Poem: On the Screen

What’s happening right now breaks my heart because it was preventable. In fact, it was being prevented. Our Kurdish allies are fighting and dying. Mothers are losing their children. Tiny babies lie in pools of blood, covered in dust. And it’s all because a few men made decisions that meant their lives meant nothing. Life is meant for more. Be outraged. Be angry. Be sad or regretful or depressed. Be anything but accepting of this tragedy. Life is meant for more than ending on our television screens.

On the Screen

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

From across the world we watch as death rains down.

How can we know what to feel?

Safe in our kitchens, our warm homes, our towns—

Not part of the pack anymore.

 

Broken bodies litter the earth but it’s so very far away.

You run, and we don’t miss a meal.

Dust and rubble clear, but your sorrow never may.

Meanwhile we watch the news at four.

 

We shake our heads: Nothing I can do, nothing to be done.

Our hearts go out to your appeal—

But tomorrow’s just a day for us—another day in the sun.

And we’ll check the headlines of course.

 

Across the world, an ocean away, with only the media to guide.

As your hearts’ blood spills

On pavement stones and runs down the mountainside—

Life is meant for more.

 

Poem(?): Dos Mundos…Two Worlds

IMG_0253

 

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: Shards of Lost Justice

united states of america flag

Photo by Gerritt Tisdale on Pexels.com

Shards of Lost Justice

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

She trembles before the white man, a tiny dark hand clutched in hers.

“This is my child,” she says, defiant before him. “I’m keeping her.”

But the white man tears the child away and glares at the black woman.

“Send her back,” he says, and white hands pull mother away from child.

 

The brown woman struggles in the clutch of the ICE men.

Her daughter weeps as she watches them take her away.

“Let her stay,” pleads her husband. “It was only a traffic ticket.”

But the man with the badge shakes his head. “Send her back,” he says.

 

The little girl stands alone before the judge, no idea where her parents are.

“They brought me here,” she whispers. “I don’t know where my home is.”

“She was separated from her parents,” her lawyer says. “This is not the American way.”

The judge shakes his head. “The law is clear. Send her back.”

 

The brown woman is different. She is slight but strong, not easily vanquished.

An American citizen, a Congresswoman, a representative, she speaks out.

He doesn’t like what she says, her differences frighten him, so he bullies and brags.

“She doesn’t love America like me,” he tells the mob. “Send her back,” they chant.

Poem: What Good is a Girl?

Today my heart aches for children, but especially girls. Girls whose childhood is stripped away too early. I remember when men started taking notice of me. When I wore shorts on a summer day and walked down the street in my hometown and a man wolf-whistled at me.

I was thirteen. I had no idea what the thoughts of those men were when they ogled me. If I’d known, I probably would never have left the house again. As it was, I blushed and felt like I’d done something wrong.

That was my first introduction to what some men think girls are good for. Today, in a courtroom, a powerful man is calling 14-year-olds “underaged women”. Which indicates that once a female begins menstruating, she’s only good for one thing. I mean, hey, what else are girls good for?

Well, I wrote this for the mothers of “underage women” and for the “underage women” themselves. We are good for so much more.

 

What Good is a Girl?

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

She can sing like a lark and make you feel like you’re flying.

She can paint pictures with words that leave you sighing.

She can build the best sand castles, run fleetly to the sea—

And leave you wondering, what else can she be?

 

She can spend hours in a tree just reading a book.

She might even share if  you climb up to take a look.

She can tell jokes that make you belly laugh out loud—

Or lay back on the grass and point out a castle in a cloud.

 

She’ll defend you against enemies, always come to your aid.

She’ll build the best science project, make the best grade.

She can net the winning basket or hit the last goal—

One thing is sure, life with her never gets old.

 

What good is a girl? you dare to ask.

Better than you deserve, you stupid ass.

IMG_8714

Poem: Teetering

IMG_8049

There’s no guardrail here.

A few days ago, I visited the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go, even if it was on my bucket list. The Grand Canyon is a bit of a challenge for someone with even a mild fear of heights, and I definitely have at least that. But I found once I got there that the paths were wide and I could walk on the side away from the canyon and enjoy the view.

My kids were another story entirely. It seemed they were intent on walking as close to the edge as I would allow. I was constantly calling or motioning them back from what seemed like a precipitous edge down which they were sure to fall. My oldest finally looked at me with exasperation and said, “You bring me to a big hole in the ground and tell me to stay away from the big hole in the ground!”

I laughed, but it’s true. I told him to stay away from the hole in the ground because I want to protect him. I don’t want him to fall.

