Category Archives: Rants and Laments

Jesus in the rubble

After the debris had been lifted and carted away, all that was left of the little yellow house was concrete — an impersonal litter devoid of any indicia of 40 or 50 years of living. I told myself that I would hold dear whatever little sign of life I found. Don’t ask me why.

First, I spied a disk of nylon tulle, scarlet against the grey debris like a splash of fresh blood. How did it survive when so little else did? During one of my trespasses, I’d come upon a pile of these in the basement — leftovers from a baby shower, perhaps? They were the perfect size to load with pastel-colored candies and tie up as a favor.

hipstamaticphoto-566341937.775817But mostly, there was rubble. No hemp. No copper. No stray nails. Nothing. When I squatted down near where one of the basement doors had been, however, I found four more things.

There was a hank of black cord, a padlock, and a dead mouse. I used the tulle to pick up the mouse. I would bury it later.

img_9538-1The house triggered thoughts about our predicament. Most of us operate under the shared hallucination that more is better, but developers and corporations do so with a vengeance. The old calculus of cost-benefit analysis (long-term consequences be damned) these days means risking the future of our planet.

The almighty dollar will float like limp lily pads when a super storm floods the new and enlarged basement. Money in the bank won’t slow the storm surge when a torrential, 100-year-storm hits. And, by the way, when will we stop calling storms that happen twice a year, ‘100 year storms’?

The almighty dollar won’t buy our grandchildren a future when water becomes the new oil and Ted Turner’s descendants own the Mississippi. Money will be rendered conspicuously useless in a barter economy. What do stocks and bonds mean to hoards of refugees fleeing drought or civil war? And when the pandemic comes, bleach will be the precious commodity.

Maybe the empty lot, still forlorn and naked in transition, suggests that you won’t want to live in a post-capitalist disaster zone — one bottle of bleach and a beaker being enough, if you catch my meaning.

The empty lot speaks to the break down of bodies, since we too will crumble into anonymous debris. But while the decay of flesh falls within the natural order of things, conspicuous and reckless consumption does not.

New lives will occupy this square of land —  lives of sorrow and triumph, pettiness and valor. Will they act as if we can consume and invent our way out of climate change? Or will they be willing to look at hard truths and buckle up? Am I?

And then, I found Jesus in the rubble. A piece of maroon felt about the size of a quarter appeared at my feet. I flipped it over to find Jesus. Half a scapular. This and the dead mouse somehow became emblems of ‘radical hope.’


A crescent moon winked through the branches as I walked home. The air was crisp. With a dead mouse and half a scapular in my pocket, I pulled an airing quilt off the yew in front of my house. After the grey debris and feelings of regret, the colorful patchwork moved my tired and clamped heart. This was yet another emblem, wasn’t it? One of love. One I hope will survive as a minor but meaningful legacy.

 

Little yellow house : after

Early on demolition day, I blindly pulled this quote by May Swenson as a writing prompt: “Am I the bullet / or the target / or the hand / that holds the gun?

The destruction was unexpectedly and utterly fascinating. Yes, there went the bedroom then the room with the radio, the staircase — but what an efficient and powerful brutality! I was no longer the target, I was the gun. Sometimes the bucket chewed on support beams like a hungry beast. Other times the operator used it to nudge weakened walls into collapse, not unlike a mother animal nudging her wayward young. How did the operator know when to grab and claw and when to shove and tip? I was the finger pulling the trigger.

It was 19 degrees that morning. Gloves off to use the camera, my fingers quickly froze. Finn had hopped up onto the rock wall at my back, so when he started shivering I could feel it immediately. Oh but I wasn’t ready to leave!

I slung my arm around the dog and pulled him close. Like a gory car accident that you can’t look away from, the floors and walls being compressed into rubble kept us standing by.

Close to dusk, I went back only to be shocked at the uniformity and anonymity of the debris. It seemed to consist only of wood and bits of insulation. Where did the bed springs go? The yellow velvet cushions of the couch? Naturally, not a chip of the praying figurines showed up, but the pink bathroom tiles? How did they so thoroughly vanish? The crocheted afghan that had occupied the end of one of the beds just hours earlier might as well have been vaporized.

There were two very large stuffed creatures, pierced and toppled in a gruesome fashion. There was a piece of wood (part of a closet wall?) on which an oil change had been noted. A coil of wire. A glove. But not much else except round back.

Since the basement was still intact after day one, I went back to see what I could grab, not quite remembering earlier rationales for restraint. Perhaps the linens? Maybe that strange collection of incense burners? But to no avail. The basement door gushed pieces of the caved-in house like a barfing mouth.

On the second day of demo, they wrecked the last of the wooden structure and removed most of the debris. Again the utter lack of identifying detail in what was left seemed physically inexplicable. How could there be so little evidence of all those things — of all those years of living?

I told myself that if I found anything I would treat it as something important.

And that will be the third (and final?) post about this wreckage. Incredibly enough, the prompt in today’s writing class was: “the empty lot was a constant reminder of…

A tale of distraction

I went to read blogs. I’ve missed being in the loop. Don’t want to be a slacker, etc. But, having been away, the computer was off and in bending over to turn on the CPU, a lot of dust confronted me. So I got out my trusty little LED lamp that I keep to illuminate the dark cubbies of tangled cords and went to it. By then a neighbor’s yard crew, already loud, but legal, fired up a second leaf blower — not legal — so, tired of being the in-person enforcer, I leapt up to shoot my neighbor an email asking her to let them know. To control what I could (a helpful tactic in any arena), I pulled out my noise-cancelling headphones only to find that, yet again I’d left them on and drained the battery.

Battery was not just dead, but fuzzy and its corridor of power rimed, so using a bamboo skewer and paper towel, I reamed out the dark compartment. Even a new battery failed to make the green light appear (this, after trying several from a baggie marked, “used but maybe not dead,” a phrase I remembered as “old but not necessarily dead.”)  I donned the headphones anyway and took to standing on tables and stools, because by then the fury of dusting had gone up an elevation to bookcases and ceilings. I worry about falling now. How different from when I relied on balance and agility, sometimes making a long athletic reach, letting the support tip, completely secure in the possible outcomes (“old but not necessarily dead,” indeed).

It is sufficiently chilly and light-less now to want curtains on our back wall of glass, so I hung those and in the process passed a new credit card enough times to want to activate it. Thought it’d be simple. The card had no raised numbers to report to the robot, so I kept pressing “1” for more time and the robot kept asking me if I wanted more time before I’d had a chance to do anything, so ultimately I opted for a call- back. The return call was ALSO a robot, obnoxiously asking for additional numeric selections, a fact I found sufficiently outrageous to begin my communication with “Cookie” by complaining.

“You were calling ME,” I say, as if any big bank gives a shit about customers, a status further revealed (and not countermanded as they might think), by asking me at the close of the call if I wouldn’t mind taking the additional time to complete a survey about the transaction. Are they crazy? Did Cookie not hear how I interrupted her attempt to log my initial complaint in order to abbreviate our exchange? And meanwhile, it didn’t help that the call was necessitated by the fact that I’m an idiot. “Really? I’ve had this card since 1997?” And, who knew the account number was on the back and not raised because that’s how they do it now?Soon I was windexing the transom windows and listening to Pod Save America’s coverage of Kavanaugh — wondering why — what’s enough!— since at this point it’s like listening to my own thoughts I’ve followed the whole sorry story so closely.

What is enough? How many times?

How much coverage is enough or how many times must we go through this very scenario before guys in power figure anything out? Apparently, Anita Hill taught two of these very senators absolutely nothing.

Here, let me remove my imaginary glasses and proclaim what is real.

I plunked into my chair, opened facebook and watched a cute video called, “Fart Out Loud Day” IN ITS ENTIRETY and laughed and that ends this Tale of Distraction.

