On Amanda Gorman’s Debut Poetry Collection

Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman. New York: Viking. 2021. 228 pages

When Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, stood up last January 20 to read her poem – “The Hill We Climb” (pp. 206-7) – the nation and the world took notice of a powerful new literary presence. I took notice. It is no exaggeration to say that she took my breath away with that performance, which to me was absolutely the highlight of the occasion. While the new President and Vice-President might have said all the right words – and since, as tends to happen, their words thereafter might seem to ring a bit hollow, from time to time – the precisely placed, pondered, and accentuated words of this young poet with her bright yellow jacket, the red padded headband that she wore like a crown, and her bright dignified bearing rang forth with a brilliance that transcended all the uncertainty and menace of the political moment. Everything about her performative art and creative presence that day put hope in this old soul’s too-often careworn heart.

So it is no wonder that, as soon as I found out this book was forthcoming, I rushed to place my pre-order; nor that now, fresh from my second reading of it since its mid-December arrival, that I sit down to write about it.

Indeed, it is that combination of  love, hope, and youthful optimism shining forth in these poems that seems most necessary to me, who am otherwise too often weighed down with the dread and pessimism that political and planetary reality seems to dictate. And it is not an easy or even a certain hope that infuses these pages, which are also laden with the collective, generational trauma of much of marginalized and otherwise “othered” humanity including, as she mentions in the poem “Pre-Memory,” that of Holocaust survivors, emigrants from the Korean War, and their children and grandchildren. “The whiplike echo of Jim Crow, too, passes through Black bodies, even before birth,” Gorman quips in that poem (p. 75). These poems are also laden, though not weighed down, by rage and anger at our nation’s ever-repeated cycles of social progress for Others followed by White Backlash: “Riots are red / violence is blue / We’re sick of dying / How ’bout you” (“Roses,” p. 158).

The themes that infuse these pages include language and words themselves; history; memory; life and death; environment, climate, Covid: that first year of loneliness and isolation; “faith and fury,” resistance and struggle; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the BLM protests; love and healing, hope and forgiveness; and, of course, the things we carry and the attitude with which we carry them. This is a disorderly list, and not necessarily complete, though the poet herself has fit it all together in a sensible and emotionally fulfilling progression.

This book is not always an easy read, though it is plain-spoken and direct. It is never pretentious or deliberately opaque, but it constantly challenges with its play of visual forms and an unapologetic intellectual curiosity, rich in allusions from literature and popular culture to history, science, and the poet’s own complex ruminations – bolstered by notes on the etymology of certain words, among other things, and by a series of endnotes that speak directly to the poems’ inspirations and sources. Above all, as Gorman states in her opening poem, “This book does not let up” (“Ship’s Manifest,” p. 2), and it requires an attentive and mindful reader. Perhaps most important: she never insults that reader’s intelligence. Instead, taking that native intelligence for granted, by sheer dint of variety of perspective and repetition, she carries the reader through what may sometimes be difficult passages (rough seas and linguistic-intellectual twists) to a holistic clarity and understanding, if not to immediate and total illumination. For that, all great poetry calls the reader back, for re-reading and renewed reflection.

It is here that I recognize the single and underlying unity that, to my mind, binds all the book’s variety together: the constantly reiterated theme of language itself; that not only do words and language matter, but they lie at the heart of everything, at the very ability of humankind – particularly in the context of our multicultural reality – to properly function. For this reason, above all, it would be literary-rhetorical malpractice for a writer whose blog pretends, as mine does, to explore the variety of possible “literary rhetorics,” not to review a book that so perfectly embodies the principle.

Indeed, while a strictly political rhetoric seeks to persuade to action; and the  literary-rhetorical principle in general – of poetry, fiction, and various forms of creative nonfiction – seeks to persuade, at least, to attitude; Amanda Gorman’s wonderful book directly and unabashedly takes on the task of moving her readers beyond pessimism and hopelessness to a renewal of hope that itself propels them to the sorts of action to which they feel called and for which they are well suited, according to their individual gifts and talents but in solidarity with their communities, in the most particular and broad senses.

In her early poem, “Good Grief,” Gorman addresses the word trauma, which in its origin means “not just ‘wound’ but ‘piercing’ or ‘turning,’ / As blades do when finding home. / Grief commands its own grammar, / Structured by intimacy & imagination,” she adds, before mentioning a pair of commonplace expressions: “We are beside ourselves with grief” and “We can’t even imagine,” which are both italicized in her usage. Then some further definition: “This means anguish can call us to envision / More than what we believed carriable /Or even survivable. / This is to say, there does exist /     A good grief”   (p.28).

But she is not finished, here; she doesn’t utilize the aforementioned commonplaces for nothing. At the end of the poem’s long final stanza, she refashions them, rescuing them from the realm of uncomfortable cliché: “Where once we were alone, / Now we are beside ourselves” (as if our grief, perhaps, now examined and made our friend, were sitting with and consoling us); and, she continues: “Where once we were barbed & brutal as a blade, / Now we can only imagine” (p. 29) – (inviting her readers, perhaps, to join her in imagining the various ways in which we can “re-build” our grief-stricken selves, re-inventing and re-empowering ourselves, within the midst of community, to carry whatever burdens we must.

This is one of the ways Gorman instructs us on the value of words. In another instance, slipping briefly (amidst verse) into the instructive yet still poetic prose of a good language teacher, in the context of a “collective memory [that] need not be experienced firsthand to be remembered” (from the previously cited poem on that subject), she appeals to the Spanish language: in which, she writes, “like in many languages, the verb’s conjugation often takes the place of a pronoun. Llevo means ‘I carry.’ The pronoun yo (meaning ‘I’) is made unnecessary. The ‘I’ is assumed, not absent. Lleva, for example, in itself can mean she/he/it/you carries or carry. Something similar happens with postmemory. Postmemory is not the solo but the choir, a loyal we, to be not above the others, but among them. The trauma becomes: I/she/he/you/they/we remember. I/she/he/you/they/we were there” (p. 76).

 From this she quickly arrives – moving on from the borrowed concept of postmemory – back at the poem’s title, Gorman’s own concept of “pre-memory”: “We posit that pre-memory is the phenomenon in which we remember that which we are still experiencing” (p. 77). But I digress: a further elaboration of this concept is beyond the purview of the present essay; I have merely been illustrating her teacherly-poetic way of drawing me/her/him/you/they/us into a greater awareness of the importance of words, in this case as in many others of the principal verb in her book’s title”: Carry.

This all illustrates her indirect method, we might say, or at least one of them, of reminding us that words matter, that language matters, for good or ill and in every aspect of shared existence. But she is not shy of being more direct when directness is called for: “… We will say again / Language matters. From the beginning, the colonized are kennings: / African American, Asian American, Native American (apparently / There is no White American). American & adjective, American & / Qualifier. The term split up (I) and dismantled, stripped and striped….” (“America ™,” p. 154; the words written on the horizontal stripes of the US flag that appears as backdrop to the text: you have to hold the book sideways to read it).

There are also countless references to writing, the act or the object of writing: “Some days, we just need a place / Where we can bleed in peace. / Our only word  for this is / Poem” (“Cut,” p. 26; italics in original). Or in the poem “Another Nautical,” where after an introductory passage on the transformational power – on words and on worlds – of the English suffix -ship (relation   →ship; leader   →ship; etc.) she writes: “This book, like a ship, is meant to be lived in. / Are we not animals, two by two, /  Heavy hearted & hoofed, horned, / Marching into the ark of our lives. /  We, the mammals marked to flood / This day throbbing into tomorrow.” (p. 37) The allusion to Noah’s ark comes back later, in “What We Carry”: “Words matter, for / Language is an ark. / Yes, / Language is an art, / An articulate artifact. / Language is a life craft …” (p. 203).

It is through language, in fact, or perhaps therefore, that in our lives as in this book we may find hope: “We’re optimistic,” Gorman writes, “not because we have hope, / But because only by being optimistic can hope / Be ours to have” (“The Truth in One Nation,” p. 169). But this hope is not easily arrived at, least of all for the marginalized and colonized; as she suggests in these two stanzas, from the same poem, which evoke her collective memory as a descendant of slaves (and of their own African ancestors): “We were brought here / & all we got was this lousy T-shirt. / This drowsy free hurt. / Taste our tired, unbroken rage. / Nothing we have witnessed / This lifetime surprises us. // Disbelief is a luxury / We never possessed, / A pause that never was. / How many times have we wheezed / A dread to last all night long. / The truth is, one nation under guns” (p. 164). Somewhere within the juxtaposition of the trivial cultural marker and apparently light humor of the second line against the unmistakable pathos of what follows, culminating in the bitterly dark humor of the last line, lies the collective strength to carry on and prevail.

As this remarkable young poet read her inaugural poem to a rapt national and international audience, in the dark shadow of the violent insurrection of January 6, she spoke of the “force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, / Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy” (p. 208). No better illustration exists for the urgent necessity of Amanda Gorman’s intelligent and luminous presentation of the argument that Language Does Matter, and of the dire consequences of its devaluation and mutilation, its distortion and falsification, than the ignorance both planted and nurtured by those anti-democratic forces: wolves of authoritarianism in the fake lambskin of Freedom. So I would like to close with her definition and unmasking of that boastful and willful collective ignorance; and so I cite these scattered lines from her poem – laid out on the page in two columns, as if on the pages of a century-old newspaper – “Vale of the Shadow of Death or Extra! Extra! Read All About It,” which, aside from the Biblical referent, plays off of the Spanish verb vale (“pronounced like ballet,” she helpfully parenthesizes) and in the context of the 1918 version of Trump’s “Chinese Flu” or “Kung Flu,” deliberately cruel and careless words that, like many others, have brought senseless violence on what are taken as “foreign” and thereby less valued bodies: “It’s said that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is this: a vine that sneaks up a tree, killing not by poison, but by blocking out its light…. In short, a slur is a sound that beasts us…. In this way, ignorance is a sound that beats us – blue, black, yellow, red, a wretch of a rainbow…. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is to miss: to block ourselves from seeing sky” (pp. 82-5).

In summary let me just say that I love and highly recommend this book. To me it stands beside Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard and its successor, Thrall, for both its poetic value itself but also its deep dive into America’s still unresolved history of racial violence and prejudice, among much else of great worth. But Amanda Gorman’s youthful hope is a particular and welcome treasure. The book, therefore, should become standard fare in America’s high schools and colleges: what better and more irreproachable antidote to the anti-CriticalRaceTheory hysteria of our historical moment? And though the haters go on hating, go on loudly objecting, to the presence of anything or anyone that calls into question the vine-choked illogic of their hatred, let’s allow the countervailing love of this amazing new poet’s eloquently hopeful voice (through ours boldly echoed) to shine forth and launch a revolution of elevated and humane thought and a sharp but generous language of life-affirming rather than life-disparaging words, of mutual rather than exclusive freedoms – and the civic and communitarian responsibilities of being American that go with them.

Lessons from Eviction Court

Note: I have decided to give my space over to this important essay, created on a Creative Commons license as noted at bottom and which I found on the Common Dreams website dated 12/2/21. I apologize for the absence, lately, of my own essays, but I will be back.

By Fran Quigley,

director of Health and Human Rights clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Carmen Jones nudged me in the arm, then pointed down at her cell phone screen. A text had just come in from a company that manages several rental properties on the far east side of Indianapolis.

“Your rental application has unfortunately been denied for one or more of the following reasons: Court filing from landlord on tenancy screening report.”

As it happened, we were at that very moment in front of a judge who was conducting a hearing on that court filing: her landlord’s demand for eviction. Shortly after the constable delivered court papers to her door, Ms. Jones and her two children (I am not using clients’ real names here) had voluntarily left the apartment. But that did not stop the “Scarlet E” of the eviction filing from following her. She and the kids were sleeping at an extended-stay motel, with Ms. Jones leaving the room every morning to go to work. The cost of $85 a night was clearly unsustainable. But motels don’t check tenant reports, and the landlords she applied to were rejecting her left and right.

Three of four families who are eligible for federally subsidized housing—including Carmen Jones and her kids—don’t receive it.

After the hearing ended, a law student and I walked out in the hallway to talk for a few minutes with Ms. Jones. But the court bailiff soon followed, summoning us back into the court room for Natasha Green.

The police had recently arrested Ms. Green’s abuser. That protected her from his drunken beatings, but also left her without his income to help support their five kids. So, she took a job 35 miles away from home, working in a warehouse on the 6PM to 4AM shift. She has a rickety car and tenuous nighttime childcare arrangements. She is struggling with lack of sleep—she does not have much help watching the kids during the day. But the hope is that she might be able to keep all this going long enough to pull in some paychecks that will allow her to catch up on rent.

