life, they seemed magical to me.
Our four acres were rich with sequoia, madrone, oak, and twenty-eight fruit trees. Blue jays flew in to feed in the morning. Quail families visited at night. They marched down our drive in orderly formation. Hawks and hummingbirds put on air shows. Rosemary thrived unattended. There was a beautiful lush 100-year-old rosebush. There were wild roses too. They gifted us hips for homemade cough syrup.
The colors there were brilliant and varied: smog-free blue skies (you could see the stars at night!), rich brown earth, a population of purple iris in a grove of California bay laurel, orange cosmos and red dahlias, yellow scotch broom lining our creek-side in the company of cascading Japanese quince. The Japanese quince provided ample housing for Rufus hummingbirds. Nearby, Queen Ann’s lace stood unbent by the wind. When it went to seed we collected the seeds for cooking. They have a taste somewhere between carrot and caraway.
The spread of blackberry bushes was both wonder and wealth. They seemed never to run out of fruit. I gathered some almost every morning for breakfast and every morning I thought of the women in buckskins who preceded me more than a century ago. Perhaps there was a mother who stood on this spot, picking blackberries for her son too.
I think the peace, quiet and simplicity of that place made it easy to imagine the first peoples as they might have lived there in other times. I could see them tending fires, boiling and drying acorns and then grinding them for flour, bathing in the river, raising their children, gathering wood, hunting and enjoying sacred ceremony. I knew the very same ancient sequoia that watched over us had watched over them.
Finally, I did some research. I was sad but not surprised to find that the area was once inhabited by an indigenous people – the Wiyot people – who were decimated in a genocide ~
“Eureka newspapers of the time exulted at the night massacres conducted by the “good citizens of the area”. Good haul of Diggers and Tribe Exterminated! were 2 headlines from the Humboldt Times. Those who thought differently about it were shut up by force. Newspaper publisher and short story writer Bret Harte called it “cowardly butchery of sleeping women and children” — then had to flee ahead of a lynch mob that smashed his printing presses.” MORE [Wiyot Tribal Council Page]
Note: Originally written in 2012, I’ve posted this today as a an acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12. More than 40 US jurisdictions celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day; the majority of these have replaced Columbus Day with this holiday, but some jurisdictions celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In addition to reading here, please also treat yourself to Michael Watson’s post Silence, Story, and Healing, a short and thoughtful piece.
Perhaps you too grew up in a time and place where the history books taught a one-sided view of the land you live on and the people who originated there. Perhaps, like me, you had to get out of school and meet new people, read books that weren’t sanctioned by academic authority and do your own research to learn about the devastation that was and is rained upon indigenous people all over the world … the violence, the slavery and the genocide. Perhaps you are a descendent of the original people who suffered so and know the truth from the stories of your elders. Perhaps your roots are in the nations of empire and you are saddened that they perpetrated or were complicit in such unimaginable injustice.
We can’t change what happened in the past but we can make sure that lies aren’t propagated and that the truth is told and shared. Whether or not you are a writer, try this exercise: write a poem, short story, essay or article that illustrates some aspect of colonialism, racial bias and stereotype, or the modern complications of colonial history. Doing research and writing about our feelings are good ways to clarify circumstance and clear out unconscious bias. That’s one of the possible benefits of journaling, for example. If you are a professional poet or writer, you have the tools to help set the record straight and win a small victory for the human race.
this rough-barked sequoia stump, sitting in majesty
in its coastal home, victim of wildfire, burned down
to its gnarly roots, its nicks, holes and char, eons
of scars, life seemingly cut off, goddess snake alive
inside the concentric circles, the smell of wood and
scorch of fire, at the verge of our infinity, in its truth ~
haunted by the geometry of limbs, the calculus of green,
the algebraic eloquence of a world within a world ~
This poem was originally written in 2014 for Wilderness Week. There were then and are now a number of fires raging in the western United States. Wildfires are a natural occurrence but since the 1980s they’ve been increasing due to human-caused climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists . . .
Wildfires in the western United States have been . . . occurring nearly four times more often, burning more than six times the land area, and lasting almost five times as long (comparisons are between 1970-1986 and 1986-2003) ….. many of the areas that have seen these increases—such as Yosemite National Park and the Northern Rockies—are protected from or relatively unaffected by human land-use and behaviors. This suggests that climate change is a major factor driving the increase in wildfires.” MORE
We tend to look at these fires in terms of the expense incurred fighting them and the cost of lives, homes, habitat, wild life and so forth. However, there’s one consideration we may tend to forget: Nature teaches us, comforts us, feeds us and is the ebb and flow of our spiritual and physical lives. The loss – the environmental injustice – is profound on more than a material level. This is what the smell of wood, the scorch of fire seeks to illustrate. “Nature” is who we are. Nature is us.
Write a poem or creative nonfiction piece on what the natural environment means to you and perhaps the sense of loss you feel as you note plants, animals, insects and wilderness that you’ve seen damaged or destroyed by climate, industry, overpopulation and whatever else has effected the area in which you live.
You are invited to join The Bardo Group Beguines at The BeZineblog on Saturday, September 24 for 100,000 Poets (and friends) for Change. Below is a list of more features to provide you with information. We hope you’ll join us.
At the flower market this morning
I thought of us and our naked lives
Did you notice the star lilies bowing
and giant calyxes unfurling themselves?
A painter’s pallette of color there
fretting in terra-cotta, feral and windblown
A fabulous fusion of scent and form,
forests of nectar-pots on knobby stems,
the stuff of heaven for the anthophilous
In just a day or two, they’ll be gone
I couldn’t help but think that these yes! … these are our human days
our days to sow or steal our human joys
Another day will inevitably transform us
The moon will stew us in a soffritto
of tulips and night-blooming jasmine
At dawn on the day I decide to die,
we’ll sip oolong at the Tudor Rose,
but I won’t be there, I promise I won’t
You’ll eat orchids to celebrate our love
and our long walks in kempt gardens
Once you picked forget-me-nots –
meant as the soul of our redemption
When their colors fade and leaves wither,
it will be time to look for me …
Look for me where the wisteria grows
With subtle eupony my blue-violet tendrils will
call you, weaving and binding you in love again
” . . . when we look around ourselves, we can recognize ourselves in the non-self elements, like a father looking at his children can see himself in his children, can see his continuation in his children. So he is not attached to the idea that his body is the only thing that is him. He’s more than his body. He is inside of his body but he is also at the same [time] outside of his body in many elements. And if we have the habit of looking like that, we will not be the victim of our attachment to one form of manifestation, and we will be free. And that freedom makes happiness and peace possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh