Silence holds the family in pieces.
It’s the brutality of blessings
that splinters all to avenues of frost
and the unseemly snowy wood.
When hush is broken by some tired soul,
we melt and pour ourselves into convenient sewers.
Thirsty for the ocean and thirsting for a new beginning.
I have a lot of poems that I love but this one poem is my life. I think it’s many people’s lives. Living is not always an easy thing to do, but if you hold on to the truth that you are, indeed, the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, you can weather all things.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Right now, I’m thinking of my last refreshing interaction with a stranger. With the toxic atmosphere that is in abundance today along with having to wear pesky but life-saving masks, it’s difficult. A body needs that type of interaction where you leave feeling like you’ve just departed a warm embrace. Those are the small moments of eye contact with a stranger on the street, punctuated with a gentle smile. Those are the spontaneous moments that trigger a quick exchange that leads to a laugh that leads to a lingering smile you carry all the way back to your car.
In thinking about it, I realize that it wasn’t very long ago that I had one of those experiences. I had made what was supposed to be a quick trip to the grocery store. As I stood in line, my husband FaceTimed me to say that we needed snacks because “We don’t have any snacks. Get some Cheez-Its and some beef jerky.” he joked. We never buy beef jerky but the man behind me, who must have been a beef jerky fan, said through his mask “I’m with him!” I turned to him and laughed while exaggerating the squint of my eyes to overemphasize my amusement behind the mask. I told him not to worry about holding my spot when he kindly offered as I left the line in search of snacks. That was actually only two days ago. It was the day I voted.
That morning, my husband and I got out our voting guides, our mail-in ballots, and our laptops and spent several hours going over the local candidates and the propositions. It was very important for me that we really read and understood as much about the propositions as we possibly could outside of the ads that collectively intrude on the latest news of yet another tweet from President Trump.
Going over the propositions isn’t an easy task. I began by mentally settling myself on my foundational principle: That which is going to be best for those with the least–and worked my way from there through the purposely confusing language. My husband and I talked a bit about each one and found that we were usually on the same side when we’d bubble in our choice.
It’s kind of a lovely thing really. It’s a moment to escape the constant assault of the cephalopod that is cable news and social media. Their tentacles latch on to our compulsive nature, the need to be informed, and the desire to connect, so pervasively that turning it off or deleting an app conjures feelings of absurdity and anxiety. Those several hours of sitting, undistracted, with just the text, and giving thought to the implications of impacts raised by those charged with writing the pros and cons, along with a bit of sleuthing to understand, as much as possible, the hidden hands behind all the pieces, was an investment of time that paid off with the feeling of honoring those who fought and died for my right to have my say.
For the past, almost four years, we’ve endured the toxicity, the destructive policies, and divisive behavior of a man who makes us question our own connectedness to our fellow human beings. A man who makes no secret of his self-absorption and bigotry, and has reinvigorated the disease of racism in this country to such a degree that Covid is merely the cherry on top of his noxious administration. An administration that has us eyeing strangers and summing them up along party lines, and labeling strangers as idiots if they aren’t on our side and wonderful compatriots if they are. Of all of the things that President Trump lauds about being the only one to ever do, the most astounding fete of his leadership that nobody has done since the civil war is split the country in half, disrupting the spontaneous connections that make us all know that we are one. While you can easily glean which way I chose to vote in the Presidential race, you can also glean that my choice is not without the deepest consideration for my fellow citizens, especially those with the least.
The one thing I am looking forward to in the next four years is that the U.S. begins to build back better our connectedness to one another and to continue the work of creating a country where everyone is welcomed, everyone is valued, and everyone is safe.
I am not allowed
to split you open
climb inside you to
learn your secrets
I must maddeningly deduce
Negotiate with sensitivities
Navigate around trigger lines
My skin — camouflage
My hair — bush
My eyes — ink
My mouth — contort
I talk to myself out loud
so that my heart knows it’s me — not
some mad woman caught
in the wilderness of a lover’s secrets.
This is my latest assignment for my Coursera.com Creative Writing course. Feel free to answer the two questions at the end and to offer any insight you may have that may be helpful in my journey toward being an effective writer.
These are the instructions:
Write a story (up to 1,000 words) following the ABDCE structure that includes at least one full scene. Also, your story should have at least TEN sentences of rising action.
After your story, along with your submission, ask two specific questions of your readers. Think back to the 21-point checklist. Within the time and logistic constraints of Coursera, we can’t follow all the best practices of writing and revision, but as you work through your assignments and especially as you write beyond these courses, keep them in mind.