Tanya Lyons sits in court watching all this, waiting for her turn. Ms. Lyons’ four-year-old son Amari nestled into the crook of her arm, drawing with a highlighter on some paper the court reporter has given him. A few days ago, one of our law school clinic students had successfully argued that Ms. Lyons and Amari be allowed to stay in their home an extra month before eviction. But, at 10PM the night after the hearing, the home’s power was mysteriously cut off, presumably by the angry landlord.

So goes about twenty minutes in eviction court.

When we started our student practice program at Indiana University McKinney School of Law ten years ago, we called it the Health and Human Rights Clinic. The plan was for law students on the verge of graduation to gain experience by advocating for low-income clients who were seeking access to healthcare. At first, that was a lot of what we did. But what experts call the social determinants of health kept poking up in our clients’ lives. Red-tape cut-offs of food stamps for hungry households, shady employers not paying hard-working roofers and restaurant servers, unemployment benefits blocked by a system seemingly designed to prevent laid-off workers from getting stop-gap help.

And, of course, housing.

There may be no more critical social determinant of health than whether a person is living in a safe, secure home. With the massive work income loss during the Covid pandemic and rent taking up a huge chunk of the financial obligations of low-income families, one thing became increasingly clear as 2021 progressed: a tsunami of evictions was coming, even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control moratorium was holding it back temporarily. Now, as the year comes to a close, nearly six million U.S. households are behind on their rent.

Law students and lawyers can’t fix all this. But we can sometimes slow down the eviction process for tenants, buying them time to look for a temporary influx of cash to make rent or find a safe place to move to. And we can push for fairness in a process that is notoriously dismissive of renters’ rights. Like firefighters arriving at a home already engulfed in flames, we arrive too late to prevent any damage from happening. But we do have the tools to mitigate it, at least some of the time.

So, last spring, the Health and Human Rights Clinic became a housing clinic. Here are a few things we learned:

One: It’s all about affordable housing. Sylvia is a severely disabled woman faced with rent costs that exceed the entirety of her monthly disability check. Jasmine is the new mother of an 11-day old baby and herself still recovering from a difficult pregnancy and birth. For clients like Sylvia and Jasmine, we often find ourselves without any legal tricks that can magically engineer their families into a safe, secure home. As our clinic and others have called for, we need a right to counsel for tenants, an eviction process that stops fast-tracking people out of their homes, and sealing of eviction court records. But making the eviction system more fair is not the end game. If Sylvia and Jasmine could simply afford the cost of a stable home, they would never have to come to court in the first place.

But, for them and tens of millions of other Americans, the math just does not work. Here in Indiana, even modest rental units charge a monthly amount that takes up an unsustainable percentage of many workers’ wages. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Indiana is about $850. For our clients working in home care, retail, and food service, where they struggle to make living wages and get assigned steady hours, rent claims a huge chunk of their paychecks. And these workers are relatively well-off compared to our clients who are living off a disability check.

The term experts use for renters paying a high percentage of their income for rent is “cost-burdened.” They estimate that over 37 million Americans fall into that category. Here is how “cost-burdened’ translates in real life: our clients are somehow able to juggle paying sixty, seventy, even eighty percent of their monthly income on rent—until they can’t. A health crisis happens, a car relied upon to get to work breaks down, a school orders a child to stay home because of illness or Covid exposure. The paychecks get reduced or stop altogether. The rent comes due. And then we see them in court.

Two: For-profit corporations gonna for-profit. James is 82 years-old and he has lived in his apartment for 30 years. A corporation bought his building earlier this year, then promptly filed an eviction case against him. The case was bogus: the allegation that James was behind on his rent was easily refuted by James’ carefully organized receipts. They were dated, which showed the company’s other argument claiming unpaid late fees was also completely unjustified. When we confronted the corporation’s lawyer with this evidence, he shrugged his shoulders. “Well, his lease is up next month anyway, and the company doesn’t want to renew him.”

That was that. It didn’t matter that James had been paying rent and renewing leases at his home for decades. His neighborhood was gentrifying around him, and the corporation was determined to reap the benefits. They threw James out along with other fixed-income seniors. They repainted and rebranded, then started pulling in younger, wealthier tenants.

It was about money, and there was zero hesitation about rousting an old man from his third-of-a-century home. But could we expect anything different? In our cases, it is common for a landlord or their attorney to tell us some variation of, “I am sorry your client will not have a place to live, but it’s not my responsibility.” And they are right. If we really consider housing to be a human right, and polls show most Americans do, it is madness to entrust a money-seeking enterprise, usually a for-profit business, with ensuring that right.

But, for more than three in every four Americans who live on an income low enough to qualify them for federally-subsidized housing, James included, there is no help available. Public housing agencies go for years on end without even opening their wait lists for vouchers or subsidized units. Here in Indianapolis, an eligible family waits an average of more than four years for a voucher. In some cities, the wait time is eight years.  For almost all of our clients, their only option is to scrape together enough rent to ensure a corporation feels it is in their interests to keep the transaction rolling. As James learned, the minute the landlord feels the arrangement is not profitable enough, they tell our clients to hit the streets.

Three: Mom and Pop landlords are mythological creatures. Well, almost. Every example I have mentioned here involves a corporate landlord with a high-priced private attorney hired to evict the tenant. That is not a coincidence. Virtually every case we see involves a corporation throwing out a low-income renter.

You wouldn’t know that from the public handwringing about the pandemic struggles of Mom and Pop landlords. Consider the National Apartment Association‘s lament (“The small owners—their income is the rental properties they have. They are the folks who are taking the most pain and suffering from the brunt of this experience”), or Time magazine highlighting a landlord’s complaint (“Here I am expected to absorb everybody else’s heartaches, and nobody’s there to resolve my heartache”) and even the U.S. Supreme Court when it struck down the eviction moratorium (“Despite the CDC’s determination that landlords should bear a significant financial cost of the pandemic, many landlords have modest means.”)

Those feeble landlords barely making ends meet are hard to find in eviction court. Or, as it turns out, anywhere in the rental market. A Brookings Institution report issued in September aimed to lift up the plight of the small landlord. But even its analysis showed that nearly 9 in 10 units are owned either by businesses or by individuals living in households making more than $90,000 per year. A recent report by our state’s largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, uncovered that 88% of the evictions filed in our local courts this year were brought by corporate landlords.

Four: Landlords are doing just fine, thank you. We can save our tears for the allegedly put-upon landlord industry. A remarkable October report by JP Morgan Chase showed that landlords during the Covid pandemic have actually come out ahead: “Our data show that landlords were able to cut their expenses by more than their rental revenues fell, which resulted in landlords’ cash balances growing during the pandemic.”

We see the impact of landlords’ comfortable financial status played out in court. Many are so flush with cash that they issue a blanket refusal to accept the government’s checks for emergency rental assistance to pay tenants’ back rent. Landlords say no because accepting the government’s money would prevent them from immediately kicking out our clients. With a cash surplus in hand and a high-demand housing market, most landlords prefer to replace current tenants with others who can pay much higher rents. Others have plans to sell the building to one of the many speculators buying up an alarming amount of residential housing across the country.

For example, one elderly Indianapolis couple came to court with approval in hand for all the rental assistance needed to catch up on back rent. The landlord refused it. When we spoke with the couple, they were four days away from a forced move-out. Their post-eviction plan was to spend nights sleeping in the bed of their pickup truck.

Five: Bad housing is expensive housing. Ida is a grandmother living in a home where the breaker box caught fire—twice. The front door won’t lock, and standing water in the basement and an aggressive roof leak has caused black mold to grow throughout the house. In Aaron’s home, the bathtub and sink drains belch up raw sewage. The rodents that roam Shawn’s apartment complex seem to be the only creatures unperturbed by the electrical fires that happen every few weeks.

Believe it or not, all these tenants are paying market rate and above for their homes. Because they have past eviction filings on their record, they are forced to accept substandard living conditions. As Carmen Jones learned in court, prospective  landlords routinely check court records and automatically reject applicants with a previous eviction filing.  Tenants with a past eviction case often become homeless. Others, like Ms. Jones, rely for as long as they can on expensive extensive-stay motels. The motels accept “bad credit” tenants, in return for far higher housing costs and no lease protections. Eventually, our clients usually find their way to landlords who know the new tenants have no choice but to live with electrical fires, standing water, and doors that won’t lock.

Six: Federal intervention works. Six months ago, all our current eviction court clients were safely housed. Most were using stimulus checks and/or extended unemployment benefits to make ends meet. The CDC eviction moratorium was protecting the roof over their heads. As a result, poverty rates actually dropped during the pandemic. 

By the first week of September, everything had changed. First the Supreme Court struck down moratorium at the end of August. Two weeks later, the extended unemployment benefits ran out. The safety net that had so effectively protected our clients and millions of others was abruptly pulled away. Their landings have been rough: Our client Patricia was evicted, and is now living in a friend’s garden shed. Elise is sleeping in her storage unit. Kenneth and his young sons are living out of their car.

Seven: Don’t expect states to fix this. Anyone paying attention to recent history should not be surprised by this lesson. A dozen states have still refused to accept near-full federal subsidies to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. These governors and legislators have been content to allow millions of their citizens to suffer without medicines and care. Why would we expect anything different when it comes to housing? Yet the distribution of $46 billion in emergency rental assistance provided by the federal government has been outsourced in significant part to those same state governments. Predictably, red states in particular are dropping the ball, including here in Indiana.

Our state government let hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency rental assistance sit undistributed, all while families here were being evicted by the thousands. For our governor, coming to the aid of struggling low-income families is simply not a priority. Our General Assembly, under the sway of landlord lobbyists and campaign donors, is actively hostile to renters. This year, legislators repeatedly voted to pre-empt mild City of Indianapolis ordinances protecting tenants from retaliation when they reported unsafe conditions.

Our courts are no better. Indiana has one of the nation’s highest eviction rates in large part because we make evictions remarkably cheap (as little as $107 to file), fast (as quick as three days from filing until a family is thrown out) and easy (most judges block tenants from even bringing up unsafe conditions before they are evicted).  Our state Supreme Court recently issued a grand announcement: it was responding to the crisis by rolling out an eviction diversion program. At first glance, the program seems to do the right things—delaying evictions while the rental assistance process is ongoing and sealing tenants’ eviction records in the meantime. But the catch is that the program only kicks in if both parties agree to it. With our state’s housing laws and procedures dramatically skewed in their favor, landlords and their attorneys have publicly laughed at the idea that they would agree to block their own sure path to a quick eviction.

“Doomed to fail … no one will participate,” one prominent landlord attorney predicted when the diversion program was rolled out. He was right. At a recent court session in Indianapolis, 68 separate landlords were asked if they would participate in the program. All 68 refused.

Eight: Evictions are often the business end of U.S. racism and sexism. After our law students spent a couple of months representing tenants, I asked for their guesses on the racial breakdown for the population of the township where we do most of our work. Their responses ranged from 70% to 90% Black. The right answer is 35%.

But that is not what they see on eviction court days. The tenants who sign in and take their seats on gray metal folding chairs are overwhelmingly Black. Most often they are young mothers.

That lines up with the national and state data showing that Black tenants are far more likely to face losing their homes. Black women with children are particularly at risk of being evicted.

In court, landlords are usually represented by attorneys and sometimes by property managers. Since last spring, I have witnessed thousands of hearings, and I have never seen a Black landlord attorney. A Black property manager is a rarity. Day after day, the same scene replays in court: one or two White people with property and/or professional status evicting a Black family, often a mother with a baby on her hip.

Nine: The social determinants of health are real. One day, as we conducted our case rounds in class, the students and I were struck by something: everybody was sick. Every single client was either themselves struggling with illness or disability or caring for someone else in the household with similar health issues. Oftentimes both.

Sometimes the stories are shocking. One mother checked herself out of the hospital after 37 days of Covid treatment to come to court to try to prevent her paralyzed son from being evicted. Other examples are more subtle. One common chain reaction starts with a school-aged child forced to quarantine for Covid exposure. Parents without childcare options miss work to be at home. Paychecks shrink; rent becomes past due.

The causation arrow for the health-housing crisis points in both directions. Illness and disability create problems making rent. And the housing itself—the mold, the rodents, the lead exposure, the sanitation issues— make our clients sick, particularly the children. Then there is the well-documented negative health impacts of the eviction process itself, up to and including hospitalizations and suicide.  

