To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To
never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of
life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty
to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what
is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To
try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget."
-- Arundhati Roy
posted by Lisa on 11:31 AM link |
The worry has a form like when
red-winged blackbirds leave stalks
in your field. Those minor flashes of red,
trouble. The mayhem goes east, returns west,
stirred from morning perches by transience,
by some bird-god signal. Below breastbone,
your breath cascades into the magnum of a sigh.
You strain hot tea at the kitchen table,
recap the jam, two pieces of toast buttered
on their darker side. You shake the hall rug,
boil water for the dishpan. Body betrays,
betrays its own purpose, not to restore order,
not to clean out, as you loosen curtain ties
against sunlight. The phone rings and blackbirds
bend south. You open a blue sheet over the bare bed
published in the Marlboro Review
via Web del Sol
posted by Lisa on 1:27 PM link |
“Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.”
Orland Bishop reading Langston Hughes' poem Let America be America Again
"All memory resolves itself in gaze,' poet Richard Hugo wrote once about another town that died. Empathy is what we long for - not sadness for a house we own, or owned once, now swept away. Not even for the felt miracle of two wide-eyed children whirled upward into a helicopter as if into clouds. We want more than that, even at this painful long distance: we want to project our feeling parts straight into the life of a woman standing waist-deep in a glistening toxic current with a whole city's possessions all floating about, her own belongings in a white plastic bag, and who has no particular reason for hope, and so is just staring up. We would all give her hope. Comfort. A part of ourselves. Perform an act of renewal. It's hard to make sense of this, we say. But it makes sense. Making sense just doesn't help. more"
--Elegy for My City
"Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy."
--Do You Know What It Means to Lose New Orleans?
posted by Lisa on 2:55 PM link |
I am haunted by the flood. By the failure of the rescue response, by the lack of planning for such an event, by the left-behind poor and the rounded-up poor and the dead and dying poor of New Orleans.
And I am haunted by my friend Joe Ranft, who died two weeks ago, caught in a car that plunged into the Navarro River. Joe died less than a foot from the surface, unable to navigate those final few inches that separated him from his next breath. I’m thinking about the thousands of people who may have died in similar desperation a few days ago as the waters rose, as they sat in the highest points of their homes with nowhere to go, as they tried to break through their roofs, or dove out windows into the surging waters. I’m thinking about that last panic, the final knowledge of inability.
I’ve been haunted by Joe’s death, by his last moments, by the failure of the one survivor of his disaster to either bring air to Joe or to bring him to air. And now I’m haunted by the thought of that death magnified by thousands. I’m haunted by my own inability to do anything meaningful in the face of so much need.
I’ve read lots of editorials blaming the magnitude of this disaster, and the failure of adequate or timely response, on a lack of leadership, on the president, congress, and FEMA. I’m sure those pols will point fingers in yet other directions as the days wear on and the spin machines kick into place. But I wonder. Who is to blame? Anybody? Or everybody? Shall we invoke nature’s wrath or human nature—our own human creep over land, our need to cultivate and tame and engineer in order to make inhabitable that which isn’t? What about lack of foresight and imagination, shouldn’t they be blamed as well?
But if we look behind the question of who or what to blame, there’s something more fundamental to discover. A veil has been lifted, as we see right into the devastated heart of our country, and it has revealed truths that have been shrouded in illusion, deceit and denial.
The first truth is that we don’t have the kind of control we pretend or hope to have. Trying to hold back the water, to force the land to hold us when it wants to hold a marsh or a wetland, is one of the reasons we have this trouble; we imagine that because we build cities and call them permanent they should endure. It’s a human weakness, but a glaringly American one—a failure of imagination and of memory. We’re shocked to see images like these coming out of our own country. Suddenly placeless people by the thousands herded into coliseums—starving, weak, hungry and living amongst the dead with no sanitation, water or food. Haven’t we seen these kinds of images somewhere before? In the Sudan or Bangladesh? But never here in America—we never thought this could happen to us because we have all the money, the armies, the helicopters, the will. We thought we were in control, but in the face of something this big, in the face of the Gulf reclaiming its own, it’s made clear to us that we’re not.
I don’t suggest we throw up our hands in complete surrender to a natural world we can’t control. But a degree of surrender and awe would be healthy. We could do with some humility, a little respect for forces beyond our own will and understanding. We might find a greater degree of harmony with the vagaries of the world, but we would also have to live with the knowledge that terrible events occur and we must grapple with their effects. And sometimes terrible events occur which we have set into motion with our shortsighted tinkering. We might learn not to place ourselves at the top of the heirarchy in the tender ecology of people, land, water, other species, and even other countries. We might stop trying to bend the world—its resources and people—to our will in order to feed our own out-of-proportion desires. We might worry more about the consequences of our technology: the polluted land, overfished and chemically ravaged waters, the genetically modified experimental crops, the razing of forests and the filling of wetlands. We might find our way back to some kind of balance.
The second truth is that yes, we do have distinct classes here in America, and they mean much more than which school district we can afford to live in. Now they mean living or dying. Some have continued to deny that our country doesn’t offer equal opportunity to all citizens. It’s obvious now to anybody who is even casually watching that that is not true. The poor are too vulnerable, too weak, too many, and ill-considered. It is the vast neighborhoods of the undervalued who bear the brunt of this wastage, as it is always the underprivileged who are most at risk from predation in the wild and in the cities. I hope that from their ranks, from the cinders of their loss and anger arise a movement that will bring their needs to the political arena, that they can find some power together before they simply disperse and drift back down into lives too filled with work and lack.
And still I think about my friend Joe. Last week I consoled myself with the stories of friends who have come close to drowning. They tell me that after the struggle has ended and you have accepted the fact that you cannot have another breath, that when you finally surrender, you come to an overwhelming peace. I try now to imagine Joe in that last peaceful phrase, weaving stories and creating new worlds just as he’d always done. I try to imagine the same peaceful farewell for the others. At the same time, I hope that none of the rest of us come to peace with the images we’ve seen. I hope that we are haunted by the poverty and abandonment we’ve witnessed, and that we can’t sleep. And that after the flood, after the waters recede, we remember.
posted by Lisa on 10:47 AM link |
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 Lisa Thompson. All Rights Reserved.