***

Here are two links that made a positive difference to me this week.

The first is political, but reads like poetry. It pushes the boundaries of genre in an exciting way and gets at where we find ourselves without being analytical.  By Alexandra Petri.

And the other is a poem by WB Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion, referenced in the TV detective show, Shetland, that I’ve been watching. The last lines read:

I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The River Lethe and Mercy

Lately, I’ve had an overwhelming and sometimes irresistible need to sleep — I’m calling it, “the Helsinki Reaction”.

Imagine my shock upon turning over in bed Sunday morning to see that it was 10:30. 10:30! And WITH A NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLE on the stoop, no less. That was one thing, but then to polish off the puzzle WHILE DRINKING A CUP OF COFFEE and subsequently lie down and sleep some more?

(K. has the excuse of jet lag. I don’t).

Yesterday driving home from Salem in stop and start traffic with a hot summer sun blasting through the windshield, sleep arose as a weird and disturbing possibility. Oh, to close the eyes for just a second! Just a second. This, even with the AC going full tilt. This, even while listening to Pod Save America — a news podcast that I find addictively funny and informative. It’s not normal, this need for sleep.

Aside #1: Jon Favreau is my pod crush, what with that big, big brain of his and the charming space between his front teeth. A fellow fan warms to Tommy Vietor and though I’m less inclined toward blondes, I get it: all those clean cut good looks in a neat preppy package.

(I made it home and don’t worry I wasn’t really gonna fall asleep while driving).

I’ve ticked through the list: am I coming down with something? (no); is it the Sun traveling though my Twelfth House, triggering the Underworld corner of my Grand Cross (perhaps, but this is an annual event and one I often find energizing); could it be my thyroid? (alas, no– recently checked — which is too bad because it’d also account for a recent 15 lb weight gain); could it be the collision of the dew point and scorching temps? (well, maybe? but I’m mostly inside with AC). Wait, did you say ‘collision’? That’s getting close to the nub of it, I think.

When I turn to the Tarot, “Logic” comes up. Three times. Anyone who has a relationship with a deck knows this means: PAY ATTENTION. But Logic? Logic as answer to the question, what do I need, what can I lean on now for succor and strength?

I no longer view logic as mere sturdy upholder of truth and argument, but rather as a potent gateway to mercy and justice. I can thank former NAACP President and CEO, Cornell William Brooks, for that insight.

Aside #2: At the inception of the BLM movement, or to be more precise, at the time All Lives Matter rose up as a stupid and reactionary hashtag, Cornell Brooks made this elegant argument: If All Lives Matter, then perforce, Black Lives Matter (which is to say, if you believe that all lives matter, you should have absolutely zero problem with the assertion that black lives matter).  Conversely, if Black Lives DON’T Matter, then it cannot be true that All Lives Matter (so if you’re siding with “blue lives” at the expense of black lives, you don’t really believe that all lives matter). In the realm of illogic serving up racial animus, it also bears saying that believing in racial equity does not automatically make you anti-police. (I unfriended someone over that asinine argument).

Is this logic in service of Mercy or Justice?

Aside #3: A recent sharp edit by storyteller extraordinaire and generous beta reader, Deb Lacativa, brought this very question into focus. How are Mercy and Justice different? When are they the same?

To those who’d say, take up the arms of resistance to beat back your stupor, I say, not right this second. Did I mention: I want to go to sleep?

When I input my zip code into Swing Left’s ‘get involved’ page on Monday and New Hampshire came up, I thought, “NO! NO! Not going there again.” Getting high school students down the street registered sounds more like my speed especially because I don’t think my day of canvassing in the fall of 2016 made any difference at all, unless you count settling my conscience (which is not nothing and there’s no reason to assume that 2018 would be the same as 2016, but still… ) Post cards. I’ll write post cards. But only if someone hands me a list.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday’s Indivisible phone call, I listened to others’ laudable efforts — one networking with folks from Free Speech for People (drivers of #impeachdonaldtrumpnow on the basis of the emoluments clauses), another collaborating with Quakers on international measures protecting justice, and a third taking part in a celebration with a faith community that has housed and nurtured a family in sanctuary for a full year. This comparison is only to highlight how fucking tired I feel and not to otherwise feel bad about myself.