Ten: We don’t practice what we preach. If you find these scenes from eviction court appalling, the good news is that most Americans agree with you. A majority of Americans believe housing is a human right. We think the government, acting on our behalf, needs to ensure that right is honored. This should not be a surprise, since every faith and moral tradition prioritizes a clear obligation to ensure shelter for all. The Gospels message of Christianity and the zakat mandate of Islam are unequivocal on this point. It is the unmistakable message of the Jewish commandments to shelter the stranger in the spirit of tzedakah and tikkun olam and the core Buddhist concept of interdependence.

The bad news is that we don’t live up to those principles.

But we can. I started this article with the story of Carmen Jones learning her rental application was rejected even as she sat in court being evicted from her current home. After the judge concluded that hearing, we had just a few minutes before I had to return to the front of the court with another tenant. Ms. Jones looked at me and shook her head. “Isn’t there anything we can do about this?” she asked.

The answer is yes. Remember that three of four families who are eligible for federally subsidized housing—including Carmen Jones and her kids—don’t receive it. Well, that failing is not because our government does not invest in housing. We do. We dedicate a huge amount of resources for housing, we just don’t direct those resources toward those who need it.

Consider the mortgage interest tax deduction, which awards the vast majority of its benefits to individuals whose already enjoy top 20% incomes. The mortgage interest deduction costs $70 billion per year, more than the price to provide subsidized housing vouchers to every single eligible person in the nation. Consider also the tens of billions of dollars a year in tax benefits we shower on corporate landlords. We provide them with generous loopholes to avoid capital gains taxes and give preferential tax treatment for their limited liability corporations and Real Estate Investment Trusts.

Other nations use their housing resources differently. Instead of looking at housing mostly as a tool for the rich to get richer, their top priority is to guarantee housing for all who need it. Their example proves that we can get vouchers or subsidized homes or apartments for Ms. Jones, her kids, and everyone else who qualifies.

But we have to want that to happen. I think one path to that political will is for elected officials to spend some time in eviction courts, witnessing first-hand the real tragedies that happen there every day. If they sat where we do, I think they would seize the opportunity to embrace housing as a fully realized human right. I think they would give Ms. Jones the answer she deserves.


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An Open Letter to the Global Media by Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate

NOTE: I have taken the liberty of re-printing this open letter, from climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate, which was published today, October 30, 2021, by Time, and subsequently posted at the Common Dreams website. Clearly the issue is urgent and the more who read it, the better. The argument of these two young leaders is eloquently stated and persuasively argued. Please pass it along. I consider it the least I can do to use this tiny platform to magnify the message they have delivered.

Dear media editors around the world,

Melting glaciers, wildfires, droughts, deadly heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, loss of biodiversity. These are all symptoms of a destabilizing planet, which are happening around us all the time.

Those are the kind of things you report about. Sometimes. The climate crisis, however, is much more than just this. If you want to truly cover the climate crisis, you must also report on the fundamental issues of time, holistic thinking and justice.

So what does that mean? Let’s look at these issues one by one.

First, the notion of time. If your stories do not include the notion of a ticking clock, then the climate crisis is just a political topic among other topics, something we can just buy, build or invest our way out of. Leave out the aspect of time and we can continue pretty much like today and ”solve the problems” later on. 2030, 2050 or 2060. The best available science shows that with our current rate of emissions, our remaining carbon budget for staying below 1.5°C will run out before the end of this decade.

Second, holistic thinking. When considering our remaining carbon budget we need to count all the numbers and include all of our emissions. Currently, you are letting high income nations and big polluters off the hook, allowing them to hide behind the incomplete statistics, loopholes and rhetoric they have fought so hard to create during the last 30 years.

Third, and most important of all, justice. The climate crisis isn’t just about extreme weather. It’s about people. Real people. And the very people who have done the least to create the climate crisis are suffering the most. And while the Global South is on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it’s almost never on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. As Western media focuses on wildfires in California or Australia or flooding in Europe, climate-related catastrophes are ravaging communities across the Global South, but receive very little coverage.

To include the element of justice, you cannot ignore the Global North’s moral responsibility to move much faster in reducing their emissions. By the end of this year, the world will have collectively burned through 89% of the carbon budget that gives us a 66% chance of staying below 1.5°C.

That’s why historic emissions not only count, but are in fact at the very heart of the debate over climate justice. And yet historical emissions are still being almost completely ignored by the media and people in power.

To stay below the targets set in the Paris Agreement, and thereby minimize the risks of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control, we need immediate, drastic, annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen. And as we don’t have the technological solutions that alone will do anything close to that in the foreseeable future, it means we have to make fundamental changes in our society. This is the uncomfortable result of our leaders’ failure to address this crisis.

Your responsibility to help correct this failure cannot be overstated. We are social animals and if our leaders, and our media, don’t act as if we were in a crisis then of course we won’t understand that we are. One of the essential elements of a functioning democracy is a free press that objectively informs the citizens of the great challenges our society faces. And the media must hold the people in power accountable for their actions, or inactions.

You are among our last hopes. No one else has the possibility and the opportunity to reach as many people in the extremely short timeframe we have. We cannot do this without you. The climate crisis is only going to become more urgent. We can still avoid the worst consequences, we can still turn this around. But not if we continue like today. You have the resources and possibilities to change the story overnight.

Whether or not you choose to rise to that challenge is up to you. Either way, history will judge you.

Greta and Vanessa

Greta Thunberg is a youth climate strike leader in Sweden.

Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan climate-justice activist and founder of the Rise Up Movement

Announcing publication of my new book

Some of my faithful readers might vaguely recall my having once mentioned, in the long-ago of last year or so, the imminent arrival of a new book. Today I am pleased to announce that The Captive and the Prince: Tales of Freedom and Courage – my second book with the small, southern Indiana-based press, Per Bastet Publications – is now available in both print and electronic editions at Amazon/Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Captive-Prince-Tales-Freedom-Courage/dp/1942166745

This new volume consists, first and foremost, of two long-form short stories (or a novella and a long story); and, secondarily, a pair of personal essays and a short memoir that reflect and comment on those works of fiction, without imposing too much on the reader’s own experience with the texts. Pressed to identify my audience, I will say that they are adolescent and adult readers with a love of story and a particular interest in the intersection of historical, literary, and contemporary themes – with a multicultural emphasis. The style is at once realistic and romantic, with touches (particularly in the second story) of magical-realism, myth, and/or the fantastical.

The captive’s tale, “A Bride Called Freedom,” is that of a 19th-century woman of the Argentine pampas, captured by Ranquel Indians and later – forcefully and against her free will – “redeemed” from the supposedly savage freedoms of that first captivity. Captive Dorotea’s tale is related, mostly, in her own words, but through the 21st -century sensibility and stagecraft of an Argentine American girl named Viviana Suárez, who discovers the legend on vacation in Buenos Aires and conveys it through a series of emails to a friend back in the States.

It is this Viviana who becomes the thread that connects Captive Dorotea’s story to the Incan legend/myth of Prince Viracocha, or Pachacutec. But we encounter her firmly in our present moment, as a grown woman caught up in young Pacha’s story (the tale’s real and embattled “prince”) and in the crossfire between this adolescent son and his Peruvian American father: Viviana’s husband. Drawing on her experience, years earlier, in adapting Dorotea’s tale to a different time and audience, in “The Prince and His Father,” Viviana tries to weave the sacred Inca lore into a colorful new cloth that will enwrap her troubled boy in its potentially healing magic.

Now, the reader already familiar with my previous work already knows that the original novella: the book – A Bride Called Freedom – was published in 2003 in a bilingual English/Spanish edition by Ediciones Nuevo Espacio. The present story, “A Bride Called Freedom,” is an edited and improved version, “leaner and meaner,” if you’ll pardon the expression: the definitive edition, if you will. After almost two decades, it is perhaps appropriate that I re-introduce the story to a new generation of readers, but it is this new tale – Pacha’s story – that really justifies the new presentation of Dorotea’s.

And the deeper reason for that is that Pacha’s story – though it was not really his at all, since he didn’t yet exist – it is that old Inca mythology, rather, which fully justifies the new book by presenting an even deeper and more enigmatic conception of the virtues of freedom and courage than could be fully contained in either version of “Bride” by itself. Because in the much longer manuscript that preceded “Bride,” the Incan legend/myth was related by a different storyteller, one of numerous who were gathered at Dorotea’s campfire, each one with another tale to tell. But while those stories might have added depth and breadth to her tale, they also hopelessly weighed it down, trying the patience of the poor reader who yearned for all of them to go jump in a lake so they, the readers, could get back to Dorotea’s story, the one I, the writer, had originally dangled in front of their noses and then yanked away while these others inserted their lives between beginning and end of hers, taking advantage of her having fallen (re-traumatized by memories newly forced on her) into a swoon.

In the great literary bloodletting that eventually followed my maiden effort at revealing Dorotea’s story, all of those others but one were sacrificed; the one that survived, only in a much abbreviated format, de-constructed by the mockery of Viviana’s 21st-century sense of irony. The only one of the others that I mourned, for any length of time, was the Incan tale, which filled out the complex and contradictory ideas about freedom that Dorotea’s, and Esteban Echeverría’s maudlin captivity tale, could not by themselves make explicit.

The Incan tale, in fact, was one of the most glorious of that great Incan Empire which bit the dust, were it not for the voluminous writings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, with Pizarro and his Imperial Spanish Conquest. Given the ongoing collapse of our own Imperial pretensions in Afghanistan, these two stories of the present book seem at least as pertinent as ever. Not to suggest a too-specific correlation between or among them.

Anyway, I hope you’ll go away from this reading and purchase a print or electronic copy of The Captive and the Prince – for yourself or someone you think might enjoy it. And please, if you don’t mind, pass this posting on to your Facebook and other followers, if you think it appropriate – and perhaps recommend it to the folks who purchase new titles for your local libraries. A writer always seeks new readers, whether they purchase the book or “beg, borrow, or steal,” as the saying goes – legion are the tales of impoverished writers who built their modest libraries by other than licit means. (My own benefited greatly by library book sales and used-book stores; along with gifts and some profligate spending that I can at least say was not drip-drip-dripped away at the local bar.)

Her Queendom Come

This is not the first time I’ve had to write to my regular followers, in the spirit of Mark Twain, that reports of my death have been exaggerated. But this time I am fairly certain that I’ve set a new record: the last time I posted anything on this blog was more than eight months ago, on September 2, 2020.

I hope you will accept my humble apologies. But, while I have been extraordinarily lucky, during the month extending from late November to late December I was sick and briefly hospitalized (though never critically) with the coronavirus; and, thereafter, at least another month regathering physical strength. In mental-emotional terms I remain somewhat befogged, which might go some distance toward explaining a number of personal lapses that I won’t go into here, but for which I also apologize.

Meanwhile I have become fully vaccinated and hope that all of you have had or soon will have the same opportunity. For what it’s worth, from the outset I’ve felt ashamed for the apparent lack of urgency of the pharmaceutical companies themselves, and of my own and other wealthy countries, to get the vaccines into the arms of the rest of the world as swiftly as possible, even at the cost of temporarily setting aside patent rights – in the infinitely greater interest of “the Common Good,” that rather quaint and oft-forgotten entity.

Today, however, that’s as far as I go down that or any other directly political route. Instead let me direct my literary-rhetorical vehicle in a musical (and lyrical) direction. I am aiming at the music of the young Norwegian sensation, Aurora Aksnes, or simply Aurora, as she is popularly known to her fans.

In my befogged post-hospital condition, anyway, distracted from more obviously sober pursuits, I stumbled (I can’t remember exactly how) on NPR Music’s “Tiny Desk” concerts, which I could simultaneously watch and listen to on my trusty laptop. So it happens that I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time, over the past several months while it has seemed impossible to do much of anything else, just doing exactly that: discovering and exploring, on NPR and YouTube, the work of several musical artists of considerable talent and worth.

And so I eventually landed on the Tiny Desk concert that Aurora gave at the age of nineteen (accompanied on acoustic guitar and back-up vocals by bandmate O. Martin) in November of 2015, when she must have been in her second year of big public performances. It is to this remarkable young musician and singer-songwriter, and to this performance in particular, that I have kept returning with something like religious reverence and awe. And it is at least in part thanks to her, as I will elaborate later, that I might be at last emerging from that fog – enough to begin seriously working and writing again, at least.

Aurora explains in later interviews that it took her a couple of years to grow into the job and really enjoy being onstage, and even in the more intimate setting of the space behind Bob Boilen’s desk she seems shy, gracious yet a bit somber, sweetly and bewitchingly vulnerable. While actually nineteen years old at the time, she might as well have been fifteen. At first, when a private recording of her singing got onto the internet and a local management agency in Bergen, Norway, asked her if she’d like to come in and audition, she said no. She loved composing her melodies and lyrics, but like many introverts could not yet imagine herself on any stage in front of any public.

