Sunday, September 21, 2014
makes the loudest
I have ever heard, with each labored step
of his big hairy beast-paws, displacing
gallons of it
which skim the shallows
like very tiny memories
of movement in light
Watching, I have learned:
When chasing minnows that
you don't really want to
let yourself be heard
In your wrong-footed chaos of
When eluding a giant beast,
keep yourself small
your breathing small
your movements small
Be not seen
Fit yourself into a slip
of golden body
so tiny as to be no more
than the briefest
Thursday, September 11, 2014
The reading of the names. A stilted, halting counterpoint of New York-accented voices against my morning routine. Names of the dead. The spreading of the peanut butter, the chink of glass on plate as the dishes are done. Names of the dead. Rattle of dog food in the bowl. Names of the dead. Hum of washing machine. Names of the dead.
Names of the dead. Names of the dead. Trucks on the highway outside my window. Names of the dead.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
My secret relationship with Maya Angelou began when I was a young girl, decades ago. Ours was a troubled friendship, if you could call it that. Maya, of course, never knew Leah.
She was such an obviously grand woman, I know this: someone whose words, whose lovely interesting face, whose very presence on this earth brought comfort and hope to so many people it's almost hard to grasp the meaning of such a multitude. Yet to me Maya Angelou--the name, the face, the words--threw down the gauntlet of a fierce and hurting challenge that I have not been able to meet.
In a middle school English class we were given her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." In what seemed at the time I am sure, to the teacher and probably other students, a silly and overly precious move, I took a stand and insisted, along with a classmate, that the book contained material inappropriate for my age, and I refused to read it. My school being what it was, a place where children were listened to and (albeit haphazardly) taken seriously, the teacher agreed that I could substitute another book.
In reality though, my reason for rejecting Maya's book was not silly, though I could not honestly articulate the truth behind this angry and willful rejection, even to myself. Now I know: I didn't want to, I didn't want to discuss in a room full of children, the rape scene that lay at the dark heart of the book. I had, in private, looked through the pages and I had read the words. But I wanted to undo it. Make it unread. I couldn't read it, I wouldn't. I wanted to rip, to burn, that book. I wanted to kill that book. I wanted to stamp my feet in a baby tantrum and cover my ears and eyes and throw myself down on the battered linoleum floor of the classroom and scream, "NO!" And I wanted to keep screaming until someone finally thought to ask me why I was screaming; and at the same time I wanted them to ignore the screams and look away from my terror.
Such was the mind of a child who had herself been raped, who had lived in a trembling silence of gutting shame and fear for years.
I hated that book, and I hated Maya, almost as much as I despised the one who had abused the small me. I hated her confessional, because it wasn't my confessional. I hated her bravery, because it wasn't my bravery. I hated her hope because I had none.
As so often happens, abuse followed abuse. There were other men who took opportunity to hurt me sexually. By the time I was 13, I had been sexually used and abused to varying degrees by more than one grown man. By first grade, I truly saw myself as a seductress. And by early adolescence I knew it had all been my fault.
But I never did tell anyone.
Through the dark secretive years, Maya's words continued to haunt my thoughts, and to fill me with a confused fury. Her luminous and open and generous existence was a living reproach to my own lies, my tiny fearful life, always so tightly controlled and full of self-hatred.
Phenomenal woman, and rainbows, and kindness, grace, courage, self-reckoning and insight. Living the best life possible, ultimately undefeated. A powerful self and a powerful self-acceptance. I have always realized, of course, that for Maya, all this was hard won, and then only through extreme adversity.
But still, painfully, my own story to date doesn't come fully to a place of hope.
I cried, when I read that Maya was dead. She has been my companion for so long, though I can hardly read her words and have to look away from her strong face. But I have a certainty that she would accept the notion of a woman-in-progress, always in progress. As I am.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Saturday, January 4, 2014
I think that sometimes I see my life as a series of meals, and I have never learned to eat properly. My pacing is poor: one minute, I'm desperate and starving, gobbling experience as fast as I can, cramming myself full, too full, scared that someone will rip it away before I have had a chance to finish. I can almost see myself, hunched protectively over that portion, eating with my hands, barely able to catch my breath.
The next minute I'm feeling frail and tummyacheish, staring at a platefull and not knowing where or how to begin on it, overwhelmed by the textures and tastes and even by the utensils. How do I use my fork? Do I remember how?
I've been working for years on a pieced yoyo quilt. I don't have stamina, but I come back to it whenever I want it and without worry. Open the box, look at the bright circles and the thread and discs and feel good. It's in different stages of creation, from piles of uncut fabric to yoyos to a yard or two of finished quilt. And for some reason, that's okay with me. I can see what it is now, what it was and what it will be. It has accepted my pace without judgment. When I work on it, I accept my pace.
