A Poem Thing: Four Columns

Our columns are crumbling and we will all perish. Our nation implodes around us, but no one seems willing to stop it. And so the great Democracy experiment ends at last.

Four Columns

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

We stand in a great hall supported by four huge columns.

 

Truth

Justice

Equality

Honor

 

Colossal in height, enormous in strength, radiant in beauty.

Columns meant to support our roof for eternity.

But those columns have not been cared for.

 

Paint peels with each passing year.

We ding them and pepper them with bullet holes.

Long cracks run from ceiling to floor.

 

I wish I could put my arms around them.

Hold them together by sheer force of will.

Someone ties a flag around one, but it’s a poor bandage.

 

And then there is him. He’s bigger than us. He grasps a hammer in one hand.

He takes aim at Justice, strikes a heavy blow.

Yellow-white hair flies back as he howls.

 

What has Justice done to you, I cry, but my voice is lost.

He turns to Truth and strikes again and again.

One blow can’t bring down the mighty column—but he doesn’t strike just once.

 

Stop, I cry, rushing forward, but held back by the heavy mass of others between us.

I scream at them, pummel them with my tiny fists, spit arrows at them…

No one cares. No one listens, and he turns the hammer on Equality.

 

WE WILL ALL PERISH IF YOU LET HIM CONTINUE!

But they don’t stop him, and I wait for the damage to climax, the roof to collapse.

And when it comes, it is Honor that falls first.

 

It makes sense. Truth, Justice, Equality—all can take a beating from him.

But each blow on one of them also damaged Honor, and it crumbles at last.

It topples the others, too.

Another day, another active shooting on a school campus. What are you going to do?

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Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Picture it. Really put yourself there. Stand there on that high school campus in the misty cool November morning. You’re a kid. You didn’t want to go to school but you dragged yourself out of bed. Maybe you had to get there early to take a test you missed last week or to work on plans for the next school dance or maybe you had a club meeting.

Whatever. You’re there. You’re standing on the quad at your high school, maybe talking to a friend. What are you going to do this weekend? Gotta work. But maybe catch a movie after? You’re sixteen and you have your license now. The whole world has opened up to you.

You hear a pop and in the cool fall morning under the open sky, it doesn’t feel important at first. And then you see the small red dot between your friend’s eyes and you feel the warm spray of her blood and nothing is really real except the next pop seconds later and the sting in your shoulder as you spin and fall on the prickly grass.

From there, you try to decide. Lie still, play dead or get up and run while you still can. Another pop and then two more. That’s five. If the movies are right, you get six. But the last one seems to take a while longer. You roll over and look. He’s standing less than twenty feet from you, but the gun is pointed at his own head, not you. You wonder if it’ll work. You’ve heard it’s hard to actually kill yourself that way. You’ve heard of people doing it, losing part of their brain, living the life of a vegetable, or, possibly worse, being horribly deformed for the rest of their lives.

You see his eyes, the hollow, hopeless look there, and you desperately hope that this time it will work.

And the last pop comes and he falls and it’s over. You lay back and tears seep from your eyes as you remember the red dot between your friend’s eyes. It bothers you that you don’t remember her falling, just standing there. Like she’s still standing there above you and not lying on the ground next to you with the back of her head blown out. Who else was shot? They aren’t all dead because you can hear them crying, too. You hear someone retching, coughing. Blood and vomit and tears soak the grass.

And so it happens again. Two lives lost, four more wounded in the time it takes to walk across a room. All because someone had a gun who shouldn’t have had a gun.

Raise your hand if you’ve been in an active shooting situation.

Raise your hand if you know someone who has been in an active shooting situation.

Raise your hand if you’re pretty certain you will soon.

By this point, all hands should be raised.

One moment a maniac…

IMG_1947If you’ve ever read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you know it’s full of bitter truths. That love has no reason. That mankind is cruel. That wealth and status are merciless and religion can be flat out wrong. Of course, most of us haven’t actually read the masterpiece. At best, we’ve seen a movie adaptation. At worst, however, we’ve heard the music of Disney’s adaptation at some point.

When Notre Dame burned last year, I cried. I hadn’t seen it yet and it was on my bucket list. It still is, even though I’ll never see the cathedral that was termed “The Forest” for the network of wooden beams that made up the roof. But some of the grand church was preserved. The fabulous rose windows and stone walls still stand. I can see those…someday.