Okay, so could it be the dog? (Now you can tell me that I’m being ridiculous). But how restrictive a presence he is — making a trip to the beach difficult, causing a visit to my ailing father-in-law to require more planning than I have the wherewithal for right now, making even a trip to Macy’s in Framingham feel like it’s pushing it at times, for Christ’s sake. That I spend my dog-free hours on trips to Salem is just another indignity of that situation and puhleeze don’t get me going on that (yesterday was a difficult one).

Aside #4: It’s a wonder that a creature who imposes such regular restriction also offers salvation, for there I go, twice a day, out into the neighborhood, always the better for it. And later, there he is, modeling sleeping and relaxing as a Correct Way of Being. And, every time I stand at the cutting board, there are his liquid eyes, such attention affirming that we are connected, that he notices what I’m doing, and that he’s learned how to get stuff from me, all incredibly reassuring somehow, even as I’m also lambasting myself (just a little) for making a food beggar out of him.

So, it has to be the news. Of course, it’s the news. Even for this prolonged and shocking shit storm, the Helsinki Summit came as a drastic and soul-wrecking event.

Part II of this Lament: tomorrow. It’s all of a piece but this post is already too long. I promise it won’t just be about politics. Look for words about coyotes, unintended consequences, and how we construct narratives.

A screen grab from almost a year ago

PS The River Lethe is one of five rivers in Hades. Ten seconds of research produced this relevant passage:

“those who drink from it experience complete forgetfulness. Lethe is also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion.”

(picture above by Thomas Benjamin Kennington)

Lament to a prompt

If you’re up for a lament without much by way of sentence structure, here’s my response to a prompt in class this morning (using a bunch of song/nursery rhyme fragments/Catholic echos). I may come back tomorrow and add the text but for now here’s the video. It runs 6:45 minutes. Sorry about the hair that kept bothering my lower lip.

Lament to writing prompt “burial”

These days, I could write a lament or a rant everyday (and some days, every hour). This one was a response to an in-class writing prompt on “things we bury”. At six minutes, it runs a little long (who do I think I am, anyway?). Tomorrow I’ll post the written version.

So just to place this in time. I wrote this four days after the Golden Globes and a few hours before learning about the “shithole countries” remark.

A couple caveats: the business about Oprah running for president is worthy of considered response. In this “Lament” there is merely a tossed off line about that. And though I’m sneering about the black gown business in this piece, I was actually moved and inspired by the solidarity expressed in the gesture.

Footnote: the Western referred to is “Godless“, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Dockery. Binge worthy Netflix viewing.

The act of tiny fingers

Here’s a 6.5 minute crude lament from today’s writing class. The prompt was to begin a piece with the line, ‘he steps a foot away and spits’. I stumble a few times and need to figure out how to turn pages more quietly, but hope the mistakes aren’t too distracting.  Please let me know if viewing is problematic. Maybe YouTube’d be better?

Here it is in print (I fix a mistake in the 1st paragraph):

 

The Act of Tiny Fingers

He steps a foot away and spits. His phlegm lands in a glistening lump. He is a master
of distraction and will impose no bounds on his tricks… certainly not propriety or hygiene.

He will steal your dog, rifle through your purse just for fun, and decapitate your peonies some moonlit night in June.

You wake heartbroken at the pink debris, no idea he’d been by.

He picks his teeth and scratches his balls — especially in front of young women — as if those young women didn’t already feel the menace of his maleness.

He’s a ticket to hell. He’s hell itself.

But, don’t take it personally. He will do whatever crosses his path.

Of course he has a predilection for things with slits between their legs — see how even in calling out his sins how his sick cosmology taints our capacity to name ourselves!

