a nation divided

This is how the political system works.

The salary for an elected official is not, in the grand scheme of things, that great. And the number of people who seek political power for truly altruistic purposes – to elevate their electorate – is small. Most people who run for public office want power, and power is money.

Money doesn’t come from public radio, or libraries, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It doesn’t come from poor kids in inner city schools, or from refugees, or from out of work union labor.

Money comes from the kind of corporations we are not proud of. And those corporations have very specific goals. Monsanto wants to sell more GMO seeds. Kraft wants to sell more food products. Prison contractors want to sell more cell blocks.

The successful politician finds out early that the best way to both gain power and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle is to become a useful recipient of money. The politician demonstrates usefulness by getting things done that are pleasing to the writers of checks.

The successful politician also realizes that our “democracy” requires votes. So the politician tells you the voter what you want to hear, while distracting you from what you don’t want to hear, ie, reality.

As long as a Republican can win your vote by talking about abortion or gun rights, they will. As long as a Democrat can bring people to the polls talking about the “right to choose,” and gun control, they will. But these talking points have absolutely nothing to do with the actual legislative plans they have.

Do you think that either Hillary or Donald cared during the last presidential campaign about what you care about?

They do not. Except to the degree that pretending to care gets your attention.

By extension, as long as those issues get your attention, they will not resolve them. Talking points are leverage.

The cruel result is that we argue amongst ourselves, families dividing over party lines, bitter judgment issued over dinner tables, over issues that are, essentially, irrelevant.

As long as we are distracted this way, we will not notice how much money is being made by incarcerating us, medicating us, fattening us up – never legislating for us.

We will not notice that the best way to manipulate a group of people is to play them against each other.

A nation divided against itself, cannot stand.

Let me

Let me be the wine
you open and leave to breathe.
Let me be the weight
of gathering clouds.
Let me be a song
played in the dark,
the swish
of a body
in the bath,
a wooden table
scarred with use.

Let me be the eyes that see – no need to worry.
No need to question
conclusions drawn.

It is only truth,
that gives meaning
to our failed,
baffled lives.

Let me be the cracking open.
Let me be the shivering.
Let me be the creak and the fall,
let me be
the peel
and the squeeze –
so that juice,
red and
can at last
spill out.

waiting for the ferry on a cloudy day

waiting for the ferry on a cloudy day

The sea of common glory
heard waiting for a ride,
a soft symphony of
mixed emotion.
Songs of passion play
next to cheerful chatting,
tourists watching carefully
near natives,
calm as tofu.
The sea rides silent underneath
cars wobbling on this bridge.

And overhead the clouds can’t help
but hover heavily,
as though waiting for one of us to get out,
stand up amongst our fellow strangers
(in their cars)
and shout,
“I get it now!
HERE is what’s important.”

Thus hearing the truth,
finally revealed,
the men would stop chatting and climb
into their trucks,
the woman with the heartbreak soundtrack
would lead us from this place,
and the ferry,
finally arriving,
would receive buckets
of ecstatic rain.

The past gets you tomorrow

She drove to the cemetery. With no experience with the military or even death, really, she drove into the national veteran’s cemetery feeling overwhelmed. Tears hit her at the first site of a bank of white gravestones.

Finally finding the one she sought, she knelt, and tears poured fourth. It wasn’t a man she knew, not in this lifetime anyway. But the emotion was undeniable.

The hate was undeniable, the promise to give other victims a way out.

Her entire life, folks had told her to stay put. That day, crying on the grave of a seeming stranger, she knew why she’d never respected that attitude.

If someone is hurting you, you have two, maybe three choices: kill, sue, or run.

Maybe that explained why America, a country of cowboys used to settling battles with a six-shooter, had become so litigious.

That bastard in grave #930 had long ago given up the privilege to be sued, and so, all that was left was hatred. Looking back at her life, it was hard not to think some forms of hate simply turn your heart to ice.