Yet here she is, now, behind Bob Boilen’s desk, performing “Runaway” for an audience so broad (if at the moment mostly invisible to her) that it would even extend, eventually, to me. And I, as she falls – apparently rapt – into the world that her words and her resonant voice conjure, before she has even sung the first stanza of that absolutely gorgeous song that she wrote when she was eleven –

I was listening to the ocean

I saw a face in the sand

but when I picked it up

then it vanished away from my hand….

– by now, as she sings these words, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, I am silently bawling, tears practically streaming across my beard and onto the keyboard, if you can picture the pitiful scene. Before she can finish those four lines, feeling the song’s emotion deep within me, observing her face’s melancholy expression and the wonder in her wide-open eyes, the way she moves with her body as if the song itself is inhabiting her, I am overwhelmed by a mysterious, almost otherworldly, sense of beauty. And toward the end, as she goes into the doleful bridge, and fast upon it the plaintive final chorus –

But I kept running for a soft place to fall …

No, take me home where I belong

I got no other place to go …

I can’t take it anymore

– well, by now I am a total basket case. I will remain so, intermittently, until she has ceased singing. In short, I am in a state something like gratitude intertwined with sorrow and bliss.

But I have become a terrible sap, lately, haven’t I? And I don’t know what to do about it; I start tearing up at the drop of a hat, as the expression goes, and I can hardly (if at all) control it. But nor do I want to apologize too much for it, in the manner of men raised up to suppress their emotions, to suck it up and get with the program, so to speak. And, anyway, I am far from the only one awash in these cleansing waters, even a male deejay (at Paste Studios in NYC) who speaks of getting goosebumps and, perhaps, sending them out to the rest of the internet. There is so much depth to her music, nothing superficial about it. Also, as she explains it, her music has evolved, from the personal and extremely metaphorical outward to the still metaphorical but more direct, more focused on other people, on the stories she’s heard from fans, on the struggles of humanity to survive, on the power of love to overcome hate, and on and on into an indefinite but ever-changing future.

But I digress. I was talking about how, at first, she didn’t really like being onstage, that it all – this fame thing, these big audiences of cheering fans – seemed rather strange, unnatural, intimidating. Initially it was her mom who convinced her that it wasn’t about her alone, but about those others who might need what she had to offer, the comfort that might come to others through her voice. So she gave it a shot until finally, as Aurora tells it, as she got to know and talk with many of those fans, it clicked in her that it really was about them. From that point on, shedding self-consciousness like a heavy cloak, she began to enjoy herself and have fun onstage.

Because her songs, after all, while the content of many is quite sad, the songs themselves, or in combination with each other, are not hopelessly anchored to the evident sadness of life. Instead they give comfort to those who are weighed down by sadness, helping them to go on, to move into and fully embrace the moment’s sorrow but also the joys and the pleasures of living, which measured against the sorrow are ever more sweet. And each listener, based on his/her/their own experience, each and all attach their own personal meaning or interpretation to the songs.

One online messenger, for instance, said that the line, But I kept running for a soft place to fall, reminded her of Robert Frost’s line in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”

Another fan thought of her own frequent depression and the temptation toward suicide, the sense of there being no soft place to fall but into a spiritual home from which we originated, toward a little piece of heaven that, in another verse of “Runaway,” lies waiting, in patience, for me. And now it beckons outward from Aurora’s song, helping the sufferer to transcend her sorrow.

A good example of Aurora’s movement toward life, to love and to joy, is “Warrior,” which starts like this:

I fall asleep in my own tears

I cry for the world, for everyone….

I can’t remember last time I opened my eyes

To see the world as beautiful….

but, with each chorus, moves triumphantly away from that temptation to despair:

Let love conquer your mind

Warrior, warrior

Just reach for the light

Warrior, warrior

I am a warrior …

… warrior of love.

The Tiny Desk concert proceeds through the intensely moving “Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1),” with its acknowledgment of the looming possibility of death and of the mystery and journeys of the human soul (And here I go / Oh-oh-oh-oh …) to the primal, joyous release of  “Running With the Wolves.” She came honestly by that impulse toward nature, growing up as she did a solitary child who spent hours in the woods bordering the family home outside of Bergen.

This love of the natural world runs through her work, but is especially clear in her recent song, “The Seed,” which owes its chorus to this “Cree Indian proverb” (as acknowledged at the beginning of the Official Video): “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize we cannot eat money.” You cannot eat money, oh no, Aurora declares, driving the chorus along with a fierce energy, but also sings this fiercely tender and poetic final verse:

Suffocate me

So my tears can be rain

I will water the ground where I stand

So the flowers can grow back again

’Cause just like the seed

Everything wants to live

We are burning our fingers

But we learn and forgive.

I especially appreciate her championing, in “Queendom,” of the outsider and the “weirdo,” as she has imagined herself to be, of those who might feel, to one degree or another, like misfits, superfluous to the orderly functioning of society:

The underdogs are my lions

The silent ones are my choir

The women are my soldiers

With the weight of life on their shoulders

But most importantly, with ingenuous, blissful subversion of the Biblical prayer, this general invitation to all her “weary and heavy laden” disciples:

You have a home in my Queendom …

Till Queendom come …

My Queendom come

As the grandfather of a young trans woman, I especially appreciate the outreach to our much-persecuted and maligned LGBTQ community. The Official Video makes plainly visible Aurora’s intentional outreach to that particular group of necessary misfits.

Her ferocious energy and playfulness come through very well there; likewise in various other concerts, recording sessions, and interviews where she exudes a whimsical sense of play and the open-hearted nature that has made her beloved by her many fans – and even, of late, by this old geezer who, while I may never find myself in the audience at one of her concerts, have felt her healing touch: through that invitation to take shelter in her Queendom, for one thing; but also by a gentle counsel offered as an aside – in a caressing tone that made me wonder at how much it moved me – in a virtual concert for pandemic-weary fans much closer, I would imagine, to her own age.

I have always been a melancholy sort, and, though basically an introvert (married, these forty years, to the extroverted songster who, looking up at me as we slow-danced, once seduced me with her sultry voice), an introvert who has also always welcomed the intimacy of a caress. So naturally I was easily enough drawn in by the caress of Aurora’s more distant, ethereal call. Not a Siren call, mind you, lest Anita be made unnecessarily jealous, but the call of a kindred spirit, I suppose you could say; which makes me sound a little like Anne of Green Gables, of whom I have long been quite fond, in any case.

But, anyway, there I was one recent evening, eavesdropping on her affectionate, empathetic outreach to a younger audience. She was urging them to tell their friends and family when they are in pain, to let them know when they need help or someone to talk to; about how music has been a great friend to her in such circumstances; and so forth. Then suddenly she said something that made me come fully to attention, as if she were speaking directly and purposefully to me:

“But it’s very important to know that you’re allowed to cry, and you’re allowed to be sad, and some days we can’t do anything. All we can do is to lie in our beds. But that’s okay, too. I think that if you survive a day you are officially a successful human being. And I think it’s very important to not be too hard on yourself.”

She might as well have said, Brett, it’s okay that you get so sad, and it’s okay that you start  crying all the time when distraught about the state of things, or even at simple moments of beauty, of fleeting bliss, or at the most trivial or sentimental thought or occurrence. It’s okay that you can hardly pull yourself out of bed most mornings, or if you only get a couple hours of real work done of an afternoon, or none at all, just wasting away the hours with the pleasures of music.

That’s okay too, Brett.  Don’t be so hard on yourself, treat yourself with the same loving kindness as you’ve always tried to give to others. That’s okay, too, even if you have become something of a hermit, only coming out to visit with family, to play with the grandkids or read El Gato y el Perro / The Cat and the Dog one more time with the youngest, or to play another round of Yahtzee with Anita.  

If you live another day, Brett, consider yourself a success. Because you are. And it will get better, I hope you know that, as she also said to her younger fans. You’re okay too, you old geezer. You’re a good human being. I hope you know that.

At my age it is natural to think a lot about the possibility of death, about the impermanence or the evanescence of things. I have come, I think, to a kind of peace with all that, and to an acceptance of the evident fact that my youthful dreams of becoming a widely known and influential writer are not going to happen. My worries now are more for those I leave behind, who have to inherit the world that I, perhaps sooner than later, will abandon; and for those in other places who suffer in ways almost unimaginable. I am constantly frustrated by the inability of so many people I know and don’t know who simply can’t fathom – or be bothered to really try imagining – the lives and tribulations of so many others.

It is clear from her songs that Aurora has thought long and hard about such things already, and that she has done so from a very early age. If you look at nothing else Aurora-related, I would urge my readers to watch her short documentary, Nothing Is Eternal. It is a work of art, as well as an essentially joyful glimpse at a young but very old soul. (Also, if you have a little more time, I would recommend – for pure elegance and grace – her concert at Nidarosdomen, which translated is the Nidaros Cathedral and Our Lady Church.)

In any case, Aurora, this old soul considers himself honored to dwell within your beautiful and magical – if only imaginary – Queendom.

Extinction Rebellion: Youth in UK speak truth to power

Note: I come to the text that follows by clicking on a link in an article on the Common Dreams website: “#WeWantToLive: Extinction Rebellion Launches Fresh Wave of Protests Demanding Climate Action”, by Jessica Corbett (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/09/02/wewanttolive-extinction-rebellion-launches-fresh-wave-uk-protests-demanding-climate). It is what might be called a work of performance art, composed from letters written by some twenty-five children and youth and delivered, as part of a demonstration to mark the “tabling,” or introduction, of a climate bill to Parliament, by the nine children and youth named below.

The instructions given are to “Share, read, perform widely,” so today I feel compelled to share this text with you, my readers; because, upon reading through the heartfelt and eloquent poetry and prose of these young people, I have felt deeply moved by the rhetorical power of their collective action. And while the individual action of youth leaders like Greta Thunberg, who effectively began this global movement, deserves much praise, I am reminded by Angela Davis, in her book Freedom Is a Constant Struggle (Haymarket Books, 2016), that it is the collective movement which she inspired and is one part of that is most significant. “It is essential,” Davis writes, “to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people to recognize their potential agency as part of an ever-expanding community of struggle” (p. 2).

So I honor these brave youth, the ones who performed and those who risked arrest for inconveniencing the public by filling the streets. How else are they to get the attention of their too-often complacent adults and the government officials that they have elected?

Youth’s Letter to UK Government: Back the Bill; Protect our Futures

To be delivered to MPs and spoken by young people from Culture Declares Emergency, XR Youth, UK Student Climate Network, XR Families and the Almeida Young Company on 1st September, 2020, London Parliament. Readers: Cat Savage (17), Eden Rickson (20), Daniela Torres Perez (18), Kieran Taylor (20), Isioma Uche (12), Nate McCallum (16), Wren Savage (10), Frank Duncombe (6), Lyra Shipp (8).

For public release 2nd September 2020, the day the CEE Bill is tabled by Caroline Lucas MP.

Written by over 25 young people, from various Letters to the Earth sent over the past 18 months. This is their Letter to Power.

Share, read, perform widely.

http://www.letterstotheearth@gmail.com

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Media Drive

#CEEBill #LetterstoPower #LetterstotheEarth

Wren: Dear Government, I’m confused about everything because when we warned you about the climate crisis you ignored us all!

Nate: I am so disappointed that the citizens of the UK have voted for you, YOU OF ALL PEOPLE!!!!

My specific problem is that recently (too late though) you declared a climate emergency!! What does that mean though? Is it just to make you look good? You have done absolutely nothing!!!

Kieran: No. Don’t walk away. Look at the facts. Look at them now. Due to the greenhouse effect, sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Forest fires are scorching.

Lyra: You don’t care about the things that are a part of us. You are blind right now, and you should feel ashamed.

Daniela: Tell me how can we turn a blind eye to climate change when it is responsible for 150,000 deaths each year around the world? As if my natives and indigenous people from the Amazon are just obstacles or burdens, not people, like you and me. Whose homes are being taken away from them by major corporations that believe deforestation is just about cutting trees and do not dare to think about the consequences that it has on the hundreds of species of plants, insects, birds and mammals that vanish each day, for ever. Because, somehow, making money from businesses and properties has become more valuable than life itself.