The quilt is separate from the rest of my life; that is, I don't take it in as general metaphor. It just seems to exist. The yoyo box is a place I go whenever I feel like it. Wholesome and tangible. Easy. Welcoming. No gobbling, no tummyache. No one will snatch it away, I'm certain, because who else wants a box of cotton fabric? And who would deny me the humble pleasure of it?
I haven't yet found the way to reconcile my life to itself, one part to another, pace to pace. I could say, mixed-metaphorically, that I vow to spend more time in peaceful piecework and less time in alternating glut and starvation.
I hope I will.
I will try.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
A facebook meme. I had to think about this, what constitutes a "guilty" pleasure, because on the one hand, I feel vaguely guilty a great deal of the time about most things (so Jewish). On the other hand, I'm old enough to be unashamed of my slightly shameful predilections.
1. Overpriced pedicures. At the all-pink salon, where they bring tea in rosy pink cups or, in the evenings, a pink cocktail. Having my feet dominated by Iris, whose deceptively fine hands bring on a sort of twilight sleep of deep delight.
2. Taylor Swift. But I have to listen on my headphones. Guiltily weeping.
3. Lindor truffles. Sucked not chewed.
4. Bingeing on those pithy-yet-specious list articles all over the internet: "6 surefire ways to get your man to give up his soul to you," "8 unmistakeable signs that you're a psychopath," "12 ways to get out of a speeding ticket." I like my world reduced to lists.
5. Being a pathological fantasist.
6. Lingerie catalogs
7. Memorizing complex rap lyrics and rapping along. Alone in the car. Latest "achievement": DMX's Get It on the Floor ("you motherfuckers wonder why I start shit")
8. Taking selfies. Using filters.
9. Lottery daydreams
10. Writing micro erotic
Saturday, December 14, 2013
The term Zionist Girl puts me in mind immediately of the sturdy rosy-cheeked antiHolocaust antivictim of the early Palestine Propaganda posters.
But when I got called that in a "conversation" (I use this word loosely, very) on facebook, it wasn't meant fondly, nostalgically, as a compliment, or even a matter-of-fact description; rather, it was offered as a scathing indictment, as sneering as any indictment could be.
A "friend" of mine (and again I use this word loosely, very) posted a speech of Mandela's about the wickedness of Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Said friend likes to post a great deal about Israeli Apartheid. I had held my tongue, but finally commented, one short paragraph, uttering that fateful word, the word that never fails to unleash the hellhounds of anti-Israel absolutism: "antisemitic." (let me add, I really won't weigh in on whether or not I think Mandela was antisemitic, I wouldn't have the energy; it was the repeated and pointed posting of anti-Jewish State material that seemed suspect). Anyway, there followed a virtual firestorm of anger toward me.
The immediate reply to my comment was typical: "anti-Zionist doesn't mean antisemitic."
To which I say: anti-Zionist doesn't mean antisemitic. Except when it does.
A German chick called me "stupid," after which ad hominem attack I left the conversation. But being the compulsive person that I am, I snuck back to the scene under cover of the deepest night to see how the thread unfolded.
It was not so much an unfolding as a foaming-mouthed effigy burning. Having never before been burned in effigy (or called a Zionist Girl, or, for that matter, been called Girl much at all recently--that went out at the same time as "Miss" was replaced by "Ma'am," but that's a whole other story of heartache), my interest was greatly piqued.
The discussion can be boiled down handily: "That Zionist Girl can't handle the truth of Israeli Apartheid. She is racist. She is ignorant. And she left the conversation because she can't defend the indefensible." There were several people agreeing on these talking points. Angry people.
First let me say, this isn't exactly about specific Israeli politics, only tangentially. Or symbolically.
The problem is:
a lone Jew speaking up in a hostile crowd of people who are angry at the Jewish State and not just its policies but, I would argue, its very existence. The problem is that surge of intense disgust/ire that passes for discussion. The problem is the rapidity with which this discussion degenerates into an attack on that lone Eponymous Jew. The problem is tone and meta-message. The problem is a lack of self-awareness in the angry mob.
The thread, after I left it, was notable for one glaring characteristic: a repeated use of the words "Jew" and "Jewish," coupled with the words "racist" and "fascist" in a simmering and barely contained group rage. The term "Zionist," opaquely layered, quite obviously, with the word "Jew."
People get exercised on social media sites all the time. But this felt different, it felt more significant and far more threatening than anything I have experienced before. It left me nearly shaking, teary-eyed and scared.
There is a real darkness in that moment when you realize you are the only one of your Kind in a group, when that group calls you by the name of your Kind, and that name is spoken like a curse. That darkness presses in on you. You can feel it in your very bones. It isn't paranoia and it isn't over-sensitivity. It's a truth that can only be known in the feeling of it, a truth as old as old mass graves and charred prayerbooks. And even older still.