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: Teetering

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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?

March is Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. How many of you knew that? I’m thinking fewer than should. We all know Black History Month is February, and many of us know April is Poetry Month, but for some reason Women’s History Month isn’t well known.

I’m thinking it may be because so much of women’s history isn’t known. It’s been suppressed in favor of men’s account of women’s history. I found it interesting, for instance, when I happened upon this little tidbit of women’s history on a trek around my hometown:

I did a little research on Emeline. Her name is alternately spelled Emmeline and Piggott or Piggot or Pigot or Pigott—even once in a newspaper clipping about her arrest “Eveline”. There are many stories about her, including that she “entertained” Union soldiers while her brother-in-law carried contraband to Confederate troops, that she ate a letter when she was arrested instead of turning it over to Union soldiers, and that while she was jailed an attempted assassination by chloroform failed because she broke a window to breathe through until help arrived.

It’s interesting to me because in some places, these stories about Emeline are referred to as legends and in other places are reported as facts. Even here on the sign, it says “According to local tradition”. That’s almost equivalent to “Once upon a time”. But Emeline was not a fairytale. She was a real woman, and, regardless of politics, she suffered for a cause she believed in.

It got me thinking about what women went through to get the vote. Until a few years ago I’d believed they marched peacefully, well-dressed and carrying banners because that’s what the school history books depicted. The reality is less appetizing, though. A few years ago I read about “the Night of Terror” when suffragists were beaten and tortured. A little shocked, I did more research.

Suffragists were badasses. Seriously. They didn’t just stand around with polite placards saying please let us vote until reasonable white men decided to give them the nineteenth amendment. There was property damage, rude signs and screaming at the president and Congress. Incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and were force fed with rubber tubes.

No doubt they were told at some point not to be so emotional.

I wonder if today’s men would dare to tell them to “smile more”.

My point is, you won’t learn about most of women’s history in schoolbooks. “Women held protests on the White House lawn and were given the right to vote in 1920” is about all you’ll get there. What women need to remember is that for decades women fought for the right to vote. They fought with much more than just orderly parades and when saying please failed, they didn’t hesitate to declare all out war.

Should we allow that history to be repressed? Shouldn’t we be teaching it to our daughters?

Infamous suffragist leader Lucy Burns, on the third day of a hunger strike following her imprisonment on the Night of Terror, was tempted with fried chicken to break her strike. With contempt, she said, “They think there is nothing in our souls above fried chicken.”

There is so much more in the soul of women than what we’re given credit for by the history in schoolbooks. I may not agree with Emeline Pigott’s politics, but I do think she carried iron in her soul, and I believe she deserves the credit for that. Her story should not be relegated to the same level of history as fairytales. Whatever happened to her while jailed, or while she was “entertaining” Union soldiers, it is part of women’s history and women’s history isn’t fried chicken. It’s iron and blood and suffering and triumph. And we should never forget that.

Bite-size philosophy and me

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Today’s world and politics often inspire a fit of philosophy in me as I try to make sense of what is happening and how to deal with it. –photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I’m a closet philosopher. Seriously, I’ve been accused of thinking too much. The problem is, if I try to read an entire book—or even an entire essay—by a philosopher, I get bored. I find myself thinking about what’s for lunch or what my kids are doing or when I need to go grocery shopping again.

The Internet has solved that for me. When I find myself pondering a philosophical problem, I can look it up on the Internet and find bite-size nuggets of inspiration in philosophical quotes. And since I always like to check my sources, I end up reading at least a paragraph or two from the quoted philosopher. Until I started this up, I had no idea who Bertrand Russell was but now I’ve read several paragraphs from him!

Google this one if you’re likely to fall for internet hoaxes: “…it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

–Bertrand Russell

That’s how I found out Albert Camus agrees with me that today’s attitudes toward “West Coast elite” writers, actors, and artists is a bad thing. Camus would have been heartbroken by the fall of Hollywood in today’s world. Of course, Camus died in 1960, and I don’t even know if he ever saw a movie, but I found a quote that seems to support this idea of mine. Camus wrote: “Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.”

What a wonderful thought. I pictured men on a bleak battlefield ceasing the fight while they looked for the beauty of what they were fighting for. How many wars might end if we stopped to think about what we fought for? I checked the source of the quote and found a longer section of Camus’s essay “The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.” In this section, Camus expounds on the necessity of art to make sense of history. Look, for instance, at this sentence:

“Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and Tolstoy knew how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart.”

–Albert Camus

I dare to believe that Camus wrote, in 1951, how I’ve been feeling about the way many artists are treated today when they dare to make their feelings about the larger world known. Stephen King, Barbra Streisand, Colin Kaepernick (yes, sports can be art), J.K. Rowling—even Rob Thomas—all of these artists and many more have been slammed on Twitter and in conservative media for daring to make political opinions known in today’s highly divisive atmosphere.

To the artists I say, you have vision and you must keep seeing. Keep seeing and keep speaking out because though you are outnumbered by those who can’t see, your light shines brighter than theirs. And that’s your job.

In case you were wondering, Camus would have agreed with me about this. In that same essay, he said something which I can only take as a message to me and to all like me who see the world as oppressive and who want to make it freer and more beautiful and welcoming to all:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

–Albert Camus

And that is how I will seek to live my life.

Imagine all the dreamers…

“Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

What do you see? What image does John Lennon’s timeless lyric call to your mind?

A world without war, certainly. But then what? No classes? Everyone working day by day to make the world a better place? A kind of idealistic commune where we may work in the fields or the kitchens or serve as doctors or govern, but we all eat at the same table?

I used to wish for something like this. World peace, my mind whispered at my birthday parties when I blew out the candles. World peace, I thought as I blew a dandelion’s fluff into the wind. World peace, I wished and puffed a breath at an eyelash. World peace—as a coin plinked into the fountain.

World peace.

It’s only now as I face my forty-seventh year on this planet that I realize, the only people who ever wish for world peace are people like John Lennon. When he said, “You may say, I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”, I wonder—did he realize that the other dreamers are all people like him? Artists, thinkers, philosophers. True utopians who visualize a world where everyone binds together for the common good, allowing more time for dreams and artistic pursuits. More time, but possibly less fodder.

The common good of all humans is not likely to be something the human race will ever agree on. Think of the centuries-old Israeli-Palestine conflict. Russia’s imperialistic aspirations. America’s opportunistic cherry-picking of which international conflicts to be involved in. None of this is work worthy of a utopian society.

And so, as I look forward to the new year, I resolve not to wish for world peace any longer. I resolve instead to devote my work and my words to the common good.

RIP John Lennon. I’m afraid you were the only one.