Cat: Many of us are still too young to vote, yet WE will bear the burden of your choices; WE will be the ones to suffer for your profit; WE will pay the price for your inaction; and yet we are the ones who are out here doing the work, sacrificing our education, choosing to resist despite the cost. But we are exhausted. We are exhausted from standing here, begging you to listen to the science. We are sick and tired of running in circles, shouting at the top of our lungs and being met with a wall of silence from friends, family, the media and politicians.

Eden: The clock. Is. Ticking. And we are going to do something about it. We will resist, disobey, march and strike until you are unable to ignore us. We are here to stay and we youth will be silenced no longer. We are here today to tell you enough is enough – this is our future, and we are taking it back.

Kieran: How can we not act? We are the 5th richest country in the world, profiting from the environmental destruction of the counties WE colonised. It is an embarrassment that we are silent in the face of fires we lit. This isn’t just OUR future. It is the present of teenagers defending their land in the Amazon, from trees felled just so we can eat beef burgers in London. This is the present of the kids in lewisham where 6.5% of deaths are due to air pollution. You’re obsessed with growth and growth and growth, but if anything kept growing past its time it would buckle and die, even you or I, just like our earth. As long as statues stay up glorifying our whitewashed history, we are living a lie.

Isioma: I must say…

People were told that Covid 19 was spreading like wildfire and they stock up on food, medicine and toiletries. At the beginning of this pandemic, if you were to walk into a supermarket, the aisles would be empty. However, when people are told that the ice caps are melting and the sea levels are rising, we don’t seem to experience the same sense of urgency.

Nate: You may think the planet

Is not crying but it is

Mother nature is inside of us

She is all around us

She made us alive.

Isioma: I may be only twelve years old, but I care, and you should too.

ALL:

ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION!

Wren: I am scared and I’m sure you are too, I don’t want to live in a world where the Earth gets hotter every year. I don’t want to live in a world where the seas rise every year causing natural disasters to appear more frequently.  How will we get enough oxygen without the trees? We could be at a tipping point and there will be nothing we can do. What will happen then?

Nate: We have the answers, the solution and the methods. The scientists found them, the children cry them, and the politicians ignore them.

Isioma: We have asked them, but they reply with a ‘speak to the hand cuz the face ain’t listening

Kieran: What makes me angry, is that nobody seems to care. It’s like watching a child drown, and instead of saving him, you slowly watch him sink, sink slowly to the ground.

Eden: They say they are making break-throughs In tech media and mental health

They say they care that they can help

Yeah let’s go green they say

They try to create, to make, to attempt to help

But they have already done too much

Daniela: To the people who think that there’s no point in trying, to the

people who think that because we have done this we deserve

to suffer the consequences. There’s no point in giving up!

Frank: Dear Sadiq Khan,

I am writing to you to ask you to protect the wildlings around us.

During the lockdown, less people have been driving, causing there to be less pollution in the air. Due to this I have seen birds of prey in Hampstead Heath and even above Holloway Rd.

My heart is warmed whenever I see a bird flying down and going back up with a worm in its beak. This worm would then feed baby birds meaning that bird numbers would rise. The babies would then grow to live a happy life.

One of the things that kept me occupied during the lockdown is climbing trees. I and many other children would not be able to enjoy this if they were cut down.

I am angered whenever I see a tree cut down or a lawn paved over. When a tree is cut down there is nothing to give us oxygen to breathe and to take away poisonous gases like carbon dioxide.

Nate: Cars! – cars are pretty much always used and always deadly because to run cars you need petrol/diesel/gas and when you drive them the gas will leave the car and rise up into the air causing our air also known as the thing we need to breathe to be toxic and deadly! we should start to ride bikes, scooters or even just walk and run and this will stop all the toxic gas from going into the air causing death and lung cancer.    

Cat: Animals can’t help with climate change. Animals can’t stop driving cars which pollute the air. Animals can’t stop driving noisy speedboats and jet skis and cruise ships

Frank: If it has an affect on me, how much would it affect poor little innocent animals?          

Isioma: When we are

watching the news, we see things about everything but the

detrimental effect we have on the environment. A few days ago

we could probably recite every little thing about Brexit. This shouldn’t

be the case!

Wren:

My grandchildren may never see elephants or

tigers or sloths. They will never know what a rainforest is, or

clear skies, or beautiful lakes. But we can change that.

They deserve to have the same experience that I have at the

moment. But if we keep doing what we are doing, everything

will vanish in front of us. First the land, then the animals, then

us.

Eden: Why do we let this happen

Ignore the problems

Ignore we all have the same origins

Push people away

Don’t let people stay

Afraid of a different belief or race

Fighting for the tiniest trace

Trace in history

History of what

Most psychopathic moment.

Who wins the prize?

Not the one saving lives…

We all have the same things keeping us alive

So instead lets hold hands and strive

Lyra:

I love the Earth

And everything that lives

I love the plants

And the beauty that each one gives

I love the animals

And the fishes in the sea

For I am a part of this earth

And forever this shall be

Kieran:

Everything is connected. Everything. Our planet is like one big organism, it’s one huge ecosystem and an ecosystem, like the mechanics of a watch, has exactly all the right pieces for it to keep running smoothly. Change one tiny cog, put one tiny part out of place and the whole system collapses. Everything is part of everything and we humans are not somehow separate.

Daniela:

We need to start working together.

Kieran:

Dear Earth,

I’m writing a letter because I want to tell you how I think we can make earth a better place.

The first thing we need to grasp is that this situation is bigger than what we understand, it is on a larger scale than anything we have ever faced before. It makes our human wars, our economy and social issues seem like such small irrelevant problems which, in the face of what is heading our way, they are. Let me ask you this: what use will your smart car be when there is no longer any clean air to breathe because we have cut all the trees down? What use will a ‘successful’ job be when there are simply no more resources? We are all still so stuck in all of our human problems and issues; fighting wars against each other; trying to keep our economy afloat; but what use will any of that be when food and water begin to run out or when there are sudden devastating weather outbursts and consistently rising sea levels and the remains of what used to be ice caps, when all the soil is too toxic to grow on any more from all the pesticides that have been sprayed on it for so many years, when all the rivers and water sources are contaminated with toxic chemicals. This is heading our way. This is imminent and absolutely real.

Cat

It is important that we develop a strategy here.

Eden

‘It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister to ensure that the United Kingdom achieves the following objectives in tackling the climate and ecological emergency:’

Nate

‘The strategy must actively reduce emissions to the lowest feasible levels, according to the best scientific evidence’

Cat

‘The strategy must include and take into account ALL of the UK’s consumption’

Daniela

‘The strategy must NOT disproportionately impact deprived communities’

Nate

‘The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and all other appropriate Ministers of the Crown must take all appropriate measures to reduce the United Kingdom’s emissions, restore and regenerate its soils, biodiverse habits and ecosystems, and reduce its overall anthropogenic impact’

Eden

If, having pursued the strategy, the UK breaches it’s duties specified in the objectives, the Prime Minister MUST take steps to rectify the situation’

ALL:

‘This Act extends to the whole of the United Kingdom’

‘This act comes into FORCE on the day on which it is passed’

Wren

  • Dear Government. The time is now. Not in the next five, ten, thirty years. Now. Time has been wasted doing nothing – people have known we need to change for years. Nothing has. That’s why we are standing up and making our voices heard. Don’t tell us to stay at school, because we are clearly educated enough to recognise that something needs to be done. This is an emergency.

Lyra

Stop fracking up our future, because you are not the ones who will have to live in it

Kieran

  • Please. I beg. She begs. He begs. Greg from work begs. Pat from school begs. Johnny from Sainsbury’s checkout begs. We all beg. On behalf of our planet, we beg.

Daniela

  • Don’t be the person who is standing back watching other

people as they do the work.

Eden

Do not be afraid because we are younger than you, do not be intimidated by age differences.

Frank

  • We will not let the earth we live on be destroyed so easily.

Isioma

  • Dear British Government, Since I am not old enough to vote, I feel that it is necessary that I remind you that you alone hold our fate and our future children’s fate in your very hands

Cat

  •  This leaves us youths in the position of asking the important question: Are you willing to do anything about it?

Nate

You may think that you are simply one small positive droplet in an ocean of troubles. A droplet that can’t do anything. But if you search our ever expanding ocean you will find millions of other small droplets with the same mindset as yourself. Together you form a sea in an ocean. That sea can stir a storm. That sea can make a change.

Kieran

We are waiting for change before it’s too late.

Lyra

  • Help me catch our world: save our planet.

A Wondrous Thing: New Poetry by Lynn Strongin

Note: Lynn Strongin’s poetry and poetic prose has appeared previously in this blog – mostly in the form of fragments cited in reviews, more recently (as today) by direct publication of new material. Interested readers can find these instances, using the Archives at the right of your screen, on the following dates: August 4, 2012 (review of Orphan Thorns, “a novel in verse,” and Bread of the Angels, poetry); January 30, 2013 (in comparison with the work of Argentine writer, María Rosa Lojo, whose prose poetry and narrative I have translated from the Spanish, further discussion and excerpts from Orphan’s Thorn and review of the lyric novel, Nikko’s Child); March 30, 2015 (review of The Burn Poems and the lyric novel, Fabrytius’ Chylde); and July 28, 2019 (original publication of the cycle of poems, Saturday Evening Taffetas).

Today’s contribution is a selection I have made from the larger cycle of poems in-progress called WATER GLASS: A Wondrous Thing. Lynn writes them out of “the darkness of these times,” as she expressed it in her email – with a nod toward the dark but not un-hopeful fiction I had just posted in my June 10th blog, and which prompted her submission – but more significantly she writes, as always, from a luminous place, shining a clarifying (or, at least, illuminating) light on the darkness we all inhabit by virtue of our fragile mortality.

“Before we wore masks back before the world ended / we saw face-to-face,” Lynn writes in one of these poems, clearly evoking this moment we live in; yet then, in another: “Swing by the bars of my trapeze of hope” – an invitation that I join her in extending to you, dear reader.

 

from WATER GLASS: A Wondrous Thing

by Lynn Strongin

 

FAUCETS, fabric, fayth:

All is changed             & time hath its

Dominion

 

As death shall have no favorite:

Like

So search for me by the barn              beside the pony-skinned trunk:

 

Turn the page.

The universe condenses before my eyes:        But before the world changed,

the angelic orders

 

A wondrous thing

 

Passion with its rage

Is followed by sleep.

No longer in my nonage   Now, I keep           O wondrous thing

The dwarf beside, in velvets, morphing into the sage waking between naps:

the deep sleep.

 

I TURN . . . a wheel

Flaming steel

A square building this life:                             Fieldstone

Quarried in New England.

If my front door hasn’t been opened for a long time,

Home care workers bathe my body with warm suds

Unlived life cuts a knife

Thru lather,

“Now I will baythe your girliie parts”

soul parts with body

Fayth!

Swing high, sweet chariot O wondrous thing mercy.

 

WHICH IS IT I PART WITH? The torment of near-touch?

Tenderness                  withdrawn

‘It am a bit daft anyway. . . a bit daft with things,

 buteswoman.  I’m too old,   the leopard doesn’t change his spots,’

says the old

says the old Daleswoman.

What to do with this daftness?

I pick up an object

egg icicle, star

 

Ishmael at the gates of Nuremburg

one

Scar

A half moon                hardly visible this bright sun.

 

Spotting a leopard in my dream                I whisper to God my deepest secrets:        sky the color of fresh cream or milk parlour, the birthing room.

 

WORLD FALLING APART

Be sound,  heart

I catch it in my hands             juggler.

 

Which to wear on my commemoration of beating death as a child?

Tomboy                       or silk lady?

 

Be not heartbroken about the changes in your life: my girl might whisper on               her walks

You still hold it in your hands

 

Photographs take the place of touch

She has no color left in her hair:

Here is bark from trees                       silver from eucalyptus

 

Its oil a dot of color in each cheek

Rouge rubbed in from cranberry

She is my clown-child turned dancing doll

No, Lord, Sunday Sheppard

I shall not  become a wantling

No glass lenses           watching sky gash                   scarred with summer

thunderhead.

 

DAZE

This is the door to forever:

Blindout light, the eye ball shrinks:                unblinkered, a dozen years of age

I stand at the front of a boat, wear pony skin, legs skinny:

Forever brightness unrolling like a Turkish carpet

A Chinese scroll:

Far-off are the mountains

Brilliance is different from all other things; it dazzles.

 

We must root for the honeybees

The giant orangey hornet          the global virus.

Before we wore masks back before the world ended

We saw face-to-face

I see light only in the darkroom.

In this apocalypse.