Of course, while we were looking at the big hole in the ground, the United States teetered on the brink of far worse. We put our toes over the very edge of a very dark, deep hole waiting to drown us in war (and don’t fool yourself that it won’t be nuclear). We’re still balancing on the edge of that black pit, but it’s full of our sins just waiting to pull us in. Sins like helpless children held prisoner without decent beds or meals. Environmental regulations rolled back every day in favor of money. A clueless leader who has lost the respect of every nation on earth except those hoping to profit from his ignorance. And our blind eyes turned to all of it.

Remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a pool waiting to plunge in but not quite ready for the cold water to envelop your steaming skin? Remember the feel of the rough concrete beneath your feet as you leaned forward just a little more, spreading your arms for balance so you didn’t fall too soon but you might fall any minute?

Remember the moment your toes finally lost their grip and you plunged in before you were ready and the hopelessness of knowing the icy water would shock your skin and pull you down?

We’re teetering on the edge of something far worse now.

 

Teetering

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Toe slides…

Over the edge…

Arms spread…

Balanced,

But mindful.

 

Lean a little more—how far can we go?

How far before…

The balance

Slips?

And we

Fall?

 

Wobbling,

Swaying,

Sliding,

It may be

Fate,

But—

 

Who will see the plunge and watch us flatten the world?

Can anyone stop it?

Please?

Poem: For Tom (broken)

One of my heroes made the news for the wrong reasons this week, bringing home to me that all of us become less relevant as we age. Even the great ones.

For Tom (broken)

By Michelle Garren Flye

Don’t speak too loudly.

Stay out of their way.

Their edges are sharp and they will cut you,

Force you to retreat, retire.

Your own edges are worn—

Who is impressed by Woodstock anymore?

You didn’t win your wars.

Vietnam, civil rights.

Even the drug war is left for this generation to fight.

Compassion is round

In your hands, but

It turns flat in theirs—and shows only one side.

That side has edges

And they are used to cut.

So be careful, stay silent, keep clear and beware.

For the round and the soft,

The worn and the frayed

Have no place in the edgy world of the young.

DNA and our hunt for a more colorful origin story

person with body painting

Origin stories aren’t always as colorful as we could wish. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every fan of superheroes knows what an origin story is. Every birthday, we celebrate our origin stories. I tell my kids about the day they were born. How I was feeling, how I knew when it was time to go to the hospital, how long I waited there. What the weather was like. How it felt to hold them for the first time. That’s their origin story.

But recently, science—possibly junk science, depending on who you listen to—has made it possible to find out a bit more about your origin story. And which one of us doesn’t hope we can add a little to our origin story by exploring this avenue?

A little color.

Like many others, I have always been told there is Cherokee blood in my ancestry. I remember visiting Cherokee, N.C., as a child. We have pictures somewhere of Native Americans (we called them Indians back then) in full tribal headdress. My mother bought me a little doll from one of the gift shops. A little girl in a fringed leather dress with a feather in her black braids. I loved that doll. I dreamed about one day being a part of that all-too-colorful heritage (if you go back to Cherokee now, you’ll find a much more down-to-earth and realistic celebration of a wonderful civilization). The Tsalagi (Cherokee, originally Aniyunwiya) of North Carolina are the remainder of the proud nation who were forced West on the Trail of Tears by white men, the ones who clung to their traditions and the little bit of land they could lawfully acquire while their families and neighbors were forced on a journey many of them didn’t make it through.

Colorful, tragic, and beautiful. I always wanted it to be true that there was Cherokee blood in my veins because surely it ran a deeper vermillion than the European blood I knew was there.

And yet, when I had my DNA ancestry tested, I came up just about as lily white as can be. 71% England, Wales (this is vaguely interesting) and Northwestern Europe, 27% Ireland and Scotland, and 2% Sweden. Not unexpected at all, but it might have been nice to find something more exotic in my DNA.

I’ve accepted this lily whiteness and the blood that my ancestors have left on my hands. I belong to the most brutal of all races. White Europeans. The ones who destroyed the peaceful civilizations they found in North America and enslaved Africans to work they land they stole.

I saw in today’s news that Elizabeth Warren is being criticized for publicizing the DNA results which showed she has some portion of Native American ancestry in her origin story. Republicans don’t believe her, Native Americans say it’s problematic that she is claiming this ancestry and, hey, why the heck has she not been advocating for Native Americans all along if she wants to believe she’s one of them?

The answer is, I believe, a fairly simple one. All us white folks want to believe we’ve got something special about us. Some of us know we belong to a brutal race and wish we could be one of those our ancestors tortured to ease our guilt. That group includes me and Senator Warren. You’ve got nothing really to fear from us because we see a nobility in your suffering and perseverance. But the others of us want to believe their race is lily white because it’s superior. They won out over all other races not through brutality but because they were chosen. Those are the ones we should all fear.