Poem: In Her Prime

I have a particular affinity for daffodils. I’ve taken dozens of pictures of them this spring alone. They’re almost done here, but I found this lovely this morning, and it seemed like a special gift to me. So I wrote a poem about her.

In Her Prime

By Michelle Garren Flye

A little wrinkled,

She holds up her bobbing head.

Not done yet, she says.

Author’s Note: Happy shared birthday, RBG. Sometimes wrinkles make you stronger.

Hallelujahs and the creative process (with a poem)

By this point everyone probably thinks they know Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”. It’s been in movies and television. Even Kate McKinnon had a go at it on Saturday Night Live. So even if, like many, you’re confused about the meaning of the song, you probably think you have heard it from beginning to end.

Possibly think again.

For my own reasons I’ve been doing some research on this song. It was supposed to be a simple Google search, but I found a rabbit hole and plunged right in. I found that there are more than 300 recorded versions. Not surprising considering Cohen wrote more than 80 draft verses for the song. Maybe that’s why he also recorded two versions himself.

According to legend, he spent one writing session in a motel room writing verse after verse while sitting on the floor in his underwear.

That’s quite a creative process.

In spite of all he went through to create his masterpiece, Cohen never expressed disappointment that other versions came to exist when others recorded his song. (Recording artists have rearranged verses, changed words and omitted lines.) In fact, he said himself that he believed that many hallelujahs exist. To me, this explains why he let the act of creating this work of art to consume him so. And I think he’s right. If we let ourselves, we find our own hallelujah.

By the way, I listened to many, many versions of this song while I wrote this. My favorite? Cohen’s live performance in London in 2009.

Many Hallelujahs (for LC)

By Michelle Garren Flye

A mother approaches a borderline.

Safety awaits her on the other side.

Baby in her arms, clutched against her breast—

She crosses the line and whispers, “Hallelujah.”

A black man sits alone in his car.

Flashing blue lights his rear view mirror.

He knows his fate is not his own,

So when he is told to go, he says, “Hallelujah.”

A woman awaits her weekly call

From desert sands so far away.

This world has so many dangers for her heart—

The phone rings and she cries, “Hallelujah.”

The activist lays it on the line every day,

To make a difference, he argues and persuades.

He won’t stop until he’s made it right.

Then someone listens at last and he shouts, “Hallelujah!”

The writer ponders the meaning of one word

And writes and writes, thinks it will never be his.

He bangs his head—and then it’s in his grasp.

His tired hand shakes as he declares, “Hallelujah.”

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.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love (with a poem)

Happy Valentine’s Day! A day dedicated to this crazy thing called love.

But why “crazy”? you ask. What do you mean by that?

Because nobody knows what causes it. And you risk ruining it by examining it too closely.

Because what else could it be but crazy to open your heart and show someone else what’s in it?

Because loving someone—or something—is the biggest risk you can ever take. If they don’t fail you, the world might. Life happens all around us every single day. And it happens to all of us in different ways all at the same time.

Because if you let love into your heart, it will take up all the space there—and if life happens to the subject of your love in a way that takes it away, the emptiness might just become a black hole that sucks you into the void.

So why, then? If it’s such a big risk, why do we do it? Why do we search for love? Why do we willingly plunge into the risky waters of love?

No one knows. And certainly no one knows better than the poets that no one knows. In his aptly titled poem “Poem”, e.e. Cummings said:

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star

I like this and I feel like it comes closer to identifying the what and the why better than anything I’ve ever read. It’s like “The Force” in Star Wars. Love underlies everything, is everything, the one superhuman strength that you can’t really identify but it’s really there. It makes us stronger and weaker at the same time.

Love—whether it’s for parent, sibling, child, spouse, pet or all things—is the way we connect most intimately with the world. The more we feel, the closer we are to the universe. The more we open ourselves up to love, the more risk we are willing to take for the love—the more fragilely strong we become.

A Million (and 1) Things to Love

By Michelle Garren Flye

Where is love?

Songs simplify,

Poems complicate.

But love is there.

Reach for it.

The love of saving,

The love of believing,

The love of finding.

Love fleeting,

Love flying,

Love staying.

The world is full.

All around you, things to love.

Objects for affection.

A cat, a dog, a child.

A rose, a plant, a sunset.

A soul mate for the very lucky.

Hope will find love.

Trust will strengthen love.

Faith will keep love safe.

Reach for it.

Hold it tight in your heart—

And hope it doesn’t

Break

You

Open.

Poem: Pinned

Pinned

By Michelle Garren Flye

Pins hurt, I remember. Pins stick in your skin when you put on a new shirt without checking. Crimson stains on ivory.

Why pin each other, then? Why pin those we love? Stay here. That’s your spot.

It hurts.

Why pin those unlike us? Stick them with scarlet letters. You’re not us. Stay away.

It hurts.

We do it anyway. Jab into flesh until blood comes. Pins like Judgment, like nails on the cross. Us. Other. With us, against us. Pins line up, sharpened stakes to keep us in or push us out.

I hold one in my hand, a dagger to slash and judge. Watch. The blood waits, pulsing, just beneath the sin.

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.

Despairing of Toxic Humans

He’s witnessed a lot. What would his social media status be?

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot despair of humanity, for we ourselves are human.”

Of course, Al didn’t live in the age of social media, did he?

By now, everyone has seen video of the MAGA hat-wearing Catholic kids making fun of the Native American elder who may or may not be a Vietnam veteran. And everyone has an opinion. Some say the kids are at fault, others the African American men who hurled insults at them because they were wearing MAGA hats.

Personally, I find fault with everyone involved in that situation, including myself. And I was several hundred miles away when it happened.

Just to be clear here, the kids from Covington Catholic were absolutely behaving badly. Toxically. Their parents should ground every last one of them for disrespecting their elders.

With that said, however, those kids were mirroring not only what they were seeing right then, but also, probably, what they see at home and at school. The evidence for this? The chaperones did not interfere. By not interfering, they okayed the behavior of these kids. I’m not sure why anyone is surprised by this. They are from Kentucky, the lovely state that gave us Turtle Man McConnell, the most toxic human being in government.

Add to that the horrible behavior of the other adults on the scene, and you can see what these kids are up against. And then some idiot adult edited the video to make it look like the teenagers were the only ones misbehaving and idiot adults like me were outraged and posted and reposted on social media.

The truth of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is that everyone was behaving badly. There are no martyrs here. And I really wish the adults would own up to their bad behavior and set a better example, because condemning kids for following the super bad examples they see from adults is going to get us nothing but more toxic adults.

Of course, Einstein also reportedly said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.” So maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath where humans are concerned.