Example questions you can ask your readers could be: “What did you think of my main character’s actions?” Or : “Were there any parts that seemed confusing or hard to follow?”
As you end this course with your reader feedback, process it and see if it makes sense. Consider the feedback as you move through other courses in the Specialization, and your writing in general.________________________________________
Chance Waits for Floyd
Chance sat at the kitchen table fingering the papers that lay in front of her. As her fingers pushed them back and forth, she listened intently to the quiet of the house. She tried to bring that quiet into the middle of her stomach which insisted on flaring as if she swallowed a smoldering fourth of July sparkler. There was only a faint echo of the children who would be sitting at the table eating dinner right now.
Dr. Vance, her therapist, recommended a paralegal service who handled the divorce papers. They called that afternoon to inform her that the divorce papers were ready. On her way to their office, she called her mom, Ruth, and asked if she could drop the children at her house after they came home from school. Ruth was more than happy to care for the children, but she was also worried about what could happen when Chance confronted Floyd with those papers.
As Chance hugged her children goodbye, Ruth asked, “Do you want your brother to come with you honey?”
Chance directed the children into the living room, and said, “No mama. I’ll be fine.” She instantly wondered if that was true. She noticed that there was a steadiness about her resolve that she hadn’t felt for a long time. At that moment, she honestly believed she would, in fact, be fine. She carried that feeling to the car as if it were a broken limb. A part of her that had been fractured long ago when Floyd hurled his first assault against her young and brittle constitution.
Floyd was 17 years her senior. But she didn’t learn that until six months after they met at the Paladium. The Paladium was the new club her friend Diane had been dying to check out. Since it was Chance’s 22nd birthday, Diane’s gift to her was a Saturday night out at the club.
They were stopped at the door by Floyd who examined her photo closely and looked back at her with a perplexed look. “This isn’t you?” He said. Chance was confused, she wasn’t accustomed to being flirted with.
“Tell me fast, when’s your birthday?” Floyd demanded. Before she could respond, he repeated the command, “Fast, when’s your birthday”?
“April 3rd, 1969” she stammered.
Diane interrupted, “Dude, you can clearly see it’s her. Here’s our money. Let us in.”
Floyd held her gaze for a moment and said “You’re gonna be good?”
She gave him a quizzical look, then shot back, “Maybe.”
Floyd opened the door and the ladies went through.
They found two seats at the bar and ordered two Long Island Iced Teas before a guy slid up next to Diane and asked her to dance. Diane rushed off to the dance floor, leaving Chance at the bar looking after her drink.
She accepted long ago that she wasn’t exactly the type of girl men fell over themselves for. She was somewhat average looking, and on a few occasions had been flat out called ugly. She never knew how she’d be taken so she proceeded with caution around people, especially men.
Alcohol did loosen her up though. She was halfway through her Long Island when Floyd walked up to the bar beside her and ordered an orange juice.
She said, “You don’t drink or something?”
Floyd shook his head, “Naw, I don’t drink and you shouldn’t either.”
“This Long Island Ice Tea is pretty good though.” Chance said, taking another sip.
“You just be careful with that sister. I wouldn’t want to see something happen to you behind alcohol.”
“Ok, Orange Juice.” She said.
“My name is actually Floyd.” He offered her his hand and she shook it.
“So Floyd, I’m Chance.” She said
Floyd cocked his head and said “I remember. I also remember your birthday was earlier this week. Just like mine. You turned, 22 and I turned 28.”
That was the first lie. Her mother told her once, “A relationship that starts out with a lie will end with a lie.” That turned out to be gospel.
They went out for a few months, before Chance introduced him to her family. It was Chance’s brother who brought up the question of Floyd’s age. “Have you checked that dude’s driver’s license, sis? 28 year-old brothers don’t wear shoes like that.”
She had never given it a thought all of this time, but she realized that Ralph had a point. The next time he picked her up for dinner, she noticed other things about him that didn’t seem to fit with men closer to her age. His word choices, the way he seemed to covet her, it was all something indicative of someone much older.
When she questioned him about his age, he became evasive. She pressed him and asked to see his driver’s license. He eventually relented, but not before saying, “I’m really scared to show you. The only reason I didn’t want to tell you the truth is because I was scared that you wouldn’t want to see me. You have to know that what we have together, age shouldn’t be a factor.”
Chance began to feel really afraid. She wondered if he was 50. She knew she couldn’t be involved with someone fifty years old. As it turned out, Floyd was 38 rather than 28 and not only had he shaved 10 years off of his age, he shaved 10 years off of his life in general, including the children he had left in Atlanta.