 

If you have been in a birthing room

you may never need to sign a contract

you will dance a Joplin rag until you die: but silently. Birthing room,

 

Like a milking parlour

It is sacred:

Holy

In it

One wants to kneel

To hear the after-war peal

Of Big Ben

Of Kyrie Elieson

 

the silken touch of you whom I love

The real deal.

 

TENDERNESS

I want to share tenderness with you               my tentative tenderness

Leaning on touch

As a frail child            too lightweight for her age leans upon a rail

 

A rail protecting her from tumbling into a lake

Central Park lake

Where boys float toy

 

Boats

Every wind shivering

Shimmering them       twinned in reflection.

 

I dream this tenderness, tendresse twinned

You are far more than scribe

When I cannot see your face, the light hovers

 

Above is a presence

Prescient. The camera looks heavy but takes deep light room pictures.

 

A WONDROUS THING one wild day

I dream a holiday with a painter

An Arles convent

 

I came into near-collapse

Then saw the apse

Whose domed room, above altar & at the eastern end gave light & a water glass, fronds trailing.

 

Due to a hole in the bridge deck

There is a huge delay:

So it will be long before I get in:

Driving plough over thorns                      like cradling with velvet hands your

newborn.

 

WANTLING

A wantling must follow the divine laws of love:

We wake started by the nite-lite, a votive of wax:

Might be a border crossing light

 

Warning

Red

But is, instead, a saving grace to step around the iron hospital bed

 

Where I have been:

Yes here I have been laid for my year healing

Waiting for what never came:

Instead a numbered full-fleeced wool sacrifice, scribe-lamb.

 

TRAPEZE

Swing by the bars of my trapeze of hope

Your often ominous tone

As I touch the dome

 

It comforts me to smell the rice my hired woman from Singapore makes down              the hall.

A warm scent downhall, a fragrant pungent waft is home

 

Touch, tangerine

(my nickmane for you little sister)

when the globes, the sun balls of our life darkened:

After war, divorce: after divorce, polio

The palomino turned to glue, the slow sad horse no longer against snow sky

but sink, but breathe, last carrot scoffed, must die.

 

 

Copyright © 2020  Lynn Strongin

The Recruiter: a story

Introduction: I offer up this dystopian tale – wrapped, as it is, in the fragile hope of the literary-rhetorical theme that suffuses it – as protest against the world as we presently find it and as it threatens, imminently, to become.

I offer it up, also, in support of the progressive movements for peace and justice that presently struggle against the brute forces of oppression, but that promise, if they are allowed to breathe, the sort of revolutionary change that still might create a world that we and our future generations can inhabit in relative harmony.

But I also hope that it will stand up on its own merits – as it has struggled through countless drafts and revisions to do – as a piece of literary art. A special thanks to Jill Adams, at The Barcelona Review, whose generous critique will certainly have helped me bring it a bit closer to that ideal.

*

The Recruiter

by Brett Alan Sanders

And we become true lovers each one of the other’s freedom …

 

So I’ll just lay it out straight. The memory’s still fresh in my head, no less vivid than ever. Despite all the troubles been raining down on me and Rose since we left our proverbial pot for this urban frying pan and joined up.

The central and undeniable fact is the murder of that black recruiter. It happened just as things were really starting to heat up, nationally and planetarily, at the commencement of these great conflagrations that were about to bring our precarious and fractured Union to its knees for maybe the last time. Going on a century and three quarters after the first of America’s civil wars when Abe Lincoln was supposed to of freed the slaves for once and all.

It was then that the good soldier thought to bring his wife and their children to live with him there in that backwoods community of mine. His black wife and their three black children. To live with him there in that almost lily-white county where he quickly lost his own life. The mom and dad were both good-looking, the cute-as-buttons children like yea high to a grasshopper. I knew he’d brought them because we saw when they did their moving in. Me and Rose saw them, that is, Yolanda and Rosie who were joined at the hip since forever. Me with my lopsided fro and cafe-latte complexion, Rose with her fair freckled skin and red bangs, together we saw the movers unloading all their stuff into the old farmhouse across the way from my Scots-Irish grandma’s house. The only grandma I ever knew.

Some would say backwards community instead of backwoods, and I can’t deny there was more than a smidgen of truth to it still, but at least we weren’t all ignorant and intolerant bigots. What happened to this one man seemed to of woke some folks, too, though it wasn’t enough to stop the reckoning that was circling down on us.

And there’s always those few that were wide awake to start with. Like, for one, Rodriguez, the only person of color on the whole frickin’ faculty and maybe the only dyed-in-the-wool liberal, my red-eyed Kennedy-Democrat grandma said. Or call him progressive, like even then in their politically neutered state they liked to call themselves. Or maybe even socialist, or democratic-socialist, or radical-nonviolent revolutionist, though didn’t anyone hardly say those words anymore without a real careful glance over both shoulders.

Rodriguez mostly taught Spanish, but they also gave him a class or two of junior-high English, and it’s there I learned Martin Luther King’s speech about that dream he had of little black kids holding hands with little white kids in harmony and shit. We learned it because he made us watch it twice, once before and once after taking it apart and practically memorizing whole snatches of it, and then get up and give our own orations, he called them, all the while using pathos and logos and ethos just like all his ancient heroes.

He called it a class on the good lost art of rhetoric, he said, the kind makes for good citizens and constructive yet impassioned civic speech and action but that sadly we didn’t practice anymore in a meaningful way. And that was his big thing and, little punks that we were, we didn’t care to know squat about it. But he drilled it into our heads anyhow.

And then, in co-conspirator Kochenheimer’s World History, we were back at it again. She had us reading a speech by some dead Roman orator name of Cicero. Or Sissy-Row-Your-Boat-to-Shore like some of us preferred, Lord knows he was no barrel of monkeys. While good old William Shakespeare, on the other hand, long as you had one of those simpler and more modern texts like I preferred to read on my own, now there’s a guy could spin a tale!

So I was a freshman that year, not yet a decade ago when what I’m fixin’ to tell you occurred. Like I said, I was living across the road from where the protagonist of this story and his little family moved in. And this protagonist dude, like I said, this black man with his black wife and black kids all lined up and pretty, was an Army recruiter that’d been out to the school quite a lot schmoozing around in hallways and classrooms and in the cafeteria and trying to recruit juniors and seniors during their lunch, and plant seeds with the younger ones.

He’d made it out to football games, too, and volleyball and basketball, and  even attended a track meet and wandered down to the shot-put area where he talked to one big lug of a senior who’d been charming him off his feet since football season. Talking the talk about maybe joining up so he could go shoot ragheads in Syria or Lebanon or rebel Palestine, in Turkistan or Pakistan or Iran. Now as the first and mostly nonviolent wave of national resistance was about finished being crushed and the tanks back off the streets, our loudest dissidents in their cages or their graves or in hiding and the build-up over yonder picking up speed again – with full conscription of men and women, from eighteen to thirty years of age, beginning to be entertained in that farce of a Congress with its pale remnant of radical or semi-radical voices.

That was our antagonist, as a matter of fact, that big-talking football and field-and-track star, and that’s what he said: ragheads. I heard it from Rose who was there and hearing the whole conversation. And who of us hadn’t heard Mr. Antagonist Boy throw the N-word around while jostling our way through the senior hallway, where he used to hold forth with his fellow know-nothing rednecks? I was trying to get through there one morning, for example, when he saw me and said Talkin’ ’bout …. And just left that next word hanging there like a lynching rope off a ten-foot-high tree branch.

I was a country girl, too, but I didn’t like being called a redneck since, for one thing, I associated that word with Confederate flags they all wore on their T-shirts and on their ratty old cars and pickups. And for another I was a mixed-race kid with white mother in prison for dealing in opioids and meth and with part black, part American Indian father I never knew. So with Rodriguez and a smattering of black and Latinx kids I was one of roughly a dozen people of color in the whole frickin’ building.

As for the raghead thing, why it bothered me so much? Since the first occupations more than a quarter century ago after those towers went down? Before I was even thought of, but that Rodriguez showed some clips of the year before to the extracurricular film club. After he’d showed us a contraband copy of Dr. Strangelove from way back in the Sixties. And then, after the Contra Wars and the Persian Gulf, all the fresh fighting, us and our European allies with Israel in a decades-long regional wildfire that no one had the guts to call what it was: frickin’ World War III, if you’d asked me! It was Rodriguez, anyhow, got me thinking along those lines. On those evenings when you might sometimes catch him preaching, to his choir of oddballs and contrarians and misfits, that Mexicans and Central Americans and what precious little was left of our so-called illegals and our refugees, hither and yon, had their own perspectives and struggles and fears as valid as ours – and were no less human. So what got me, like my teacher said, was why didn’t we tally up Arab people’s deaths like we did our own? Like it didn’t matter that for their brown skin and their religion, for their bubbling crude or whatever else the hell it was we had against them, they were dying every day by hundreds and thousands beneath our predator drones and our bombs and missiles?

And yet, otherwise, except for our teacher’s cautious hints and a few unexplained “disappearances” of other outspoken dissidents, the uncivil war taking place almost at our county’s borders – heavily filtered and narrated on our mobile devices, computers, and big-screen TVs – seemed to hardly faze us.

But all caution aside, how Rodriguez lasted as long as he did I’ll never know. Got himself disappeared not more than a week after that liver-lilied administration had closed down his film club without a moment’s warning. It was early spring before I was supposed to of graduated, after I’d passed all the college entrance exams and earned an academic scholarship to the University of Louisville. Scattered bursts of guerrilla warfare already broken out around the country during the previous infernally hot summer.

But enough of that backstory and shit. Let’s get down already to the main mystery of this narration, to where Mr. Protagonist Man got himself to when he didn’t come home one evening.

Did that make someone else the protagonist if he wasn’t to turn up alive? And if not him, who else? Surely not me, Yolanda Ann Gilmore, though there was no one more caught up in this mess than that girl!

As it was, the recruiter didn’t tell anyone exactly where he was going, but chances were it was out into the boonies about a thousand county-road miles from where I lived, where at least we had a general store and some crumbling asphalt and not just endless woods all around with barely a rut to drive on. Mr. Gonna-Shoot-Me-Some-Ragheads was telling him, telling the recruiter, that is, to come on out to his neck of the woods if he really wanted and go ahead, talk to his momma and daddy and granddaddy, and there was a mess of a’nts and uncles, cousins and sisters and brothers out there, too, some of the boys bigger than him and already graduated or dropped out.

And so when Mr. Recruiter Man’s wife was down to the general store and the school and near everywhere asking frantic-like if anybody knew where he’d got to, me and Rose started to worry he might of actually gone out there. Nobody knew – well almost no one, I reckon – but rumors were flying fast and frenzied and some of them centered on Antagonist Boy and his family or neighbors out there in the middle of nowhere and with certain racist, Klan-like tendencies that had got themselves noted by folks visiting those parts. And that he and his people surely didn’t have their hands too clean in those affairs.

Rose, who was a sophomore and attended second lunch, said she heard from  some metal-head type during the days right after the recruiter went missing that he, that is the metal head, had taken our recruiter in his confidence and told him he mightn’t want to make that trip – inasmuch as people of color wandering out those parts on innocent sightseeing adventures had related some real hair-raising tales when they got back to the county seat safe and sound but majorly spooked. Said he heard one of those stories himself, sitting down one evening in some greasy local eatery, and it about gave him the heebie-jeebies.

Well, by that afternoon there were Army people out at the school asking lots of questions, plus National Guard from the nearest base and, by next morning, more Army from Lord knows where and all sorts of military vehicles combing the school environs, copters in the air flying real low over national forest lands and every bit of earth, wooded or clear, within this and the next county up and over. And even some plainclothes federal agents from Homeland Security, FBI, maybe even CIA – everywhere you go you couldn’t miss some trace of them. Local law enforcement, I heard, been told to keep their ears to the ground, their eyes open, and report anything suspicious, but otherwise to stay out of the way.

It was about a week later me and Rose almost got ourselves raped or killed or just beat up, or maybe all three, when at the start of study hall we grabbed a restroom pass and walked around the wrong corner at the wrong time as our familiar redneck and possible antagonist, after several days absent, was whispering something real confidential-like to one of his buddies. And we barely heard something like out back the house a couple mile when all a sudden they both spotted us and everything fell dead quiet. They pushed us inside the girls-room entrance, one of them grabbed me and the other one Rose, they slammed us both into the braces between the open metal doors of a couple stalls, the one who’d got me with his body pressed hard against mine like a lover gone psycho, like some reverse White Othello against his Dark Desdemona, his aroused sword not too short of inside me and him breathing foul breath into my mouth and nostrils.