She drove north to Taos.

A strip mall of tourism, the Southwest commodified, Taos turned her off. She kept driving. Meditation had said, Just go to a town with a Q. Weeping on that grave, she’d thought, just go till you see the metal crescent moon.

She drove to Questa, and went into a shop with a sign that said, “For your Spiritual Journey.” Inside it seemed everything was two or three dollars – talismans, incense, crosses, cards.

There was a wind chime hanging in the window, metal, a crescent moon with Tibetan bells hanging from it.

She bought it and some other trinkets that had long ago lost any value. As the woman rang her up, explaining her nonprofit mission to feed those who had nowhere else to go, she fought the sensation that she was high. She fought the very real sensation that she was two or three feet taller than this woman.

Getting back into her rented truck, with her Tibetan bells, a donation behind her, she put the truck into drive. She didn’t breathe, really, until many miles west, when she stepped her toes into the Rio Grande.

Maybe it’s John Wayne’s ghost, or Dean Martin’s. Maybe you just need water. But the weirdest experiences are baptized – or simply soothed – by water.

You can fight the crazy all day long. But one day you will reach a point where you will realize that sane, as currently defined, is full of shit.

On that day you will dip your toes into the water and you will know the simple truth: Life is unknowable. But you can find joy in trying to know it.

She flies to New Mexico and rents a truck

“Why are you going to New Mexico,” people asked, and most of the time she didn’t feel safe telling the truth, which was, “I think I lived there in my last lifetime, I think I’m astrally traveling there in my sleep, I think it has something to tell me.”

Most people, hearing that, would think you’re insane, so she just said she loved the desert vibe and all the art in Santa Fe. She felt absolutely safe, however, saying it to the man she took home the night before she left, as she drove him back to his bicycle the next morning. This was the island, a place where men couldn’t afford their own beer because the realities of life simply eluded them – but astral travel was no problem.

She realized, driving away from him, that once again a casual encounter had not been based on totally accurate expectations. She knew that he was a deeply interesting man who was living a lifestyle she probably wouldn’t be happy partnering with. He did not know, because life plans hadn’t been discussed, that she was waiting to go, and had absolutely no intention – in fact she probably didn’t even have the mental, chemical or hormonal chemicals required – to fall in love.

She woke, he was there, she deposited him, she drove away. In the back of her mind a to-do list item had emerged: Explain to him that could only mean nothing.

The question mark next to it was: Why can’t it? Why is this trip so darn important?

The rest of the morning was spent sweeping their evening under the rug and making her hungover, rather blank way to the ferry, and an Uber, and a plane.

Landing in Albuquerque the question mark became a pounding heart. The airport, small, dated, one of at least two dozen airports she’d passed through over the years, was so familiar to her she could have mapped it from the plane. Elevator is here, restrooms are here, you go there to get the shuttle.

Picking up her rental car, she walked up to a counter staffed by a thin fiftyish woman with auburn hair and smoker’s voice, reminiscent of Marge from The Simpsons, and a younger man whose shirt sleeves didn’t quite reach his wrists.

“I had a reservation,” she said, then corrected herself, “I have one.”

Marge laughed, “Did you, or do you?”

“I made one and I still have it,” she said with cheerful conviction. Marge left and paperwork commenced.

She was sent outside to meet Marge and fetch the car. In the greater Seattle area, the sky never gets darker than navy blue or smoky purple. Here the sky was black, and expansive, and oddly reassuring.

“What’s the smallest car you’ve got,” she asked. She had reserved a mid-size but under that black sky wanted something even smaller, like the tiny hatchback she drove at home.

“Oh gee,” Marge said. “I don’t even have any mid-size. I was going to put you in one of these.”

She waved a thin arm at three pickup trucks. They were twice the size of her car. The only thing to do was laugh. In the heightened awareness of this strangely significant trip, it was not good form to question something so ironic as putting a city girl in a truck to drive through the desert.