In twelve years, she had allowed herself to be overtaken by an emotional paralysis caused by the need to constantly discerning truth from lies, and the responsibility of decisions rooted solely in her own peace and happiness. Since Floyd ministered to her that a woman’s value resided only in the happiness of her husband, she sought other council. As she sat at the table, awaiting his arrival, she repeated the four words Dr. Vance casually offered up that gave her clarity and will: “You owe him nothing.”
Question 1: Is the scene cohesive? Does it logically move in and out of the past and present?
Question 2: Does the dialogue and sentence flow naturally throughout?
I don’t want white people to apologize. I want them to use their privilege to help dismantle a system that kills black people.
After posting it, I received a message from a dear friend who’s white. She asked exactly what it is that she’s expected to do? I didn’t consider the motivation behind her question because her feelings for having the question are rightfully her own and an analysis of that wasn’t really required for me to give her my thoughts on the matter. I took on the role of messenger which is something I’m getting really good at as I navigate parenting 20 somethings. When my children come to me with a question or a need for input on a choice they intend to make, I succinctly offer my truth as I see it and move on with my day.
In that regard, I offered my friend this:
I am resolute in my understanding of how pervasive racism is. Those who made it their business to construct the institution were very thorough in weaving their virus-like ideology in with our natural human instincts, the latter being the same no matter what racial category we are placed in. They are woven so tightly that unwinding them seems impossible.
At this point, I seriously question the possibility of all of us living totally free from the sick mindset that avails itself upon us, generation after generation. Down every street we jog, in every park where our children play , in every coffee shop we enter, on every road we drive, the evil of racism lurks. It’s either a simmering boil or boiling over scalding everyone in its path.
My heart goes out to Ms. Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud’s mother, and the rest of his family. I suspect I will compose other writings motivated by similar events and my heart is heavy. I’m going to text my two sons now, to make sure they are okay.
Image used courtesy of https://unsplash.com/@thirdworldhippy
Everyone is locked inside their homes. Maybe locked is too strong of a word. The shelter-in-order; however, does create a blurred line of distinction between freedom and control. They tell us it is for our own good. They tell us it is for the good of the country. They tell us we are saving lives. I am not so sure. To be one hundred percent sure, I would need to believe in an invisible attacker, a lying President, and a media that has become suspect. Believing in all of that is not the easiest thing to do for a mind that has always struggled with blind faith. However, I am rational and of course there is a virus, so I participate. At the end of the day, for now, it’s best to be overly cautious and remain inside than to not heed the warnings and possibly die.
At times I find myself contorting my mind to see what’s around the corner but I am nearsighted and it is very dark. I scour the internet for signs of light, a tricky thing requiring forensic skill to discern reliability. I only get so close to a feeble assurance that this is mere happenstance and life will return to normal sometime soon. In the meantime, my husband’s vision is 20/20. He plucks soundbites from the 24-hour news cycle, examines them, places them in an order attuned to his suspicious sensibilities, and weaves a narrative that suits his soul. It is a gift to which I say bless his heart. I envy his ability to ground himself in something other than uncertainty.
Uncertainty has always been my home. Developing a definitive from the comfort of a recliner makes me nervous. The unknown variables matter. An unknown variable can turn an assessment in the complete opposite direction. That, coupled with the fact that information openly chatted about is information that is purposefully allowed to be chatted about. I’ve watched Rachel Maddow spill the beans on the Russians in such profound ways and I wonder who’s protecting her. Surely Putin must have people at the ready to slip something into her coffee. But this isn’t the movies, right? I understand that I’m exposing my unduly citizen mind. The one that would lead me to say, who would have thought such a thing could happen in this country. Actually, I’m not quite that bad. There are ugly places that my mind just doesn’t want to go though. My world is made up of the desire to have just enough to provide for my family and to live comfortably without threat, so I evade the worlds that orbit about my person and within my mind.
I caution myself to take the upcoming weeks, or months, one day at a time. I remind myself to be present each time I drift off and become unable to hear anything beyond the sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Some days it’s as if I’ve crossed over into another realm without even knowing it. A realm that keeps me from embracing a beloved friend I happened to see on my once a week run to Costco. All we could do was shake our heads in apology for the absence of an embrace and give an awkward wave from six feet away.
To save myself, breath and patience have become my anchoring forces. They tether me to the world I knew. The world where my mind was free to not only think about going outside the walls of my home but, with a soft psshh through my teeth, making the adventure so. I intend to return, someday.