He leaned into me, anyhow, put one hand on my breast and squeezed, then his other hand pushed into my throat so I couldn’t hardly breathe. Rose’s captor, I learned later when we mustered the courage to speak of it to each other, had both hands around her neck and slowly lifted her from the floor. The one who’d got me, our chief antagonist and potential rapist-murderer of previous mention, this choking sweating slobbering piece of chicken shit said between his teeth, one grunt at a time, sword-like exclamation points like bookends holding up both sides of his every utterance, he said one effing word out of me, or even look like we’re either one effing thinking about it, and we’re both effing meat for effing buzzards. But only after serving a few seconds as meat for the satisfaction of someone else than those vultures’ lusts, I have to believe.

We didn’t hear nothing, we coughed, won’t breathe a word, we softly sobbed once they’d loosened their strangleholds enough so we could verbalize our terror, our bodies all a-tremble like dry stalks of corn in an August windstorm. Then, before letting me go the rest of the way, my attacker smirked like some mad Klansman behind cone-shaped white hat and mask and hateful do-him-the-honor-of-attending-his-lynching-party gown and, while the other one landed two or three swift sucker punches to Rose’s gut, took both my nipples between thumb and finger and twisted inward till it felt like he was gonna rip them off, muttering That’s my pretty little brown-skinned girl – only he didn’t really say brown-skinned, if you get my drift – and landed a wet tongue all the way up my face.

So when they’d turned us loose and disappeared and we could hear their voices fading and laughing their way down the hall, we rushed into one of those stalls and, both of us already begun wetting ourselves, Rose all the more for those wallops to the gut, we took turns at finishing peeing in the same toilet, then to take away the smell and the slobber and the throbbing we flushed away the piss and dabbed and caressed at ourselves with toilet paper and clean toilet water over and over again, then pulled up our pants and for the longest time just held onto each other in that same stall, its door closed and latched, while long scarcely-audible sobs wrenched their way out from our deepest inner regions.

Some girl who happened in there during the next passing period ran to a teacher and hauled her over to our hiding place, this teacher lady then begging us out so we could go down to her classroom and talk in private – it just so happened to be her free period. We opened the door and slunk out but immediately we said no, we don’t want to talk, but then she noted bruises on our arms and necks and asked are we having some boyfriend trouble. No, we told her, and that girl still standing off to one side looking like she might bust out crying herself we told no, we can take care of ourselves, thank you very much. So that then out in the hall, the girl just standing back by that entranceway all somber-like, Teacher Lady still pressing, I finally croaked in my pathetic piercing drawl to just leave us the fuck alone.

And then everyone and her cousin droop-mouthed and staring and we looked at each other and turned and took off crying to Rose’s own redneck car, with no rebel flag or other shit like that but redneck all the same in a not-so-bad country sort of way, and we squealed those frickin’ tires and got the hell out of dodge.

Over the last couple weeks before their graduation and the commencement of our summer break, we were careful to wear scarves and long-sleeved men’s shirts when we did come to school and not go anywhere outside of passing periods – and then always in groups. But still they managed to keep running into us and lick their chops and leer at us in some sort of goddamn frickin’ follow-up warning. Like we could of ever forgot the first. And then through the summer we slept over at each other’s house most nights and lay in the same bed drifting fitfully to sleep, in the meantime whispering to get the courage to tell or else stick with our fear and convince ourselves we didn’t have any choice but to keep the secret.

Or maybe mail an anonymous note? And then cut and dye our hair and get big-ass sunglasses and rapper-style stocking caps and baggy pants? And get as far away as we could from that lousy place? Or instead, maybe just kill ourselves – Londie Ann and Anna Rose – in a suicide pact like some despairing Thelma and Louise? Drive over some frickin’ buzzard’s roost or other after eluding our tormentors just long enough to beat them to that fatal cliff?

Or, less likely, attack the bastards in their wilderness lair. Like a pair of crazed Furies with axes or scimitars and send them to a well-deserved and bloody Hell before they even know what’s hit them.

As time passed, anyhow, and we were back in school and the number of resources unleashed for that old manhunt mostly dried up, we took a sudden determination to come clean and tell what we knew even if it did mean our torture and death – at least we wouldn’t keep dying those thousand cowardly deaths the British Bard’s un-cautious Caesar warned against. But maybe it wouldn’t mean all that after all, those bullies by now fled the building and to us long gone. Or at least so we could hope, since we knew they were still at large in the county and might could still find us and finish up what they’d promised.

Before we ended up scaring ourselves out of it again I wrote a note with both our names on it and that we might know something about the missing officer, and right away slipped it into the hand of one of the recruiters still roaming the halls, a female veteran just back from one of those countries Rodriguez said we’d blown halfway to Hades and where an IED almost ended her life.

By now the handsome black wife and pretty children were gone for good, off in some less backwoods and benighted locale, I reckoned, where they could be with their families and be all sorrowful together. In our next passing period, anyhow, the soldier slipped her own note into Rose’s hand and we read it and ripped it up and headed to our separate classes where after five minutes or so we got the nod from our teachers who’d been discreetly contacted by administrative messenger. And we slipped out and both ended up one after the other in the same room where the principal and his assistant and a pair of soldiers awaited us with assurances that they’d protect us.

The military, we figured, were the ones most likely able to pay that promise more than lip service, but we kept that opinion to ourselves, afterwards ducking into separate restrooms and wandering the hallways a while before waltzing back to class. Each one’s tracks sufficiently cold and our hearts beating only at just a few degrees above their normal relaxed-time paces instead of twice or three times, like before.

The rest I know and can tell only from what I heard through the local mill of fact and rumor and what a couple of unauthorized internet sites put up, temporarily flying under the government censors’ radar – official media being eerily silent, like I’d overheard Rodriguez observe the previous spring just after the murder, dripping with an innuendo and irony that I took my time mulling over. Anyhow, those variously rogue facts and rumors were either confirmed or corrected or dodged later by that same lady soldier before she deployed again to Middle Eastern Hell.

If I was Shakespeare’s frickin’ daughter or something, I could maybe fill out  the story and imagine the scene of the murder and cover-up and all the rest, and pepper it with witty dialogue and an air of timeless tragedy, and make it stick with an underlying wisdom so people would be remembering it three or four centuries down the road, if our species even makes it that long. But I’m not. And I can’t. I’ll have to just tell it as best I can.

But what mattered, Rose kept assuring me, was what we did to make sure of those bastards’ being captured and punished, though the punishment we didn’t know how or when, or whether assisted in their homicidal plot by Turkish Caliphate or stateless Muslim terrorists or Mexican drug lords like some folks said. Or by the resurrected Aryan Goddamn Nation. Or all of the above. Or none.

What best might of happened, anyhow, and I couldn’t help feel sick to my stomach about certain parts of it – like maybe the cure’s somehow worse than the disease? – what seems to of happened is after sitting for a while and re-gathering military resources and making careful plans and studying topographical maps and maybe Google Earth, a military elite first hiked up into the furthest reaches of our national forest lands in a constant autumn drizzle and found the muddy pond, out back the house a couple mile from Perp-Number-One-and-Main-Antagonist where it was thought the recruiter’s car and body had been dumped. There they were, as it turned out, and once both their skeletal remains – the car had been disassembled and brought up in pieces, minus the engine and other usable parts – once all that metal was hauled out of the slime and muck and the body’s remains finally claimed and put in a bag and hiked back over and across and down the same hills they’d followed up, soon as that was done, the rain gradually dissipating, the sky clearing, part of the original elite party and reinforcements perched in their spot above that racist compound, guns carefully aimed on it – and here’s the part our lady soldier most vehemently denied, her denial as vehemently contradicted by all variety of voices including some that might of known – Army-green jeeps and trucks blazed up the broken dirt one-lane at the blood-streaked crack of dawn, and copters converged overhead, and troops swept down and in on them with murderous blasts of fire and fury like we’d never seen in those parts, until first three or four men came out, still in their underclothes and hands in the air, my assailant out front of them according to one version, shouting until a lull in the shooting and they could be heard over the din, pleading that they, the soldiers, not hurt the women and old people and little ones, that they, the men, the maligned, the defeated, offered themselves up courageously and without aiming to murder a single soul.

In that same version of the tale, I don’t know if I believe it or not, my assailant wasn’t even involved in the recruiter’s death but only in the disposing of evidence, since he was sure he would be a suspect or maybe just out of chivalrous intention toward whoever really did the deed, or maybe both of those motives together.

And then a woman came out carrying a child that was hit inside, where uncounted other corpses lay crumpled in pooling blood and shattered glass and splinters of wood and metal from the makeshift roof. Meanwhile all Kingdom Come’s right there on top of them, rifles pointed every which way and into every crack and cranny of every feebly standing structure, the woman with the dead baby pushed down in the mud alongside her valiant men who in her defense shouted bloody murder, the loudest of them promptly silenced with a rifle butt to the head so the work of getting everybody tied and gagged and possibly hooded could be accomplished with greater efficiency. That labor done, the compound’s cache of weapons was lifted up to hovering copters. Bodies in chains were scattered right and left across the ground, the living rounded up and the dead left under guard for later evacuation and cleansing of the place of killing – or field of slaughter.

And while all this was going down, before those all-terrain vehicles sped away with their human cargo tossed helter-skelter on the floorboards, at some other extreme of the county Perp Number One’s buddy, who in fact hadn’t been near the scene of the crime on either one of those fateful days, was lifted right out of his bed and packed away for his own conspiracy of sedition and silence.

After I’d managed to piece that horrific story together, my mind lingered like a hovercraft over the befouled place right before the first evacuation, the sound of children still bawling and women raging through my splitting skull, calling down vengeance from the bloody-cloaked God of the Apocalypse before their bodies join the others either shot-through or beaten unconscious, still alive for the purpose of enhanced interrogation. The stench of rancid corpses, meanwhile, baby corpses and old-people corpses, inside or out no longer mattered at this roofless, blighted homestead beneath a scorching early-April sun still wet from rains that wouldn’t return in more than spits or sprinkles for the devil knew how long, since they brought down on us the curse by those unholy prayers.

The reckoning that maybe all of us might of brought crashing down on ourselves, the whole cosmos disintegrating around us in a perpetual climate event to beat all hell while our leaders just sit in their frickin’ huddles, dreaming the blood and profits they can’t give up on. All mortal creatures’ end-times that still might or might not be partly averted.

I wondered about all that one afternoon as I took shelter under a mighty but fading oak, its shade seeming ever fainter as I looked out on the sloping fields behind my grandma’s house, waiting for the fire that in the coming dry-hot months might descend from heaven or from that horizon of woods with its drying leaves and needles just itching for a burn. Bodies of sweating cows, laid out in some sliver of a shadow at the edge of a puddle that was once a pond, vultures spinning overhead like infernal angels of dread and death, circling demons burning bright.

The remains of that black recruiter, anyhow, absent protagonist of this unhappy tale, were taken away in a coffin draped in red-white-and-blue to his mournful widow, awaiting bravely with her grieving children whose upper lips I imagine trained and firm like the pictures I’d seen of JFK’s kids all the way back in November of 1963 – or like MLK’s in the spring of ’68. And who might or might never witness a day when the rains of forgiveness fall on this earth in torment and such hatreds are finally put to rest. And we become true lovers each one of the other’s freedom, as Rodriguez liked to say before he got himself disappeared and me and Rose ran off to join this righteous revolution. So that Dr. King’s prophecy and Mr. Lincoln’s promise might at last be fulfilled for black and brown and white folk and rednecks and ragheads and reformed racists and every damn last one of us in a post-racial, post-apocalyptic, post-police-state American Frickin’ Paradise at last redeemed.

 

© Copyright 2020 by Brett Alan Sanders

On the “appalling strangeness of the mercy of God”

What follows – drawn from my journal of September 24, 2015 – is, I think, one of the more inspired pieces of literary criticism that have appeared in its voluminous pages. I offer it now as soothing balm for our sorely troubled historical moment, in the truly catholic (universal) spirit of Graham Greene’s novel.

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene. 1938/1977. New York: Penguin Books paperback. 248 pages.

This is a Catholic book in the same sense that Don Quixote and Greene’s Monsignor Quixote are great Catholic books in the very best way – because of the enlightened, humanistic faith of the authors (Greene a convert, as a quite young man). In the same way, and for the same reasons, this is also a wonderfully Quixotic novel – in the same manner, I say, but of course differently. At first glance one might think its content considerably harsher (Nabokov would argue that the cruelty of the suffering that Cervantes’s hero endured is quite harsh enough!), but from early on it is leavened by a good sprinkling of humor and a great respect for human life and possibility.