But yeah, he’d prefer to fuck with girls or women but boys don’t get a free pass because of course by now you know that our gross master’s magic depends on opportunism.

He’s a sneak, but only for fun because he has the power to impose blatant violations openly. Day in and day out, he commits his atrocities. A fallen building here, starvation mid-Africa, soul-stealing all along the streets of Detroit.

I hope I don’t need to tell you who funds our clever sinner, now do I?

Big pharm, gun makers, gas and oil dealers and all their unmanned, creepy minions. Is it easier to sit atop your high horse, Mitch McConnell’s of the world, when your balls have been handed to you so long ago you can’t remember where you hid them? Did you hide them? A trophy of shame and compromise.

Oh the calls how they come! The justice mavericks need money more than ever and I’m just trying to eat my lunch, watching bad crime show re-runs. The insistent demanding fundraiser wasn’t having my refusal — kept on sputtering her message — Emily’s List! Georgia! 2018!  I stopped being annoyed and became something like amused. But the wallet remained clamped shut until she misspoke (did she mispeak?) and called the Koch brothers, ‘the Cock Brothers’.

At that point, I might’ve handed over my first born. “Just for that,” I laughed, “here’s my Visa number, expiration June 2018.”

It is no glum, exaggerated prognostication to think we might not be here come June 2018.

He grossly clears another load of phlegm and lobs it through time and space so that it almost hits my shoe. Such precision! Such calculation! Of course he’d slobber on my foot if he so chose. I know it and he knows I know it. It’s all a game to him — tally and torment. Grabbing and removing lawmakers’ manhood one minute and violating an anchorwoman the next.

But! But! The predator’s ratings rise — like his purple veined member! Apparently, the dollars of hard working folk and the dollars of companies willing to take a stand don’t matter as much as we’d like to think.

Did he use a microphone? Was it greased with spit?

And you want to call ME gross? Does the reporting of violation constitute violation?

In the morning we rise, no longer unclear about what the matter is. Remember those frosty mornings in November — in that early time of disbelief when you’d wake and scramble through memory wondering, “Now what is it that’s so god-damned awful?”

Oh. Yeah.

The prankster works at all ends of a crisis — first (but not first) mortgage scams denying people of color entry to the middle class, then a so-called war on drugs (the Devil loves euphemism in case you don’t know), then the double, triple standards of education, employment —

Oh Christ! The line of sin is so long just recounting it takes more juice than I possess, but for now think: LEAD. Lead in the water. Not an iffy contaminant, but a known poison with known, documented harmful results upon ingestion, especially to growing brains.

Oh how we worried about paint chips in our 200 year old house! Waited for the blood work. Sighed with relief. Such privilege!

Syrian babies make buffoons cry on television. Or was it the man-baby’s wife-daughter who cried and inspired his missile attack? Talk about compensation! Maybe half our problems would go away if the giant fool could simply (simply?) fuck his daughter.

I am prepared to wipe my shoe if need be.

But am I brave enough to launch a kick — particularly when I am too short to reach any tender pieces above the knee?

The Devil operates in abstractions, too, but revels in the bawdy, the crude, the parts that smell and tug and shove and release. It’s not me reveling.

I can’t even make a gob of spit like that. Is phlegm production related to lying in any way? If so, there must be rows of spittoons in the House and Senate and along the corridors of our formerly esteemed White House.

The overwhelm of destructive might be working — shock and awe, they said, shock and awe. Or was it fire storm? I mix the metaphors — proof in point. When we turn on the news and the most recent, singular, and shocking revelation makes you reach for the clicker, that’s the Devil’s work, too. He wears us out.

Pandora has a place here, too. Let’s ask — how? How? How on earth do we stuff this bile and vitriol and regressive policy back into the box?

Don’t we already pay with pained childbirth and cancer? Must we also suffer as witnesses to the act of tiny fingers turning a clock back decades? Undoing, undoing, undoing.

Oh please, spare us — just go fuck your daughter.