And then I heard one of our local theatres was doing the musical adapted from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was adapted from Victor Hugo’s epic novel. Of course, I had to audition. And somehow, in spite of my audition, I made it into the choir, so I get to sing many of these songs while sitting or standing on stage the entire time. And as an added bonus, I have a couple of lines as a gargoyle.

It’s been fun. Nerve-wracking at times, but fun. I’ve listened to the music so much I may never want to hear it again, even “God Bless the Outcasts” which I’ve been known to blast in my car for no real reason at all. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people—theatre people are great. Differences don’t matter when you’re on stage. I’ve noticed that particularly with this cast. Race, religion, sexual orientation and the big one—Politics—none of that crap matters when you’re telling the story you’ve been charged to tell.

As for the production, well it’s fun. It’s exhausting. It’s taken a lot of time away from my family, and I’m really kind of looking forward to being done with it. But being in this production has also reminded me of what’s perhaps the most cruel of Hugo’s lessons to his readers: That dreams don’t always come true but life really isn’t worth living without them.

What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: (In Remembrance) Cast Out

(In Remembrance): Cast Out

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

It’s all over but the crying now.

We never knew that would happen. We didn’t see the loss of hope, the loss of growth, the loss of who we are. How could we?

Even as we witnessed its birth.

We clustered around televisions and fell to our knees and cried and prayed and cursed. We angrily threw a flag over the destruction.

We swore we’d make them pay.

Blinded by rage, we fight a war no one can win. We send our soldiers to deserts of ash and blood. We lose what’s left of freedom in revenge.

And what of those born after?

Born into a world of anger and suspicion, how can our children ever be innocent? We guard and shield, but they know and despair.

Do you remember what it was like—before?

Before the hate, the fear, the constant defending against evil. Doesn’t it look like a golden age now? Doesn’t it look like a garden?

It’s all over but the crying now.

Cast out, left to drown in hot tears like jet fuel streaming from the eyes of a nation. Did it melt our core? Do we only wait to fall?

Regret tastes like ash, blood, desert sand. And tears.

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Poem(?): Dos Mundos…Two Worlds

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Dos Mundos…Two Worlds

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Mama ties back my hair.

Tu eres muy linda, Mija, she says.

You are very pretty, my daughter.

I hear it both ways, bilingual.

Best of both worlds, Abuela might say.

But we left Abuela in Mexico long ago.

 

Mama leaves me at the school gate.

She tugs my ponytail, smiling.

No tengas miedo, she says.

Do not be afraid…and I will try.

My mother speaks three languages.

Love is a language, too.

 

How do you say school in Spanish?

The girl asks me with a friendly smile.

Escuela, I tell the girl, not afraid.

Cool, she says. Want to play?

We play tag and I am happy.

Mama was right—there is nothing to fear.

 

I am brave all day. I am not afraid

I win the spelling bee, all in English.

My teachers are all American.

I can speak to them and I’m not afraid.

I want to tell Mama about my day.

I wait after school, but she doesn’t come.

 

My neighbor comes and kneels beside me.

She’s American, she has two teenage sons.

She doesn’t speak Spanish, but she speaks love.

Her voice breaks when she tells me they took Mama.

I know what she’s saying, even when I stop hearing.

I’m not me anymore. They took me, too.

 

She makes space for me in her home.

They are kind, but I know I have no place.

I used to have two worlds, now I have none.

No country, no place for me, no mama.

One of the lost generation without a home.

Y ahora, tengo miedo. And now I am afraid.

Poem: Kisses of Steel and Love

Kisses of Steel and Love

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Blow a kiss to the wind, she said.

What good is a kiss? I replied.

Kisses are free to drift—just feathers.

What good is that in a world of hate?

 

Blow a kiss and find out, she said.

Open yourself to the world, embrace

Its sharp edges with your heart.

Blow kisses of steel and love.

 

Blow kisses to stop hate and fear,

To staunch the flow of tears and

To shield us all from the pain.

But I saw the fault in her grand plan.

 

I might blow kisses of steel and love

But pain is a bullet and it flies direct,

While kisses float aimlessly away

Like fluff and prayers on the wind.IMG_6992