The action is set in motion in the first chapter of Part One by the cold pursuit and murder of a man who himself is only incidental to what follows. The killers are a small contingent of petty gangsters, representative of the harsh underbelly of urban life in pre-WWII England, led (after the violent death of the older man who plucked him from obscurity and impoverishment) by a maniacal-diabolical seventeen-year-old referred to narratively as the Boy, but going by the name of Pinkie. He proves to be, in fact, essentially conscienceless and sociopathic, capable of acts that make all his dwindling crew of associates profoundly uneasy. More than that, given that very youth and inexperience, living in the shadow of the bigger gangster / businessman / potential political figure who really rules the roost, given all that, and the resultant insecurity which he expends so much energy denying (who, me? afraid?), he is a figure all the more dangerous because he is wholly out of control. And being, by birth,, a nominal “Roman,” as Roman Catholics were evidently called (and called by themselves) in that place and time, he has absorbed just enough theology or doctrine to be convinced that he has irredeemably chosen the Dark Side: that he is, to all intents and purposes, one of the damned.

Aside from him, the essential characters are a buxom, sensual bar singer / gentlemen’s escort (high-range prostitute) named Ida Arnold, who thinks of herself as a “sticker” (if she starts something, she sticks to it) who knows the difference between Right and Wrong and isn’t afraid to do something about it; and the sixteen-year-old girl Rose, a waitress and product of the same poverty as Pinkie’s and is also a Roman, but good-hearted and easily manipulated, who is swept into that Boy’s paranoid control and what she is willing to believe (and he, not too convincingly, to pretend) is love. In truth, by an unfortunate fact of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she is in the gravest danger. But blustery, confident, determined Ida Arnold will spare no effort – despite Rose’s refusal to cooperate in her own salvation – to save her. Why? Because at the outset her path has crossed with that cipher of a man who by Pinkie’s order is killed for something he unfortunately knew. And when she figures out that he was the victim of foul play, because she had felt some instinctual sympathy for him, she determines to avenge his death – by her own initiative, if the police won’t help.

Beyond that I will reveal no more significant detail of plot than that poor mixed-up adolescent Rose does survive. While Pinkie, primarily by his own accidental contrivance, does not fare so well. In the final chapter of Part Seven, the final section, we find Rose in a confessional unleashing her convoluted story to a good priest who isn’t shocked by her insistence on being herself of the damned, that she does not want absolution but wishes she had kept her trust with the damaged man-boy who she thinks loved her. In true adolescent fashion, and with all the complications of her troubled upbringing and her basically useless parents, she is sure that she has discovered all to be known about love and that neither Ida (the bothersome busybody) nor the presumably celibate priest know anything about.

Rather than doctrinal lecture or contradicting what she feels with such passion and, there is no reason to doubt, genuine love, the good priest tells an exemplary story. “‘There was a man,’” he said, “‘a Frenchman, you wouldn’t know about him, my child, who had the same idea as you. He was a good man, a holy man, and he lived in sin all through his life, because he couldn’t bear the idea that any soul should suffer damnation.’” (“She listened with astonishment,” the narrator interrupts at this moment.) “‘This man decided that if any soul was going to be damned, he would be damned too. He never took the sacraments, he never married his wife in church. I don’t know, my child, but some people think he was a saint. I think he died in what we are told is mortal sin – I’m not sure: it was in the war: perhaps […] You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the … appalling … strangeness of the mercy of God.’”

He adds this, which must all have been great medicine to her soul: “‘It was a case of greater love hath no man than this that he laid down his soul for his friend.’” And further, among other things, he repeated this refrain: “‘We must hope and pray, hope and pray.’” Then to her question that what if, due to the mortal sin that she had already committed with this Boy, there should be a baby, he uttered this perfectly wonderful and transcendent counsel: “‘With your simplicity and his force … Make him a saint – to pray for his father.’”

I have to confess that, by the time he got to that phrase “‘the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,’” I was flat-out weeping. And even now, copying the line about making a saint of their hypothetical child, I was tearing up all over again. It is a powerful piece of literary mastery that provokes such a response. Even from an aging agnostic like me, who is so deeply moved by humanity’s spiritual instinct and longing for transcendence, without having to go out now and convert to the Roman (or Mormon) faith [I am myself a lapsed Mormon]. But at this point I could deeply appreciate whatever instinct it was that made the author a Catholic. Blessed are we his readers by the richly tolerant interpretation that he has lent to his faith. For all our benefit who read his words.

If only all our religious leaders (so-called) would counsel as generously and as wisely! We could dispense with the hateful counterfeit religiosity that gleefully assigns to hellfire all Muslims and homosexuals or liberal socialists, while celebrating that they themselves are “forgiven” – even those who, slipping down from their high horse, are caught in mortal sinning of their own. God save us, if I may use that rhetorical device, from the false religionists who haven’t even given a second thought to the souls of their enemies who are consigned to damnation. The true “saints” – saved, despite everything, by the “appalling strangeness of the mercy of God” – are the ones who aren’t out there just for themselves. They are the true representatives of a Judeo-Christian or Islamist or any other genuinely merciful God.

As for my own nation’s “political leaders (so-called)” – taking advantage of the shock of the pandemic to further shower the wealth of the country’s laborers on the corporate masters (the only ones whose fortunes are increasing at the moment) – I guess we should be raising up little saints to pray for their souls. I confess that I am not that saint; I should rather damn them. But instead let me raise this prayer on behalf of all our future little saints: may they inherit a more humane economy (social and political) – and an inhabitable planet on which to love and pray and work. Amen.

A pandemic-related satire, with afterword

If I had ever read the dark “fantasy” called “The Mask of the Red Death,” it might have been in junior high in one of those Scholastic Book anthologies: Tales of Dread and Mystery by the Inimitable Poe,” or something of the sort. Be that as it may, I didn’t really remember the story when I encountered some citations from it in a pandemic-related commentary on the Consortium News website a couple of weeks ago, more or less.

The commentary and the allusion were compelling enough to me that I immediately rushed downstairs, grabbed my copy of The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe, and browsing the Table of Contents swiftly located it. Turns out that, while the story itself has been consigned to the shadows and cobwebs of my cluttered literary memory, the title had once sounded familiar enough to underline.

So: “The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country,” Poe begins rather promisingly. But, if I may skip over the gory details and speed things along a bit, only when “his dominions were half depopulated” did the “happy and dauntless and sagacious” Prince Prospero finally do something about it.

And so what did he do about it, you ask? Did he, in his great and wise sagacity, send forth all the resources at his command – to tardily succor and assist the suffering masses? Well, no, of course not. No one, in those benighted times would have known what to do about it anyway. So let them die, if they must. Culling the heard, you know. Let them eat cake.

No, instead he “summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.”

A gated community, you might call it, stop-gap on the road (enter Jules Verne, here) to first settlement on Mars, which surely the novel red-death virus could not penetrate.

“The abbey was amply provisioned,” Poe writes. “The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori …”

Stand-up comedians: “Two phantoms walked into a bar …”

“… there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there were cards, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were theirs. Without was the ‘Red Death.’”

Until, of course, it was not. And of all times the phantom might have chosen to make his bloody appearance (“bloody” in every sense of the word, British oath included), it was the great masked ball which was to have been everyone’s delight. And was, until the uninvited presence of another masked figure was noted, and “at length” produced a general reaction “first of disapprobation and surprise – then, finally, of horror, of disgust.

In a gathering of ghastly phantoms such as Poe’s narrator paints (the description of which, with the layout of the great chambers, I hasten to pass over), you might well think that anything would be allowed. And so it would have seemed to everyone present, had this intruder not gone too far.

The figure “was tall and gaunt and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave,” we are told, the face-concealing mask “made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse” that you couldn’t have told the difference had you come right up against it. And yet still, all might have been almost forgiven had he not had the audacity to dress up as the Red Death himself, clothing “dabbled in blood” and face all “bespeckled with the scarlet horror.”

Allow me to pause, dear reader, while I gather my bated breath and give you the space to gather yours. And while doing so, perhaps we can all stop and consider who this masked invader might be.

Some illegal pilgrim, perhaps, foul cockroach from one of those pestiferous regions outside the Insurmountable Walls built up along our borders – who somehow found the means of over-leaping or under-tunneling them?

And how, pray tell, will the ever “happy and dauntless and sagacious” host respond when he beholds the sight?

“‘Who dares?’ he demanded hoarsely – ‘who dares to make mockery of our woes? –’”

Wait, whose woes? Aren’t all the woeful ones outside in that “external world,” somehow fending for themselves?

“‘ – Uncase the varlet – that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements. Will no one stir at my bidding – stop and strip him, I say, of those reddened vestures of sacrilege!’”

But no one dare touch him. Until the prince, embarrassed by “his own momentary cowardice,” rushes at him with drawn dagger. But confronted with the reality that, only appearing to flee, suddenly turns to face him, our Naked Emperor – (oh, pardon! I’m dipping into someone else’s fantasy, mixing metaphors) – I mean, our not-so-dauntless prince screams, drops the drawn dagger, and falls prostrate in bloody death.

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death,” our undaunted narrator concludes. “He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall…. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

*

Thus endeth our dreadful tale. But without beating the horse dead, if you will, a brief afterword:

Am I hallucinating, or did the U.S. government just hand an almost bottomless slush fund to the same financial institutions who tanked the economy a dozen or so years past? With the Foreclosure King himself, Wall Street criminal extraordinaire, in charge of the Treasure? With toothless oversight by a token watchdog assigned from the Naked Emperor’s own court?

So, a dozen years ago we bail out the Top Dogs, the same ones whose greed and predation crashed the economy in the first place – and that worked out so well that we’re doing it again, only on steroids?

And how much of that ill-gained lucre trickled down to you? How much of it’s in your wallet?

Wait. Isn’t that the Naked Emperor, Himself, cozied up to the Socialist Trough? He and his emperors- and empress-in-training, looking after the bottom line of their Imperial Emoluments Foundation? (And why didn’t the opposition party’s leadership impeach a year or two earlier on the utterly obvious violations of that Constitutional clause?)

But we can’t direct the nation’s factories to mass-produce some protective gear and other important stuff for our nurses and doctors because that’s – what’s the word – Socialist? And we can’t have healthcare for all (whether we want it or not) because that’s Socialist, too?

Isn’t it funny how the ones who get shaken down and accused of theivery are always the ones on the bottom – the underdogs; los de abajo, as they say south of that Beautiful, “Bloody,” Border Wall –while those at the top make out like bandidos?

And how the ones leading the way and helping their neighbor- and even distant-countries in these times of pandemic are poor and/or Socialist ones like Cuba and Venezuela, or Iran and China? While the United States of America remain in various states of confusion, denial, and unpreparedness?

How is it, again, that my “Honorary Uncle” Bernie can’t be President because he refuses to say how he’ll pay for his Socialist programs? Even though he’s had a list of options up on his website for, like, ever?

And why can’t we let some lowly American workers get away with being paid a few dollars more on pandemic-related unemployment than they earned on the job? Or why can’t we spare a couple thousand per person per month until all the dust on this crisis has clearly settled?

Forfend that we even speak of canceling mortgage or rent payments and student loan debt and anything else that might make the average Jane’s and Joe’s lives easier!

Yet no one asks how we’ll pay to continue bombing foreign countries into submission for decades and decades on end? Or how we’ll pay for that Great Tax Cut for the Plutocrats? Oh, and that other one? And the one coming up? And …

Maybe it’s just a matter of “survival of the fittest,” of “culling the herd,” as leaders from our own Naked Emperor to his friend across the Pond have been heard whispering? And even some of our European partners on the Continent – inevitable deaths and all, but what’s to be done about it?

And how is it that we tell when a Socialist experiment has failed – like Venezuela’s, say; or Chile’s – when we kill it in the cradle and fight it in the jungles and choke it off with our brutal economic sanctions and blockades (which, pandemic or not, we only ever hunker down on!) and raise obscure opposition leaders to the throne – sorry, I mean seat of government?– well, you get the drift.

Is that how we build democratic nations, too? Is that what our planes or our drones are doing when they drop missiles on weddings in Afghanistan or finance the bombing by Saudi murderers of schools and hospitals and orphanages in Yemen?

Oh, and from the vantage point of that kid whose whole family perished in that drone attack in Afghanistan, who would you say are the terrorists and who the freedom fighters?

Have I left anything out?

Anyway, just asking. Because in the era of fact-free governance and timid, corporatist journalism, it may seem that we have no answers.But it’s the questions, then, that really matter, right?

Asking the right ones, I mean – “rude” as they might sometimes seem to Naked and/or Oblivious Power.