And so, under the black sky, she drove.

three princesses and the ice queen

Driving north to see my grandpa two weeks ago, on what happened to be his final day, I asked myself why I was leaving work on a Monday morning to do this. Yes, that is how meager my relationship with my grandfather was – work did seem as important, if not more, than seeing him in the hospital.

By that night I understood why I had made the trip.

I did not drive north to take my grandfather’s enormous and soft 86 year old hand. That moment, while important to me, was not the meaning of the journey.

The meaning for me was that afternoon, while he was getting a tube inserted to drain blood from cavities of his body that should not be full of blood. The hospital room was empty of his bed. His wife and their three daughters, who are my grandma, mom and aunts, sat in a circle around the space his bed should be.

Grandma was falling apart during these long days sitting by his side, not caring for herself and in poor health as well. Amongst other more serious issues, she had a cold.

One of the three blond sisters sitting to my left asked whether it was time for more cold pills.

My grandma has mastered the Ice Queen/WASP act and her walls of frost rose before the question was completed.

The implication of her brusque answer was: Do not make me take more cold pills. I am ready to throw myself on the pyre when he dies.

The subtext with my grandma gets so thick sometimes it can freeze you in your tracks, preventing you from saying the perfectly normal things one would to dispel an uncomfortable situation.

So you shuffle off.

But that afternoon I witnessed what I consider to be a miracle. Instead of silencing her daughters, my grandma’s frosty response unintentionally made them… laugh. We were sitting around waiting for doctors to drain enough fluid off her husband to maybe, if we were really lucky, keep him alive long enough to go home. There was no hope past Let him die at home. He had kidney failure, blood in his lungs, and pneumonia. And she was mad that her daughters were urging her to take her decongestants?!

The relief in that brief group laugh probably added a few years to my lifespan.

The depressing afterward is three sisters reverting to old roles, played against each other by her refusal to communicate, her anger at being helped, her sheer brittleness of ego.

Who is Grandma talking to today? And who has she made feel like a bother?

I can’t go back in time and give my mother better parents. I can’t begin to explain to my grandma how she makes her “loved ones” feel. All I can do is tell the truth, which in this case, is that somehow, these three women decided what they wanted motherhood to look like in spite of their nearest example. I honor all three. And I wish, more than anything, that they could just one more time experience the delicious relief of laughing, together, at their all too powerful ice queen.

the fire pit

They sat in the sagging bellies of nylon folding lawn chairs. The sky behind them was blue-meets-black and before them the fire crackled orange and gold. Slumped, exhausted, hoodies from the garage over ruffles and thin tops, they gazed into those shifting flames.

Two sisters, now in the years where fifty meets sixty, and two silent husbands. Between them, where gazes met flame, were four decades of memories. Babies. Setting up first kitchens. Phone calls about Mom. Learning what marriage meant and how they would each cope with that.

Each carving out a role in the family – how she or he would each concede to the parental will, and when.

My grandpa is dead. He left a week ago. His body collapsed upon him and he slipped as gently as our modern medical system will let someone go, into that good night.

His wife was in the emergency room two days later and now snaps in response to questions – the dreary aftermath of loss. One sister is welcome and two are held this far away. The stresses of helping their mother build over their heads.

My mom and my aunt, my dad and my uncle, will sit around the fire, slowly drinking and smoking. Contemplatively. They will ponder the future of their mother and they will mark the passing of their father. It will not be a sentimental conversation. It will be oddly clear in spite of the smoke.

As a member of this clan, I believe that in the light of the fire pit, only truth is spoken. The truth may not be beautiful, and it may not be what Grandma would want to hear. But what happens here, in this quiet time, is a setting aside of the roles and the drama and the grandeur and the bullshit.

What happens here is simply four adults taking a moment, and a good long drag, to touch ground. They may not know it, but they are in the huddle.

So that, let it never be said, love tore them asunder.